Welcome to Chef vs. Chef

Welcome to Chef v. Chef!

This is a new way for our members to share their techniques and see what others are doing, too.

Every couple months, a couple of chefs will challenge readers to raise the stakes on the sustainability-minded practices in their kitchens. Chefs Collaborative then wants you document and share your work: in a comment and on Twitter and Facebook. We even have a Twitter hashtag: #chefsskills.

So: August’s challenge: Pick one fish on your menu and bring it in whole.

When it comes to the fish he buys for his restaurant, 606 Congress, Chef Rich Garcia goes whole. He writes:

Chef Rich Garcia, 606 Congress

It amazes me that more and more chefs and restaurants with the capacity to process fish in house are deciding against it.From an economic standpoint, I find that the ability to use the whole animal is much more profitable despite the extra labor involved. And for me this is why I cook. I love to create and develop new dishes with what is made available to me. I take the time to research what I can do with the heads, bones, scales, tongues and gills. How he does it:

At 606 Congress, a striped bass is broken down into 3 separate groups:

Striped bass “head cheese” served in its spinal cord.

1) Fillets– 6oz portions for dinner service and any smaller pieces and trim go to lunch features, including fish cakes, fish sandwiches or tasting portions for VIP and amuse.
2) We then scrape all the remaining meat off the bones and use it for raw dinner features like striped bass tartare, ceviche or even a mousse for our charcuterie board.
3) Last pile consists of head and bones. We either make a flavorful fish fumet or my favorite thing we have done is make fish head cheese. We take the bones, split the head and place them in the CVAP oven with a standard mirepoix , fennel and white wine, and let it all cook for a couple of hours at a very low, controlled temperature. The result is a super flavorful, gelatinous meat that can be picked off the bones and head and transferred into a terrine mold to form into an amazing feature for the charcuterie board for the night. We’ve even taken the spines of larger striped bass and split them along the vertebrate to use as the serving dish for tartar or head cheese.

So try bringing in some of your fish whole, says Garcia. “You’ll be amazed at how your culinary team will immediately be more motivated and will want to educate themselves, especially if they have never had the chance to butcher whole fish. Your service team will be proud to go to a table and talk about the whole fish they saw you fabricating so carefully earlier in the day and then describe to the table the amazing features you have created.”

Chef Tenney Flynn, GW Fins

Likewise, New Orleans chef Tenney Flynn of GW Fins, a seafood restaurant in the French Quarter, brings almost all of his fish in whole, he says. “A recent list of whole local fish would include American red snapper, Mangrove snapper, gag grouper, pompano, tripletail, triggerfish, cobia, redfish, drum, sheepshead, yellowfin tuna, swordfish, triggerfish and escolar. I’m sure I’m missing a few,” says Flynn. How he does it:

1) We make a lot of fish stocks, primarily for gumbo, so lean fish like snapper and grouper carcasses end up there.

Potstickers with fish mousselline.

2) Trimmings go into mousseline for lobster dumplings and crab potstickers. We always remove the cheeks for special orders or tasting menus.

3) The oddest thing we’ve done lately was hot smoking the rib bones from a 100-pound local swordfish. I gave them away at the bar.

It’s relatively easy for Flynn to work with so much fresh whole fish, he says. “Restaurants talk about flying their fish in daily—we get to drive ours in because we are so close to the docks.”

Chef Nico Romo, Fish, Charleston

At Fish in Charleston, chef Nico Romo gets most of his fish fresh from the boat of local fisherman Mark Marhefka—and brings it all in whole, to be butchered in a special walk-in reserved for that purpose. Among the fish he works with: red grouper,  scamp grouper, hog  grouper, triggerfish, red porgy, vermillion snapper, tilefish, amberjack, wahoo, and pompano. How he does it:

1) The beauty of fish this fresh is we don’t have to do anything to it. Just salt, pepper, and right onto the plancha, then served.

Steamed fish potstickers w/ kaffir lime consomme

2) With the trimmings, we make brandade and steamed and fried dumpling. We also sometimes make fish burgers.

3) The best dish we’ve made with trim has been fish and kaffir lime consomme with spicy steamed dumpling and brunoise mirepoix. And all the bones always go to stock.

So, chefs—you’ve seen how Rich, Tenney, and Nico handle whole fish in their restaurants. What about you? What’s your technique?

Posted by: Chefs Collaborative

13 Responses to “Welcome to Chef vs. Chef”

  1. William Dissen Says:

    We work closely with a local trout farm, Sunburst Trout Farm, to use their hyper local and sustainable rainbow trout on our menus. We will get whole trout in and fillet the fish to use on our large plate menu for a dish that consists of Pan roasted Sunburst Trout served with beluga lentils, Benton’s bacon, confit tomato vinaigrette and an herb salad. We will save the trout bellies to use for our charcuterie plate. We are fortunate to have a J&R wood grill that we frequently use to hot smoke different ingredients. We will smoke the trout bellies and turn them into “smoked trout rillettes” and serve with grilled bread on our charcuterie plate.
    When available, we also use the trout roe for ornate garnishes or to accentuate a canapé for an event.
    Using the whole trout allows us to maximize our food cost as well as ensure the most sustainable use of a living creature. And at the end of the day we’ve put multiple creative items on our menus that are intriguing, creative, and most importantly – tasty.

  2. David Thomasson Says:

    Like William Dissen, I exclusively use sustainably produced Sunburst Trout Farms trout from Western North Carolina. Even though it is my most expensive, smoked trout is my number one selling crepe at Farm-to-Griddle Crepes. It outsells all others 4 to 1. I get whole fish, fillet it and slow smoke the fillets over hickory or cherry. The crepe is built with trout, capers, arugula, a hint of red onion, and a herbed creme fraiche. I scrape every piece of meat left, lightly poach it and make fish cakes for the house. The carcass is boiled, rough strained and frozen for a later bouillabaisse. With the sockeye run right now, we are doing pretty much the same thing with them…and folks are lovin’ it.

  3. patricia gadsby Says:

    Some reactions from a home cook (albeit a home cook who writes.)
    Some neat ideas here and a strange one.
    Rich Garcia uses gills? Er, rather him than me than him. Gills tend to impart bitterness, and they are a magnet for microbial and parasitic infestation. I snip them out.

    Curiously, no one has yet mentioned roe.

    As recreational fisherfolk we like to play with the parts in our home kitchen. Striper cheeks, the tastiest little puck of them all. Head-fish soup (gills removed.) Fumets with the carcasses. Ceviche, of course, especially with black sea bass (if we have enough “oddments” to make little sashimi-like slices — crumby little bits of fish get too mealy on the outside in their citrus bath. We don’t like cubes for the same reason — it’s sashimi-cut for us, large-surface-to-volume ratio, and short marination times, like some Japanese-Peruvian chefs prefer.) The scrapings can go into mousse-like things, but home-cooks like us rarely deal in quantities that make this worthwhile (though I’ve used them blended with egg-white to make a bond for potato-shingles on fillets, and in fish sausages to bind somewhat larger pieces.) Aji tataki and tartares, great with the right fish (with some fat in it.)

    Surprised everyone isn’t talking fishcakes. I use oddments of bluefish fillets to make fishcakes somewhat in the Thai style. Get out the cleaver and hack the bluefish bits until they stick together –hack, scrape together, hack again and so forth— no egg-white needed to bind. You can use a processor but it gives you less control over the texture, so I stick with the cleaver. Flavor with galangal or ginger, green onion, garlic, chilli etc in a Thai-ish way and pat out into thin little cakes. Course, you can use other flavors, no reason why you can’t do dill and gin, say. Nice sautéed with a dipping sauce. But the Thai-ish ones are super sautéed lightly and finished off in a coconut-milky green curry — they suck up the coconut milk and become amazing in texture. You can serve this to bluefish haters. They’ll never guess. Excess bluefish goes into the smoker. Even bluefish haters eat smoked bluefish pâté.

    Cold leftover fish goes into fishamajig sandwiches, or pan bagna, or into a salade composée along the lines of nicoise even if it’s not tuna.
    I’ve even blended slurries out of skin and little bones to feed garden plants! Traditional fish-heads stuck in the ground might attract too many marauding critters.

    Use your fish well, and don’t forget to thank it. You gotta thank the fish. I’m borderline quasi-pantheistic about this. Which is to say I respect the living things I eat, especially the ones I’ve personally had a hand in culling for food. Fish for sure, and plants too. Which is why I abhor waste.

  4. Beau Vestal, New Rivers, Providence Says:

    We, like Rich, also use the head for headcheese. Also the skin fries up great as garnish or as ‘plate’ for serving buttered cheeks on. We like to char the collar after we bathed it in miso and ginger. And the belly works well slow and low on the grill or smoker. Check out my blog entry about the striper! Just scroll down! http://chefscollaborative.org/category/blog/

  5. Brendan McGill Says:

    We only use whole fish in the restaurant, and therefore are afforded every opportunity to utilize all the tasty bits.

    Being in the Pacific NW on the Olympic Peninsula, we get all the great Pacific Ocean catches delivered the day the boats roll into Neah Bay. Our salmon bones get scraped for tartare or mousseline, we filet what we’ll be able to sell in two services, and we often lay down a side to cure for lox. The bellies, cheeks and collars go into the wood-fired oven for off-menu dishes for the chef’s tastings, which people seem to enjoy even more than a filet (the “special” parts, saved just for them).

    We also receive big bags of roe from our fishmonger, especially from steelhead. Of course this makes excellent caviar and has even been showcased in a pasta garnished with house-cured bottarga, from Petrale Sole roe.

    When ling cod run, we value the filet, but every bit of trim gets salted down for a week then frozen. Once the weather gets cool outside we’ll prepare a brandade from the bacalao, which is kissed nicely by the wood-fired oven if prepared with a dusting of gruyere.

    Most of our fish preservation follows function, which I imagine makes more sense historically than frying the bones for crispy garnishes and dehydrating the skin for puffy “chips” (both of which we do). Just received 30# of Pacific sardines (gorgeous, sweet and rich) this morning; 10# will be sold fresh for the weekend, another 10# get the “boqueron” treatment (vinegar cure), the rest we’ll cure in salt over night then pack in oil, to be picked up warm and sold with fresh bread or a sicilian pasta.

    I think the best part of buying fish whole is the very obvious signs of its freshness, and when you’re done you should always have nice stock or soup makings for family meal.

  6. David Thomasson Says:

    Pacific sardines…yumm. Sounds very interesting. I wonder if I can try some in Seattle.

  7. Brendan Says:

    David, you certainly could. I had some on Sunday at Sushi Kappo Tamura, and believe Blind Pig has been serving them, et al.

  8. David Thomasson Says:

    Thanks Brendan. Whew, what a menu at Tamuras. We are so excited to be visiting Seattle for the Summit. What is the best way to move around town (when we are not walking), taxi? I think Helen and I are going to stay on Bell St. Thanks.

  9. Matt Jennings Says:

    This is all great info. Nice to have a resource like this for professionals- once again- great job Chef’s Collab!

    Many of these techniques are familiar, and we use them as well. We’ve also found some whimsical and fun ways to use the lesser ‘appreciated’ parts of fish- we like making ‘Chi-CHAR-ones’, our signature, spiced crunchy char skin. That’s always a winner at our bar.

    Also, as we work with whole fish, more frequently than not, we have access to fish offal, of which is an experience, if you haven’t cooked with it! Recently, one of my favorite things is to dehydrate the livers of monkfish (if we aren’t making terrine or torchon), or other fish like flounder, drying the livers completely out and then pulsing them in the robocoup with garlic, fresh herbs and breadcrumbs. Then I simply toast the crumb mixture off in some buter. This crumb mixture can then be used to add texture and subtle ocean flavors to dishes from roasted or grilled octopus to house made pastas, sprinkled over fresh tomato salad- and more. It’s a versatile way to stretch the utilization of fish offal. And it is delicious.

  10. Brendan Says:

    Dang Matt the liver breadcrumbs sound delicious, very cool technique. Dave, busses, cabs and ferries are the way to get around. Light rail to/from the airport (and a few neighborhoods) is nice.

  11. David Thomasson Says:

    Brendan, you have me totally intriqued…we come into Seattle Thur., thinking we will hop over to Bainbridge and have dinner at the Hitchcock Fri., Sept. 28 and spend the night. It looks like the Eagle Harbor Inn is close by. Any other suggestions for local accomadations for one night?

  12. mark estee Says:

    Great forum and posts here. Thanks for info! We love Whole fish just as much as whole hog……The WILD KING SALMON from Bodega Bay CA are the ultimate whole fish for us at Campo. There is a local firefighter who has his family fishing boat and when the season is open and he has his days off he heads out and brings back the most fresh fish i have ever seen with out reeling in myself. He calls from the boat and says, be back in 12 hours and i have 150 pounds of fish! Boom they are here. We trim bellies to use in risotto, we scrape skeleton to use for tartar, we grill collar for amuse, we cure a few sides and the rest we cut into fillets.

  13. sally larhette Says:

    no really fresh fish in Wellesley,ma,including
    local fish shops. I filleted 50 blue fish, and many others fish as a chef. Nice work, really fresh fish.
    plus the workers in local fish shop are macho.Wouldn’t dare ask to do a sniff test.

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