When you have the chance, buy your fish with its head on and try not to buy topless shrimp. Seek out whole fish, ask your fish guy to leave your fish whole. “Eeewww!” I can hear my mother as clearly as if she was sitting next to me.
Simply put there is flavor in the head even if you don’t plan on eating it. If all you do is boil some shrimp, the end product will have more flavor. Ditto for bones, as it is damn hard to make a boneless, skinless fillet of fish taste like anything but generic cardboard. If I ruled the universe, fish fillets would be outlawed (and my mother would give up fish altogether).
If you are feeling virtuous about eating fish, and you would like to eat fresh and buy local, consider this: that filet of halibut was most likely shipped to China, filleted and then shipped back to the East Coast. That tilapia you bought? It probably came from China, which produces 50% of the world’s share of tilapia.
Here’s a quote from Sarah Murray’s excellent book, Moveable Feasts" about how food has traveled throughout the ages: “Today temperature-controlled shipping containers allow companies to send their frozen salmon to China, where it’s thawed, filleted, refrozen, and sent back to the United States for sale in supermarkets as “fresh” Atlantic salmon.’ Fresh fish indeed.
So, if you are making fish stock….just like with meat stock, you need the bones and there’s no good reason to throw the head away, its full of flavor.
Here are some simple tasks to get you started on the path to the full enjoyment of the underwater world:
Work on your fish seller to stock more whole fish. Start a revolt against fish sticks so that kids learn what fish is really all about. Do your fish the honor of being served whole in all its glory, and besides you have no idea how much fun it is to play with your fish head and scare the beejeezus out of my mother. The time we actually tricked my mother into putting a smoked trout head into her mouth is a moment that lives in family infamy.
And if you are serving a platter of ‘mezzancolle’ as these shrimp are called in Italy, they just look prettier with their heads on, sort of Busby Berkley style. If you have good shrimp and want to serve them cold try just a drizzle of excellent olive oil, some salt, pepper and a generous squeeze of lemon juice. You can’t go wrong, especially if you serve them with a nice rose’!