Nasty Bits: Fish Head Curry
This fish head was so large that just half of it weighed a whoppin' seven pounds. Its scales were exactly the shape and hardness of fingernails and its eyes, like dull, impenetrable black marbles. Inside there was cartilaginous bone and red flesh that looked and tasted like a milder tuna.
A fish head of this scale (ha) needs so little work to become tasty that it's even easier to prepare than a whole fish. By the time the fishmonger presents you with a seven-pounder-half-of-a-fish head, he or she will have already gutted and cleaned it (by virtue of taking the body apart). You can request the head to be chopped into smaller pieces, but doing so will make things harder in the long run because instead of lifting some very large sections of meat from an intact skeleton, you'll have to deal with separating flesh from smaller pieces of bone.
The best thing to do is to find a pot large enough to fit the head, which shouldn't be too difficult because the dimension of the head will bend a little to fit the pot.
Worse case scenario: this happened to me one summer when I cooked at a friend's house by the ocean, in one of those makeshift beach cottage kitchens that always smells of briny seaweed and faintly rotting wood. You start cooking the fish head with the meatiest part of it (which is to say, the end farthest away from the mouth of the fish) in the pot where you have your soup bubbling. The pointy lip-end of the fish will stick out of the liquid, as if the fish is taking one last gasp of air before its demise, and over time you can ease the rest of the head into the soup as the skeleton cooks and softens.
Coconut curries are probably one of the best ways to cook a fish head because the pungent, thick-bodied, spicy broth complements the rustic look and feel of the head.
I wrote about the convenience of making your own Thai curry pastes and freezing them for ease of use later on. If you have one of these curry pastes at your disposal the only other thing you'll need is a can of coconut milk.
Along with the fish head, I like to add eggplant, squash, and rice noodles. Eggplants do an especially nice job of sopping up the liquid of the curry broth. One whole fish head, split cleanly into two, was a feast for eight people. At one point during the meal, I found very little difference in texture between the fleshy, slippery meat of the eggplant and squash and the tissue of the eyeball, a telling sign that it was perfect to eat.