Cod's Head

Discussion in 'Professional Chefs' started by chefwriter, Feb 12, 2019.

  1. chefwriter

    chefwriter

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    I began watching MasterChef Professional on Youtube. Just an episode or two so far. The first episode I watched had a skills test consisting of getting the meat off a cod's head.
    It was interesting and a little educational to watch but I thought it was an odd test as you get very little meat per head. It seems unlikely you would ever have enough for restaurant service of any kind without needing way too many heads and thus unlikely to ever have to actually do this in a restaurant. I would think being able to fillet a fish would be a much more appropriate test.
    So I'm wondering if this just a Michelin place kind of thing, A Television thing or is there any validity to being able to de-flesh a cod's head?
     
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  2. dectra

    dectra

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    I view it from two perspectives.

    One, it shows the total use of the fish (aka tip to tail). Having butchered more fish than I care to recall, if it's going to die and be served as food, I'd rather use every single edible part of it. Secondly, finding the "oyster" of the fish, as some view the cheek, for use in a service to a specific customer. We've all dug out the oyster on a chicken; it's not much meat either, but it is a nice sweet chunk to serve as a 'prize' to someone.
     
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  3. sgsvirgil

    sgsvirgil

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    What a great question. I did some digging on this and here is what I found.

    I believe they made Cod's head a thing for two reasons: 1) for the entertainment value of the show; and 2) removing the flesh from a cod's head is an old, old school thing that was once upon a time a required skill for chef's to have. Think of it as the culinary equivalent of teaching classical music and its technique to a young musician just learning to play. To that end, what are the chances that a modern day chef would know such a technique or have good enough skill to figure their way through such a thing? Hence, why it was made a part of the competition.

    Here is a quote from "The Complete Cook" by J. Sanderson, 1864: "In carving, introduce the trowel along the back, and take off a piece quite down to the bone, taking care not to break the flakes. Put in a spoon and take out the sound, a jelly-like substance, which lies inside the back-bone. A part of this should be served with every slice of fish. The bones and glutinous parts of a cod's head are much liked by most people, and are very nourishing."

    Here is another quote from "Routledge's Manual of Etiquette", 19th Century: "Next to turbot, a cod's head and shoulders is the handsomest dish of fish brought to table. The fish-knife must be passed through the back from 1 to 2, and then transversely in slices. No fish requires more care in helping, for when properly boiled the flakes easily fall asunder, and require a neat hand to prevent the dish looking untidy. With each slice should be sent a portion of the sound, which is the dark lining underneath the back-bone, to be reached with a spoon. Part of the liver may be given if required. The gelatinous part about the eye, called the cheek, is also a delicacy, and must be distributed justly, according to the number of the party."

    In this passage, it apparent that @dectra was spot on with in his comments about the cheek. :)

    There are recipes for Cod's Head that can be traced back to the 17th century. For instance, in "William Salmon's Family Dictionary, or, Household Companion, 1695" (No pun on the name Salmon lol), this recipe for Cod's head is found: "Cut it fair and large, boil it in Water, and Salt, add a pint of Vinegar, so that all the Head and Appurtenances may be just covered, put into the mouth of it a quart of stewing Oisters, a bundle of sweet-Herbs, and an Onion quartered: and when it is sufficiently boiled, set it a drying over a Chafing-dish of Coals; then take Oister liquor, sliced Onion, and two or three Anchoves, a quarter of a pint of White-wine, and a pound of sweet Butter, shred the Herbs, mix them with the Oisters, and garnish it with them, adding withal some slices of Lemon, grated Bread, and a little Parsley."

    Is this a Haute Cuisine thing today? Perhaps. But, I think not in the sense that a Michelin starred chef is going to serve a Cod's head as a whole head on a plate. Then again, nothing in Haute cuisine surprises me. I would think that if such a protein does make it to the menu in a Michelin restaurant, then, it would be used in much more refined manner as opposed to a big fish head on a plate dressed with garnish.

    The only place I have seen fish heads served like that are on TV shows where master chefs recreate old recipes like the "Lords and Ladles" series.

    Aside: I really enjoy the history of cooking. Thanks @chefwriter for starting this thread. :) I had fun researching it and I learned some things that I would've not otherwise have learned.
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2019
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  4. NotDelia

    NotDelia

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    I also saw something about how cod cheeks were very prized, so I asked my usual fishmonger (in Kent, England) about them. I was quite surprised when he said he didn't bother with them - too much faff and no demand - so he just chucks the heads, including cheeks, in the bin. (It's not a general rubbish bin, it's only the refuse from the fishmongers' filleting and preparing the raw fish according to the customers' requirements.) Well, this bin has been a bit of a treasure trove for me in the past. He'll quite happily give me freshly discarded heads and bones for free to make fish stock or whatever. Next time I'm there I'll ask him for some cod heads and explore the idea of doing something with cod cheeks.

    There's a slight problem in that I don't live in the UK right now - currently overseas - but when next there later this month I'll go for it.

    He's an excellent fishmonger in so many ways but perhaps a little conservative. I guess he caters exactly for his customer base and doesn't get distracted by things there's no demand for. He's certainly very successful and people travel miles to buy his fish. Me too.

    On a similar subject, I read something recently about a guy who'd made a business out of making snacks from salmon skins - also something often discarded. There's gold in them there bins!
     
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  5. chefwriter

    chefwriter

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    Thanks for replying everyone. I should probably have clarified that the cods' head was raw. If I remember correctly,to show what the contestants were expected to do, the judging chef took off some meat from the top, the cheeks, the tongue and from under the jaw. The remainder of the head was discarded.
    The judge then made a refined dish (enough for one eater) using the meat and assorted vegetables.
     
  6. frankie007

    frankie007

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    Cod,s cheeks were "in" item here in England last few years. i guess it is good using everything of off the animal killed for human consumption. I was always told that salmon bones can not be used for stock. Over the years I have used them and made soups with great success, first as staff food then I served it to the customers too. In Spain cooks fry small fish bones( the tail section) until crispy and serve them as a snack
     
  7. dectra

    dectra

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    I was curious about your comment on Salmon bones considered not 'good' stock base. Some folks seem to think the Salmon has a too strong flavor, and left you with a slightly oily stock, as opposed to a traditional french / generic fish stock . I suppose if you wanted a more robust flavor for a dish, (in a Bouillabaisse?) it could work. Guess it's what the finished dish came out like (and if folks would pay for the dish) that matters.
     
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  8. someday

    someday

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    Cod cheeks are amazing...like butter. Same with halibut.

    If you ever have the opportunity to eat skate cheeks, they are phenomenal. Best ones...way better than the wing (and I like the wing a lot).

    Cod heads also make a fantastic fumet, assuming you clean the gills and blood off the head.
     
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