Buttery saucy fish head

Photo : LOH YI JUN

Across Asia, eating fish head is the acceptable norm.

Whether it is a whole steamed fish, binchotan-grilled cod collar, or a banana leaf-wrapped mackerel sold by curbside vendors, fish heads are cooked and enjoyed by those who appreciate it.

But for those who are not accustomed to eating fish head, or see it more as a superfluous haute cuisine garnish rather than an actual edible part of the fish, this recipe should convince you otherwise.

And, if you are already a fish-head fan, this will make you love it even more!

The recipe is mostly inspired by a dish at Fallow restaurant in London.

I’ve not actually tasted the dish, nor even been to the restaurant.

(It’s half a world away from Malaysia where I live.) But thanks to the restaurant’s burgeoning YouTube channel,

I got a good gist of how the dish was made, and translated this stunner of a restaurant dish into a home-cooked version.

Salmon fish head was used for this recipe (pic) but you can use whatever is available. — FilepicSalmon fish head was used for this recipe (pic) but you can use whatever is available. — Filepic

The dish is made out of three main components – a grilled fish head, buttery hot sauce-based emulsion, and herb oil. Each one very adaptable to your taste preference, or whatever you have in your pantry.

For the fish head, I used salmon, but cod, snapper, grouper, trout and any other large fish head would work too.

For the emulsion, just whisk cold blocks of butter into a garlic butter and water mixture, and get it smooth and extra buttery, then season it with lemon juice, salt and your favourite hot sauce (or sriracha if you must).

And lastly, for the herb oil, Fallow uses “foraged local herbs, a bit of wild garlic, and parsley stalks”, but for me, for home-cooking simplicity,

I just blended some blanched spring onions with oil to make a verdant green, very fragrant herb oil.

Then grill the fish head, pop it in the oven to cook through and drench it in the sauce, herb oil and lemon juice before layering on a blizzard of flaky salt, pepper and lemon zest.

Spring onions for the herb oil. — FilepicSpring onions for the herb oil. — Filepic

When I made this and ate it, I was floored.

I have eaten a lot of fish heads in my life, being Asian.

But never one like this.

Yes, grilled fish head is always good, but the buttery rich hot sauce emulsion is really what makes the dish for me.

It is unexpectedly spoon-licking tasty to begin with, and as you eat it, the juices and bits of char from the fish head will meld with the buttery sauce and make it increasingly more flavourful.

Once you have finished teasing out all the bits and pockets of meat from within the fish head, you’ll want to lick all that sauce off the plate. It’s crazy-good stuff.

Regardless whether you are making this for yourself, cooking it to impress a date, or serving it at a conventional food-loving dinner party to get them out of their comfort zone,

I can confidently say that this will be a super popular hit! — Contributed by Loh Yi Jun/junandtonic.com Ingredients

1 large fish head, with collar attached (I used salmon head)

2 cloves garlic, minced

120g unsalted butter, cubed and chilled in the fridge

30ml water

1/2 lemon

2 tbsp of your favourite hot sauce or sriracha

Black pepper

Salt to taste

1 stalk spring onion, green parts only, cut into thirds

120ml vegetable oil, or another neutral oil

Method1. Clean the fish head, removing the gills and any bloodline along the backbone. Rub 1 tbsp of oil all over the fish head, then sprinkle and rub two pinches of salt all over it.

2. Heat the oven to 180°C.

3. To cook the fish head, heat up a grill or griddle pan placed over high heat.

Put the fish head on the grill and cook for 2-3 minutes until the grilled-side is nicely charred.

Flip the fish head and char the other side for another 2 minutes.

Then, transfer the fish head onto an oven-safe tray and cook in the oven another 10 minutes or so.

4. Sauce: In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, saute the minced garlic in 1 tbsp of butter for 2-3 minutes until fragrant.

Then, add in the water and bring to a simmer.

Add in the rest of the butter, cube by cube, whisking constantly to dissolve the butter.

The sauce should thicken up into a spoon-coating consistency.

Add in the hot sauce and the juice of ¼ lemon, along with ¼ tsp of salt or more to taste.

5. Spring onion oil:

Bring a pot of water to a boil.

Then quickly blanch the spring onions − approximately 15 seconds − and immediately take it out and plunge into an ice bath.

Squeeze out the water and transfer it into a blender.

Add the oil to the blender and blend on high for 20 seconds until smooth. (This recipe makes extra.)

6. When the fish head is done, take it out of the oven.

If you have a blowtorch, you can use it to char up some of the parts that haven’t taken on enough colour.

7. To serve, plate the fish head, spoon the sauce all over the fish head, and drizzle 1-2 tablespoons of the spring onion oil over the fish.

Garnish with flaky salt, black pepper, lemon zest and a bit more lemon juice.

Serve and eat immediately!

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