Eat that which grows where you live, and mostly plants. That’s pretty much our dietary approach, in this house.
We try to keep it simple, and as local as possible, in the interests of provenance, thrift, energy footprint, and grounding ourselves where we are.
And we are, currently, by the sea.
Fish and it’s sustainable and/or otherwise sources is a big deal, so we’re careful to eat only what we’re sure has been caught locally + sustainably (I’d love to say we catch it all ourselves, but our fishing mojo – I mean the mojo that actually sees us catching fish, rather than trying to catch fish – is yet to appear).
But regardless of which whole fish you source to eat, there’s always lots of fish heads and scraps at the fish mongers, which usually go into either landfill or fish emulsion.
In the spirit of no waste living, getting your hands on some of these fish heads and making something delicious with them is a great way to enjoy some free (or nearly free) local protein.
Enter the delights of Fish Head Cheese.
Ok, so I called this post Fish Terrine because I didn’t want to scare everyone off immediately – becuase this stuff is tasty! But yes, it is made of fish heads. Stay with me.
This is head cheese in the same way that people make brawn, or head cheese from pigs, cows, kangaroos, goats and so on.
It’s a good way to use the otherwise throwaway portions of the animal. When all is used, less is needed.
I first encountered this wonderous dish during a twilight picnic at the top of the Byron Bay lighthouse hill, hosted by the lovely Jude + Michel Fanton of Seedsavers. Sandor Katz was also in attendance.
Personal hero name-dropping aside, I’ve been dreaming of this dish ever since – it was so good.
But I was unsure how to make it. Noone wants to make a failed, gloopy fish head cheese, after all. Just imagine explaining that one to the rest of your household.
But I finally figured it out, thanks to the internet, and my limited past experience participating in on-farm pig processing, which also included head cheese in its piggy form.
It’s very simple to do, and super delicious to eat.
So here we have…
Frugal Fish Terrine
(aka Fish Head Cheese)
Take 4 large fish heads, attached to their frames or not (I sourced snapper, and a few flathead), and arrange in a baking pan. Sprinkle salt and olive oil over the lot, and put in the oven for 30 minutes at 200ºc
Remove pan, and let cool.
When the fish are cool, get in there with your fingers and take all the flesh + fat off the heads – the cheeks, the fat around the eyes, the little bits between the spine.
Do your best to remove all bones as you go – the bigger the fish heads, the less of a job this is.
Put all your foraged flesh into a bowl, and add the juice at the bottom of the pan (sieved, if there’s scales in it).
Add fresh herbs of choice (I used greek basil + thyme + oregano) and a bit more salt if that’s your thing. Stir it all around.
Pour into a terrine dish and chill well, maybe overnight. The fish mix will gell up, and become quite firm.
Then turn your fishy terrine out onto a board or a plate, and that’s it.
Eat with thanks, homegrown salad, crunchy bread and maybe a cider.
The leftover bones: Add the bones to a hot thermophilic compost pile if you have one, or boil them up for a light stock, or place in a bucket of water with a firm lid for a few months and make fish fertilizer for your garden.
**Variation – next time I do this I’ll do as Jude recommended, which is to place a dish ontop of the fish in it’s vessel with a weight on it, to press out some of the liquid and make the end result a bit firmer and more brawn like. Next time…
As anyone who has made this kind of thing would know, this kind of dish is perhaps the the best way to get in touch with the fact that you’re eating animal.
No tidy fillets, no plastic wrap, no parsely-adorned medallions, no arms-length eating here. You are literally dissecting a head and pulling the fat out from behind the eyes.
It’s visceral stuff. And I mean that in the most respectful way possible.
I think if more folks made this sort of thing, our appreciation for our place in the ecosystem would shift markedly.
We’d probably eat a lot less meat, and make the most of it when it was available, using every single bitty piece possible.
To use what would otherwise be wasted (in our current society) is to honor that food source.
Here’s to simple living, within our means, where we are.