Fish heads eat them up yum

Gifts of the sea | August 15, 2012 | By

There’s a mysterious freezer section of my No Frills discount grocery store that I always rubber-neck.  It’s the section that often has chicken feet, and usually has a generous assortment of animal guts.  One time I saw beef face in there, but I haven’t seen it since, which might mean that it’s seasonal (smiles for spring?).  Something that’s in there every time I visit though, are fish heads.

For some reason, since the day I first saw them, fish heads have always struck me as intriguing.  Sometimes I stare at them for a while, wondering if I should bring them home and figure them out, but I can’t help but be suspicious of their arrow-shaped bony nature.  My argument with myself goes a little like this, mouth moving silently through the words as my kids beg to keep rolling past the weirdness:

First me:  There couldn’t be anything edible in there, right?  And how do you get past the brains and the eyes?

The other me:  But people obviously buy them for some reason.  Their brains can’t be that big, they’re just fish.  They could actually be good.

Maybe fish heads have always kept me mesmerized because of this awesome song.  Please persevere through the insanely long preamble.  I wish I was web-savvy enough to figure out how to play the song the entire time you’re reading this entry, but so it goes.

Fish heads song

Well, for some reason, today was the day.  I even phoned ahead to my local fishmonger, asking if they had any before I showed up asking strange questions.  They said they did – Grouper, which I soon learned is a huge fish.  I took two, each one about the size and weight of a cabbage, which they gave me for free (is that a bad sign?).  They were gigantic, big lipped, and googly-eyed.

The monger was thoroughly entertained.  I was silently grateful that my husband was away (when I told him what I had done over the phone afterward, his predictable response was EWWWW).

When we got home I made my 5-year-old daughter hold one up with her skinny little arms covered in grocery bags while she whined about the smell for the express purpose of trying to capture this photo and caption. Grouper heads will serve as an example of my mothering skills for her therapist one day for sure, so be proud that you’re witnessing that moment in my daughter’s history.


I let her off the fish holding hook and made her hold the beer while I made a long arm to get this shot, which did make it kind of blurry, sorry.

I procrastinated cooking the fishy noggins for the rest of the day (and tried to explain their presence in the sink to the afternoon babysitter nonchalantly) before I finally steeled myself by drinking that beer you saw before and threw them into a pot of boiling water according to these instructions.  I tried to clip off the fins and gills as they suggest before I did this, but they were too strong even for my best kitchen snips, so I left them on, not being too worried because some people said they used the fins for stock.

I boiled them for about an hour, worrying the whole time that I might have to hack at the intact cooked heads with a melon baller or something to dig the meat out.  It turned out that when they’re cooked, the heads fall apart and then you just have to pick through sorting bone from meat.  Example:  “Toothy jaw mandible – nope.”

I did have to avoid touching the eyes, but otherwise the sorting process was surprisingly guts-free.  It reminded me of picking over a can of salmon to get rid of bones and dark meat bits, which brought me to the realization that fish heads is probably where a lot of that meat actually comes from.

I wasn’t into saving the boiling water for fish stock, because it smelled hugely fishy and..just ugh, so instead I just used the surprisingly large bowl of meat I had just collected…

…to make these (even had to double the recipe).  Cooking trick – give a recipe a French name and it magically begins to look appetizing.

Fish (Head) Croquettes (makes 6-8 patties) with roasted garlic aioli

Based on this recipe


  • 1 head garlic
  • 1Tbsp olive oil
  • 6Tbsp prepared mayonnaise


  • 1.5 cups fish, shredded with your fingers
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1/2C red pepper, finely chopped
  • 1/4C red onion, finely chopped
  • 1Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped, more reserved for garnish
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2tsp mustard
  • 1tsp lemon juice
  • 3/4C bread crumbs, divided
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Mixed greens

Directions:  Aioli:  Preheat oven to 400, covering garlic head with tin foil and olive oil.  Roast garlic for 1 hour, and then after it has cooled, squeeze garlic into small dish.  Combine 1Tbsp of it with mayo and set aside.  Croquettes:  Combine all in a bowl with wooden spoon, adding only 1/4C of the bread crumbs to the mix.  Make patties and place on tray covered in parchment.  Let stand 10 minutes.  Heat generous glug of olive oil in pan until shimmering.  Put remaining bread crumbs on a plate and coat each patty.  Cook patties in oil 2-3 minutes per side until brown.

Serve patties over mixed greens with aioli and cilantro garnish.

Results:  This was the first time in my life that I have felt like a true magician in the kitchen.  I transformed two big ugly fish heads into a delicious meal that no one would ever be able to tell had come from such base beginnings, and now I’m pretty darn proud of myself for having done it.  I wouldn’t say that fish heads will become part of my repertoire, though – too weird and smelly.  But I do feel that I’ve acquired a valuable skill in case of a future food foraging Armageddon-type situation.  Time well spent.  And I’d make the croquettes again using fish filets without hesitation.

Rating:  3 gags for the fish heads, although I feel bad for judging them based solely on their gross appearance, because they tasted just fine and they were free, so what more do you want, really.  2 yums for the croquettes.






  1. Leave a Reply

    George Clooney
    August 22, 2012

    Would Tina, the fat lard, eat this fish?

    • Leave a Reply

      Ann Allchin
      August 22, 2012

      Nah, far too delicious for Tina. She has a more basic sense of taste. The happy hands club would love it though. Would go great with tots. Thanks for popping in, Mr. Clooney! It’s been far too long!

  2. Leave a Reply

    Martha Penturf
    August 27, 2012

    The recipe looks great- but I can see myself passing around similar grouper head shots while I am serving the meal– no wonder I have few parties

    • Leave a Reply

      Ann Allchin
      August 28, 2012

      As long as you pass the photos around after you served them the dinner you’d be doing okay. You just might find yourself being entertained at everyone else’s houses from then on! Bonus! 🙂

  3. Leave a Reply

    December 20, 2015

    Question: As another Canadian (Southern Ontario) English/Scottish/Irish girl – I am wondering…. I do photography, and specifically (at the moment) grouper bones. Can you give me an idea where you got your grouper head from? I have not tried yet in Toronto, but am planning on heading to St. Lawrence Market or Pisces Seafood. Just thought I would ask…. Thanks!

    • Leave a Reply

      Ann Allchin
      December 20, 2015

      Very cool! I visit “De la Mer” often — they’re fishmonger chefs and over-the-top friendly. There are locations in the West end and on the Danforth. I’m sure if you told them what you were up to they’d be happy to help!

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