In the first few chapters of The Whole Fish Cookbook: New Ways to Cook, Eat and Think, chef Josh NIland changed the way I view fish I’ve cooked my whole life. He’s made a years-long study, testing every assumption, to arrive at a point of view that seems radical at first, and then makes perfect sense.
The gist: Niland treats fish like meat. He eschews preserving it on ice as so many fish markets do — the water degrades it — and he’s found ways to age it like meat to develop its best flavors and texture, some fish as long as a month, with no degradation. He doesn’t throw anything away, but uses it all “nose to tail” including scales and offal. He uses 90% of the entire animal. That idea alone has expanded my imaginings and possibility-thinking.
We now use only half of the fish. If we learn to use almost everything, we can fish less, and preserve the fish reserves and avoid excessive exploitation. It’s basically also a sustainable process.
The charts showing ways to break down a whole fish, and all the parts you can use —even a chart of just a fish HEAD — makes me view the parts I made short shrift of as delicacies to honor and enjoy. I hadn’t realized there are so many. I hadn’t taken the time to look!
While implementing many of his techniques — say hanging a whole fish in my fridge to age it — might be daunting in a small home kitchen*, I found myself weaving the ideas behind them into my own simple preparations.
*Years ago I DID hang a pork loin in my tenement apartment’s fridge to cure it as a ham with great success.