Photo by Natasha Breen / 500px
Nose-to-tail decadence has dominated fine dining for the past decade. But now it seems chefs are ditching some of that heavy, carnivorous indulgence and finally coming up for air — by heading under the sea. Visit your favorite seafood joint, and instead of dainty pink salmon fillets streaming out of the kitchen, you’re more apt to find fully intact fish staring up from guests’ plates — literally (the eyeballs are considered a delicacy among avid foodies). An entrée experience that once possessed an off-the-charts ick factor is fast becoming, well, the catch of the day.
Chef Dylan Fultineer sees nothing fishy about the head-to-fin option. At Rappahannock in Richmond, Va. (RRoysters.com), he grills a variety of whole fish, pairing them with green rice and broccoli spigarello. “Anytime you cook an animal on the bone, it’s going to be more flavorful,” he says, comparing his approach to that of serving a whole chicken. So whether you’re diving into the straight-from-the-Gulf redfish at New Orleans’s Pêche (PecheRestaurant.com), the massive fried red snapper at New York hot spot Catch (EmmGrp.com), or — for the really brave — Tony Maws’s red chili rum-infused king salmon head at the Kirkland Tap and Trotter (KirklandTapAndTrotter.com), in Somerville, Mass., don’t be shy. “Eat all the little bits of meat from the cheeks, the fatty bits by the belly, and the skin,” says Ben Pollinger, the chef at Manhattan’s Oceana (OceanaRestaurant.com) and author of last year’s School of Fish.
As for all those bones? Get over it. “The biggest misconception is that there are going to be lots of them,” Pollinger says, “and most places serving whole fish debone it.”
Take the Plunge: Three easy tips for eating a whole fish
1. Rake it
Use your fork to pull chunks from the fish’s center. As you scrape perpendicularly up to its mouth, big flakes should come off.
2. Don’t fear the spine
Most restaurants keep it intact, and the bones of the fish’s spine are hard to dislodge. But they should be visible and easy to eat around.
3. Flip and repeat
After you’ve devoured the meat from the side of the fish facing up at you, don’t stop. Move the spine out of the way (by flipping it or cutting it out), turn over the fish, and go in for round two.