As much as I love just roasting the little guys, there comes a time when one needs to expand one’s comfort zone. Having mastered fish heads a la carte, I turned to the next logical option: gently simmering the fish head to make a rich broth, picking the meat off the bones, and making a seafood stew resplendent with summer produce!
So that’s exactly what I did, and it was perfect. Seafood stews usually call for a cubed fillet of fish (which is expensive), but this one calls for fish heads, which are infinitely cheaper if not free. Make friends with the fishmonger at your Farmer’s Market, harass specialty food shops, or make a visit to your local Asian grocery, and chow down.
The timing of this dish was also extraordinarily appropriate, as it coincided with a trip to watch the Mermaid Parade (a completely random celebration in which thousands of people dress up like sea creatures and mermaids) at Coney Island. I saw some extremely naked people, intricate silicon mermaid tails, and felt the eastern sea breeze on my face for the first time. It was refreshing and lovely and completely unlike Texas beaches (which are hot, smelly, and teeming with jellyfish).
On that surely appetizing note, let’s talk fish head stew!
Fish Head Stew with Tomatoes, Eggplant, Garlic Scapes, and Basil
The Stock (yields a quart and a half):
- 1 giant half of a fish head (I had an almost frightening Mahi-Mahi) or 2 regular fish heads
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 large onion, a bunch of green onions, or discarded leek tops (I used the third)
- salt and pepper to taste
The Stew (8 servings):
- 1 large onion, sliced thinly
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 4 garlic scapes, roughly chopped
- 2 cups eggplant, cubed
- 2 cups diced tomatoes (I used canned, shame on me!)
- 1 quart fish stock
- 1/2-3/4 lb fish yielded from stock recipe
- Fresh basil, to taste
- salt and pepper, to taste
1. For the stock simply combine all ingredients in a large pot, add water until the fish head is submerged, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, immediately turn down heat and allow to simmer on the stovetop for 20-25 minutes.
2. At this point you should carefully remove the fish head from the simmering water (the heat is still on!), and set it onto a cutting board or large plate. While the stock continues to simmer, remove the now tender and falling-apart meat from the skeleton, and put into a separate bowl. Return the fish bones to the stock pot and give the entire pot another 20 minutes simmering gently.
3. Turn off the heat and allow to cool slightly before straining stock, discarding the now spent vegetables and fish bones. Your stock is completed, and you now have a bowl of delicious meat!
1. In a large soup pot, melt your butter on medium heat. Once bubbling and browning, add onions, garlic, garlic scapes, and eggplant. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions have caramelized, the eggplant has soaked up most of the oil, and the pot is fragrant, about four minutes.
2. Pour in tomatoes and fish stock, and increase heat. Bring the entire pot to a boil, and then immediately reduce heat to low. Simmer for twenty minutes.
3. Add your fresh basil, salt and pepper to taste, and fish meat. Turn off heat and allow pot to stand for 5-10 minutes.
4. Serve with fresh torn basil leaves and sigh in gastronomical and economical delight.
It was wonderful. Tangy and sweet and savory and summery. I’m really rather proud of myself.