What I did with a dead fish

It was about a week ago that I posted a fish-frame APB.  What on earth, I wondered, could I do with all the striped bass carcasses Kevin and I were left with after we stripped them of their filets.

And you responded with characteristic resourcefulness and ingenuity. After reading all your suggestions, it was clear to me not only that I have a much better-informed readership than I deserve, but also that fish-head soup needed to be part of my repertoire.  Today, Kevin and I came home with three striped bass, and I was ready to try it.

I know my face is in the shadows, but I assure you it's me, and I caught the fish

I fileted the fish, and then Kevin and I tackled the carcasses.  Snip off the heads, remove the gills, and you should be good to go.

Have you ever tried to get the head off a 35-inch, 20-pound striped bass?  I hadn’t, and neither had Kevin.  One thing was clear, though — it wasn’t coming off with sewing scissors.

We started with the kitchen shears, but they didn’t even make a dent in the various bones and plates that connect a fish’s head to its body.  We then went up the cutting tool hierarchy to poultry shears, but fish are made of sterner stuff than chicken.  Kevin then went to the garage for the big guns, and came back with tin snips.

Now, it may be that our tin snips are a little long in the tooth, or it may be that nothing this side of a band saw can decapitate a striped bass, I don’t know.  I do know that we were making a big bloody mess and not much progress.

Then we went to the Fiskar loppers.  The kind with a gear, that we use to cut branches up to about three inches in diameter.  And, yeah, those worked.  But the fish was so mangled by this time I couldn’t imagine putting it in a soup pot.  We wrapped the carcasses in newspaper and threw them in the freezer.  If you can use them, they’re yours for the taking.

This, my friends in the Starving commentariat, is how I repay your kindness.

13 people are having a conversation about “What I did with a dead fish

  1. Oh boy! I laughed out loud and then felt bad that you worked so hard. By the way, a google search of “how to remove fish heads from stripers” returns THIS post as the third hit. :[]

    One site says use a cleaver, but I’ll bet the branch loppers are less skill-intensive. This video makes it look easy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ur5Kq9KEtc, but also very very messy. I’m guessing from the way he moved the fish around that there is a special way of hitting the spine to sever it just so – or maybe it is the angle (not straight up and down but more sideways).

    One forum post mentioned a cleaver and a 2×4, so basically a cleaver and a mallet. I bet Kevin could make short work of that … IF you have a cleaver. If not, then I have a suggestion. First clean and sharpen the branch loppers before going fishing. Then use your knife to cut away the soft tissue and make room for Kevin to reach in with the loppers and you hold the fish steady for him. I’ll bet it works good next time. A friend of mine uses branch loppers to cut the joints when he dresses out deer instead of using a bone saw so you’re on the right track.

    It is such an education to see how every little project that involves new skills turns into such a time-eating hairball!!

  2. That was pretty funny , and I’m really glad it was you and not me.

    Now get them out of the freezer and bury them under wood ashes in the garden where they will do some good.

  3. Rick, I think you hit the nail on the head (so to speak). All our projects seem to end up needing fancy new equipment!

    Barb — We could do that. We could. But I think I’m going to wait until we get some smaller fish, like a nice, manageable sea bass, before we go the fish-head soup route. I’m a little done with striped bass carcasses. Makes me a sissy, I know.

    Paula — We buried the last bunch under the compost pile. Want to know how that turned out? It was a fairly small compost pile, so the chickens managed to scratch up one little patch where some fish showed through. The whole pile turned maggoty and smelly, and you could actually see it moving with all the insect activity. It was truly disgusting. I am DONE burying fish! Done, I tell you.

  4. This is exactly what would happen to us – if only we had the gumption to attempt severing fish heads. So kudos to you for trying. Please tell me that you at least sang, “fish heads, fish heads, roly-poly fish heads, eat them up, yum” while going through all of this. And my condolences about the maggots. You two are troopers!

  5. Accidental Mick says:

    Hi Tamar,

    Do you think your problem is actually one of scale?

    When I started vegtable growing in the autumn of 2010, I wasn’t going to bother with composting because it never seemed to work for me. However, a fellow allotmenteer (I might have made that word up) told me in words of one syllable how to “hot compost” in a small way. (A bin 4 x 4 by 3 ft high) In less than a year I had beautifull compost for top dressing my raised beds.

    I eat a lot of fish and all the heads, guts and skin went in to the bin and at the end there was no discernable trace of fish. I was a bit apprehensive about scavengers (we don’t have racoons but we do have foxes – lots of foxes) but the smell of fish must be covered by the smell of the compost.

    The point is, the biggest fish I would normally have is in the 2 to 3 pound range. I think that the sea monsters that you and Kevin regularly catch would need to be buried in Mount Pig Poo.

  6. Double-checked with friend: cleaver is best, loppers will be much more difficult. His analogy: using loppers is like trying to push a nail through a board, as opposed to a cleaver being like hammering a nail. So as I understand it, get a good swing and make one sharp whack. Also, loppers are difficult to clean afterwards where a cleaver is simple to clean. You rely mainly on the weight and momentum of the cleaver to apply the force.

    PS: The big fish heads are what they used when he was in Indonesia.

    PPS: Those maggoty fish heads that grossed you out are actually excellent chicken feed.

  7. Trish — I’m getting the hang of the “fish pose!”

    Amy — Oddly, I don’t know that song. Odd, because it sounds like the kind of song I should know. Next time I see you, I’ll make you sing it for me. Hold the maggots.

    Mick — That’s *exactly* what my problem is. It’s one thing to bury a trout frame, and quite another to bury the bloody Loch Ness monster. Okay, my fish aren’t that big, but the heads are literally bigger than a softball. They don’t decompose readily, and they do attract predators. When we go for sea bass, I should be able to do more in the composting vein.

    Goose — Good to know that we have a good excuse!

    Barb — The problem with the cleaver is that it has to come down in precisely the right place. That, and it gets fish viscera all over the kitchen when it doesn’t. The first, second, AND third time! (Although I have to say, Kevin doesn’t miss … that’s only when I do it.) But you’re right about the maggots being a Consolation Prize. I’ll be eating them myself, once they’re converted into eggs!

  8. In my heart and gut (ouch), I believe this is a job better handled by finesse than brute force. I have never handled a striper that big, so I am not speaking from personal experience (reason enough to hit ‘delet’ before ‘submit’) but I truly believe manipulating your knife just so and working your way around the largest bones and through the softest should be the solution. However, there is one way to know for sure– so catch another this big before I make my way there…and I will either make a mess and an ass of myself, or remove the head with a good sharp knife (and perhaps a blow or two with a kitchen cleaver).

    • Marge, if I can possibly have a big old striper carcass for you to work your magic on when you’re here, I would be delighted to watch you dismantle it with nothing but a good sharp knife and your native charm. I would never bet against you!

  9. Another alternative, just gut and gill the fish right when you catch it, then you can throw the whole rack in the pot to make stock, soup etc., and you get every last bit of meat from the fish.

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