Like chicken, a whole fish, from fin to scale, is greater than the sum of its parts. The cheeks, jowl and even the skin are all delicacies when cooked well, each with their own unique texture and flavour. Tail meat tends to be firmer, because that’s where the fish’s muscles have to work the hardest, while the belly is soft and fatty, to protect its internal organs.
The fillets are just a small part of a fish’s total weight and, depending on the species, can make up only about 30% of its weight. Throwing 70% of an animal in the bin is a crazy example of today’s wasteful world. After filleting, the rest of the fish will have lots of meat and offal left on it. Here’s a short guide to using the whole fish from nose to tail:
Head A fish head usually contains a lot of meat, particularly around the jowls. Bake large fish heads whole, gigot of lamb style, studded with garlic and rosemary, or make fish head tacos.
The cheeks (and the “eyebrows” of larger fish), meanwhile, are tender morsels. Enjoy them from a whole roast fish or use as a scallop of meat simply seared or on skewers.
Skin I leave the skin on when I cook fish, but if you must remove it, try simmering it in water, then dry out in the oven and fry to make fish skin crackling.
Fish scraps Scrape the fish skeleton as clean as you can with a spoon, then use the resulting “mince” in croquettes, fish balls or a fragrant stew.
Offal When it’s super-fresh, fish offal, including the roe, liver and milt, is delicious in its own right, especially when simply seared, and in many parts of the world is seen a delicacy. The liver is flavoursome and well textured, so if you like, say, lamb’s liver, definitely give it a go.
Bones Deep-fry smaller fish bones, then season them heavily to make a gorgeous, crisp, salty snack. Or use to make stock.
Tail Fish tails are often removed with a big hunk of firm meat still attached, so check in with your local fishmonger and ask if they have any, because they’ll usually sell them at a good price. Slow-roast tails whole, or sear in a pan, and serve much as you would a whole fish; alternatively, remove the meat to cook up however you like and use the bones in stock.