Whole fish consumption is a culinary delicacy that either you have tried or you haven’t. For some consumers, the idea of eating the brain, heart, or any other organ from a fish, is not a pleasant thought. The Reality is, the part of the fish that so many of us are used to eating, the fillet, accounts for up to 50% of edible parts. This means that we are wasting almost half of the whole fish.
Sustainability, a hot topic word, is not the only reason to consider the benefits of fish organs. Many of our grandparents and those before them knew and utilized organ meats. Common reasons for this included the cost efficiency of consuming everything edible on the fish, but the health benefits of organ meat was the true catalyst.
Research is emerging and reemerging with stronger evidence for the case of fish organ nutrients. Let’s take a deeper dive into the nutritional benefits of organs.
Fish hearts are an enjoyable and simple culinary organ. Best when cooked at its absolute freshest, fish hearts are a lean organ that requires a watchful eye when being cooked. Because of its leanness, a simple quick grill over charcoal is the simplicity that fish hearts desire. Skewer grilling allows the heart to cook to medium rare while embracing the smoked grill flavor.
Pâté, foie gras, terrine…
All delicious culinary terms that offer great use of fish liver. Blended fresh fish liver married with butter and spices creates succulent tasting experiences.
Fish liver has rightly earned its name of, “foie gras of the ocean” due to its velvety texture. Fanciful taste is not the only superpower of liver. Fish liver packs a powerful punch of vitamin D and vitamin A.
Vitamin D, commonly known as the “sunshine vitamin”, is an important vitamin that many people are deficient in. Important purposes of vitamin D, for the health of our bodies, include calcium absorption, reduction of inflammation, and overall mood booster. The daily value (DV) for vitamin D is 20 µg (microgram). A serving size of fish liver contains 1250% (DV).
Let’s not forget the abundance of vitamin A found in fish liver. One serving size of liver contains approximately 2000% (DV). Health benefits from vitamin A include healthier eyes, immune system, skin, and other vital bodily functions.
Tripe, tenderly cooked fish stomach, can be endlessly paired with culinary dishes. When the stomach is removed, it needs to brine for at least a week to remove any impurities after which the fish stomach can be washed of extra salt before being placed in a vacuum pack. Once placed in the vacuum sealed bag with additional ingredients, it will bake in an oven for a full tenderizing steam.
As with handling any meat product, it is important to follow food safety guidelines. Observation and brining the fish stomach will help ensure that it is clean of any worms, parasites, or other contaminate.
Similar to the preparation of the stomach, fish intestines require at least a seven-day brine to rid the product of impurities. Once steamed and sliced, the fish intestine has the look and texture of pasta. Toss that with any ‘pasta’ friendly dishes, and you have a one of a kind delicacy. The fish intestine has a slight ocean flavor but is enjoyed immensely for its pasta-like texture.
Fish air bladders are not a newly discovered culinary concept. Salted, boiled, and stewed cod bladders have continuously made their mark throughout history. The semi-gelatinous texture of air bladders makes it the prized organ of some cultures around the world. For some species of fish, their air bladder is so highly sought after that illegal trading has threatened some species of fish.
Buy Local, Buy Fresh
Buying the whole fish comes down to buying local and buying fresh. Local wild-caught spring salmon and pink salmon are great hearty fish to cook.
The reason for buying local is that you are assured freshness and quality. Fish begin to lose its quality the minute it is caught from the ocean. Supermarket fish products often come from a series of stops and many miles from where the fish were originally caught. When a fish comes from our family run and operated boats, the ‘middleman’ is almost exclusively subtracted from the equation.
Fresher than fresh technically does exist. A process, known as flash-frozen at sea, helps use freezing temperatures to ‘flash-freeze’ the fish so that very minimal freshness is lost.
When selecting a fresh fish, your senses are the best indicators. Fish should never smell fishy. If the smell strays from a general ‘ocean’ smell, the fish is not the one you want to select.
Seafood traceability is a growing method for fish consumers. When it comes to offal/organs, this is even more important since the finished taste will depend on the diet and environment where the fish came from. Some people are weary of fish offal because they do not know where their fish came from or from how far. The key to great tasting offal is how fresh it is. Freshness is part of seafood tracing, and it ensures quality of product to those who buy it.
When the idea of consuming all parts of a whole fish comes to mind, the idea of organs can make some shudder at the thought. Fish consumption relies heavily on the meat fillets, and it is the most common way to buy prepackaged fish. It all reverts to the quality and the freshness of the fish you purchase.
Cooking Fish Organs
As mentioned above, cooking organ meat is a culinary experience that requires a watchful eye. Depending on the organ/offal, and its texture, cooking methods vary. The common size of fish offal, being on the smaller scale, leads recipe ideas to the ideology of ‘less is more’. Due to the unique textures and tastes, fish offal can be easily overcooked. Since it is easily and quickly overcooked, taking the time to talk with your local fisheries is crucial.
Cooking and consuming the whole fish, including the parts beyond what is commonly sought after, is truly a wholesome experience. From master chefs to curious cooks at home, utilizing the whole fish has many expanding opportunities to fit any level of expertise.
Not only do we enjoy the tastes and textures, but we are also showing our respect to the fish and the waters from where it came. Taking care of ourselves and our health begins with taking care of the environment in which our food comes from.
So, venture onward into the culinary experience of what a whole fish has to offer.