HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


What to do with fish heads and fish tails?

So I'm doing this little experiment on eating on $3 a day.

At the farmers market that sells fancy wild, just-off-the boat salmon and other fish for about $15 a pound, they are selling the fish heads, tails and other leftovers from the fillets for a buck fifty a pound ... $1.50 ... yep.

There is a generous amount of fish with the heads and tails. So I'm thinking fish chowder? Any recipies?

It would be nice to have a chowder or recipe where some of the servings could be frozen. So I'm thinking a cream or milk-based chowder wouldn't do.

Doesn't have to be chowder. Could be any recipe using heads and tails.

So ... like what happens to the eyes when you cook the fish heads? Do they stay in place or kind of float around?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I don't know about you, but I'm waiting for Sam Fujisaka to show up in this thread.
    At $1.50 a pound I'm dying to know what can be made with those components, although I must admit my first thought was stock. On the other hand I have heard about fish head curry..... never have tasted it tho.

    1. When I worked for a major chain grocery and the salmon used to come into the store head on (it grossed naitives out). I taught the people in the seafood deparment to remove the heads attracively and turn all of the head meat and cheeks into salmon salad. It flew out the door. We demoed it a few times and then coukd not have enough on hand. Unfortunately the company realized that salmon or any head on fish was a profit loser Not that I'm there any longer but there are no head on fish. I guess the cat food industry is getting the profits.

      1. You could poach the tails and heads in salted water, with some vegetables scraps, like onion, carrot, celery. Let the pieces cool in the broth, and then pick off all the meat. You could make salmon patties with the flaked meat or use it in a salad with greens or pasta.

        1. Boil, salvage the meat for chowder , plant the heads and tails under rose bushes.

          1. Croquettes!

            I love to fish for salmon, and hate to pitch any of it. A decadent way to use any meat that escapes the fillet knife is croquettes.

            Simmer fish frames in a large pot of salted water for a couple of minutes. Pick off the meat. Mix with parsley, minced onions (or leeks or shallots), flour to stiffen, eggs to moisten, and salt and pepper to taste. Form patties or balls and deep-fry, pan-fry, or sautee.

            Serve with a green salad. That doesn't make it health food, but does assuage the guilt.

            1. Thanks, Gio. Get rid of all tails and fins. Use the heads and all other bony/spiny parts to make stock (adding a bit of salt, pepper, ginger, garlic, carrot, celery...whatever; and then straining through cheesecloth). You can use the stock as a basis for healthy soups with miso, tofu, vegetables, fish...you name it.

              After you pluck the now very cooked head and spiny parts out, using your fingers, carefully separate out all the flesh/meat from the head and bones. Add lime juice; fish sauce; grated ginger; chopped onion, cilantro, and chili: mix & let sit for a bit, taste and correct (you want a sort of ceviche, although in this case with very cooked rather than raw fish bits); serve with hot rice.

              Nothing will be wasted. You're left with only the bones/espinas and tails and fins that can't be eaten. There is nothing better than catching fish and preparing and using everything possible.

              5 Replies
              1. re: Sam Fujisaka


                Do the tails, fins, and skin take anything away from the stock? I always throw them in, but that's just because I'm lazy...


                1. re: alanbarnes

                  Skin is fine. Apparently, as opinion goes in Latin America, fins and tails harbor any bacteria that may be present. I now routinely get rid of tails and fins, but use ALL else.

                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    Any bacteria that can survive a hour of simmering has earned its right to poison me.

                    1. re: alanbarnes

                      Its weird. Chefs on our Latin American equvalent of FoodNetwork (el gourmet) all seem to insist on removing and discarding fins and tails. I never used to.

                2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  Fish stock freezes very well. As Sam says, great base for soups. We also use it for seafood risottos and paella. Whenever we have fish parts, shrimp or lobster shells, we make stock and freeze it if we don't have an immediate use. Great stuff to have on hand.

                3. For the love of all that is edible, can you not think of a better expenditure for your $1.50 ! Please let me help:

                  Ramen Noodles; about .25 / each
                  Bananas: on sale for .33 / pound
                  Hot Dogs: .99 / pound
                  Kraft Mac and Cheese: 3 / $1

                  Fish Heads, Fish Heads, Rolley Polley Fish Heads.........

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: TonyO

                    Didn't you know they use fish heads to make those hot dogs? Ramen Noodles? Kraft Mack & Cheese? Have you read the ingredients for those? Are you trying to kill me? The cheapest banana in my area is on sale for 50 cents a pound ... and they weren't looking pretty.

                    Thanks all. Now the problem is what to do with fish stock. Don't think I've ever made any ... could cook those ramen noodles in it, eh?

                    Actually looking around for what to do with said stock, I came across a lot of stock recipes. This not only had fish stock but a whole bunch of other stocks including garlic stock.

                    The fish parts seem to be mainly salmon. There are lots of mentions not to use salmon because it is too oily and produces too strong a stock ... true?

                    It doesn't bother this site which has a rather nice salmon chowder using the heads. Also along the croquette lines they have a recipe for Salmon Cakes With Yogurt Chipotle Sauce

                    Found a utube video for making salmon head with tamarind.

                    Then there is this recipe for grilled salmon heads ... suggested beverage pairing - El Tesoro Reposado

                    There is a picture of said grilled heads. It is the instructions though ... "Hold the head upright, stick your thumb in the head’s eye and and grip it solidly."

                    Oh my.

                    Pass the tequila please.

                    1. re: rworange

                      Like I said, hot dogs, mac/cheese box, Ramen.... you may not live forever but at least your sleeping hours will not be riddled with nightmares !

                  2. Make a stock with carrots onions etc, put all the fish in cheese cloth, and simmer for a couple of hours. Use the stock to make soup, or chowder, or I make gefilte fish with horseradish.. Take the meat off the bones and put into your chowder.

                    1. Trim off the fins and tail with sturdy kitchen shears; keep for stock. Lightly oil and salt the heads and anything else. (A local fish market will, when I ask, keep the bones & head.) Spread out on a cookie sheet and cover with foil and bake in a high oven until cooked.

                      Pick off the meat. It's kind of messy; have water/damp cloth handy. There's a lot of meat in the cheeks and the collar, and it's some of the best! Save the meat. Use the bones, etc., and simmer to make stock; feel free to add veggies. Strain.

                      The meat has 1,001 uses. Salmon salad, corn and salmon chowder, salmon maki, salmon w/ fried rice, pasta & salmon, etc. It's great mixed into sushi rice with other stuff. You can get all Bubba with it. Heck, you can just eat it. The stock can be used for soup, poaching, etc., etc.

                      1. If there small trout heads they can be cut long ways and fried,fried tails are awesome.But with big fish they'd be hard to cook to a point to be edible,the bones,head and tail can be simmered with half and half potatoes,celery,onions,garlic,salt pepper and butter hopefully all the good stuff will offset it enough to let you forget which parts your using for the soup pick the bits of meat off and put them in it.Your not getting alot of love out of those pieces so don't forget to make your soup by just barley covering the fish scraps.You can skip the half and half and butter and add water and a can of chopped tomatoes,a pinch of crushed red peppers and all the other mentioned goodies we used to make this soup with salmon in Alaska when we worked at the cannerys,very good.As far as vegis your only limited to your imagination.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: widehomehi

                          Fish heads, treated correctly, throw throw the most gelatin into a fish fumet...don't use salmon for a clear one, but halibut, bass and other white fish are great...use a traditional mirepoix with the additions of leek and parsley ends...white wine is a classic addition as well...bring to a slow boil and then turn the heat down and let simmer for no more than 2 hours...strain by lifting the liquid out rather than pouring out and pass through cheesecloth or a fine chinoise...
                          makes a great base for fish stews of all ethnic variations...freezes quite well...
                          and you can always pick the meat from the fishhead

                        2. Salt them generously and broil them (I suggest doing this outside over coals, or else your kitchen will get very smoky and smelly). Then sit down with a bowl or two of hot rice and pick at the parts with your chopsticks until all you have left is a pile of unidentifiable bones. If you broil the fins/tails just right, they'll get all crispy, and you can crunch them up like crackers.

                          1. put in meat grinder make fish patty sandwiches for the in-laws.

                            1. I was thinking bouliabasse (sorry I can never remember how it's spelt) when I saw the post title but you would need other fish too (mostly some prans shells) and it wouldn't work with salmon. So that look slike a bit of a non-starter really.

                              I would add though that you should remove the gills on larger fish as they are the fishes breathing mechanism and nasties do get caught there. Easy enough to do with a pair of kitchen scissors. Plus the impurities there will often turn stock cloudy.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: ali patts

                                Sorry for not mentioning this,yes the gills get full of worms in nature I second taking the gills out when using.

                                1. re: widehomehi

                                  Gill removal is a basic part of cleaning fish. Always.

                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                    ok you'd be suprised that some people don't know that.-Thanks and Enjoy

                              2. Whatever you do with the meat, save whats left for the garden. Fish bones have great nutrients for your plants. If you don't just bury them in the corn patch or the rose garden, when make a fish tea with the bones, excess flesh, waste, etc. Steep (sp) the fish bones in water for a week and apply to your potted plants. They will love you. BTW, this does not smell bad.

                                1. Fish head curry, of course. Singaporean classic variant on an Indian fish stew. There's oil in the stew anyway, and the curry is going to overpower any fish taste, so I don't see why a salmon head wouldn't work. The recipe was originally developed by a restaurant in Singapore to capitalize on cheap (free) fish heads.

                                  The great thing is serving the dish to unsuspecting guests, then having them discover how good it is. Here's one recipe, but I confess I've never made it.

                                  1. how lucky you are! healthy eating broth here we come! Get the book 'Nourishing Traditions' about $24.00 new, but use half.com and get it for under $15.00. The health benefits far exceed anything you can imagine eating those fish heads! People's around the world don't waste any food but use it to their health. We in America are spoiled and unhealthy for it! We don't like the 'icky' parts and for our demise. Happy and healthy reading to you. momof5

                                    1. When I worked at a sushi restaurant the chefs got large salmon that they butchered twice a week. On these days the bones/remnants, with tails attached became part of the pre shift dinner. They would oven roast with just salt, pepper and olive oil. Then they would ravage them for any leftover meat. They would often make a noodle soup dish to compliment and the japanese men in the crew would often "dunk" their portions in (the meat fell right off). I was hesitant at first (seemed like a lot of work, what with avoiding bones for so little meat) but it was delicious and I came to love the days they "butchered" the salmon.

                                      1. My gosd, you actually need IDEAS for how to eat fish heads.
                                        Brother if I have a whole fish I go straight for the head, it's the only part that matters to me.
                                        Personally I'd say eat it as is, poaching or roasting probably is best.
                                        Any bones/leftover, like most people say go good for stock or fertalizer.

                                        1. Man, to people that doesn't know how good fish heads are, it's their lost!
                                          It's got tons on nutritional in it. First of all there are different kinds of soups u can make.
                                          Cook it with ginger, green onion, tofu; cook it with miso make it miso soup; grilled it, goes really well with beer, yes, I am Asian and I love fishehads

                                          1. Not sure if it would work with salmon, but my fiancee's mom just used fish heads for a rice dish. Pretty simple, she just loaded the rice cooker up like normal, and then stuck the fish heads on top and cooked the rice. This effectively cooked the rice and the fish heads at the same time, getting the flavour into the rice as it was happening. Then when the rice was done, she pulled the heads out, took all the flesh off and stuck it back in the rice and served the rice on the side of the rest of the meal which was the rest of the fish. Worked very well, was good flavour, so tender flesh and tasty.