The other day, we were in our regular grocery store and found salmon heads for sale. We have never seen this before. Of course, my wife wanted to try it and asked me to come up with a dish. Since I am originally from Hokkaido 北海道, she thought I would, of course, know a few recipes for salmon head. I decided to make it like a “Kabuto-ni” 兜煮 of red sea bream. I also added daikon and for color broccoli at the end.
As you can see the head contains quite a good amount of meat but you have to work to get to it.
Ingredients for two servings:
One fresh salmon head (see below).
Pieces of kelp for broth (two 1 inch squares)
Sake, mirin, and soy sauce for seasoning.
Daikon, peeled, cut into one inch round (since the daikon I had was large, I quartered it). Some green vegetable for color is always nice (I used broccoli).
1. Place the diakon in a pan with cold water and a pinch of raw rice and simmer for 30 minutes, remove the daikon and set aside.
2. Clean the salmon head, first wash it throughly under cold running water, and remove any scales, gills or unidentifiable soft brown stuff attached and removed the “Kama” or frontal fin parts (on the left below) and halve the head using a heavy chef’s knife (see 2nd picture below).
3. In a large pan, bring enough water to submerge the head to boiling. Blanch the head parts in the boiling water for 30 seconds and then wash them in cold running water in a colander.
Just for information, the famous Hokkaido “Hizu” 氷頭 is made from the cartilage in the nose of the salmon (seen below) by freezing it. In its frozen state the cartilage can be shaved into thin pieces and then dressed in vinegar.
4. After blotting the moisture from the surface, I generously salted both sides and placed it in the refrigerator for several hours without a cover. Some juice came out, as expected and I washed it again in cold running water.
5. In a pan large enough to hold the salmon pieces and daikon comfortably, add water (including the water used to hydrate the kelp) to cover. Add the hydrated kelp and bring the water to a gentle boil. If any scum appears on the surface, remove it and add sake, mirin, and soy sauce (I did not measure as usual but about 1:1:2 ratio). During the cooking I added soy sauce in two more stages after tasting.
6. Simmer for several hours (I ended up cooking it for 6 hours) with an otoshibuta. 5 minutes before serving, I added florets of broccoli.
Since the salmon has a strong flavor, I didn’t need to season it strongly. Because I cooked it for a long time, many of the small bones were soft and could be eaten. It was a bit of work, but the head had a lot of tasty meat. This was an ultimate comfort food; a hot, steaming bowl of flavorful. I, of course, especially like the gelatinous tissue behind the eye balls. My wife gladly donated her share to me. The daikon pieces absorbed a nice broth flavor and were nicely tender. Although, it is lots of preparation, this was quite nice and different from our regular salmon dishes.