From Tip to Tail - Using All Parts of a Fish to Create Maximum Flavour with Minimum Waste

Food wastage is a problem and I think it’s something that we’re always aware of. But meeting Naoyuki Yanagihara – a very talented chef from Japan – on Alaska Seafood’s culinary retreat really put it into perspective for me.

After we’d been fishing we went back to the culinary school to cook what we’d caught. Most of us took cheeks or loins of black cod or halibut, but Naoyuki waited for everyone to have their pick and then chose the head. This is where it got interesting and absolutely why I wanted to be part of this trip.

I know Japanese cuisine is very different to ours, but what he demonstrated (very easily) was just how much more there is to the fish than the normal cuts we eat here in the UK. Why waste it? Full utilisation of a single fish is absolutely about respect – respect for the food that is being eaten and the respect not to waste something so valuable.

Over the years, I’ve experimented with various different parts of a fish but not to the extent that Naoyuki has. So we’ve collaborated on this one.

Take a fish – salmon or cod for example. This is what you can do: 


NY – The cartilage behind the eyes is delicious. It has a firm and almost crunchy texture and is very simple to serve. First, you salt it and then marinate it with vinegar.


NY – In Japan, we eat the fat that surrounds the eyes. I usually cover it with soy sauce and mirin for added flavour. It has a slimy texture, but is very tasty. Years ago in Northern Japan it used to be considered a children’s snack.


NY – The skin of white fish (halibut and grouper for example) is often added to sashimi. When soaked in hot water, it takes on a great texture. It will be too hard to eat when undercooked and is too mushy when overcooked so it’s important to get it right. Once fried, it’s beautifully crispy.  

AR – I have served skin as a garnish to a seafood dish before. Once sous-vided, you dehydrate it and then deep fry until it puffs up like a piece of crackling or rice cracker. It adds a nice touch to the plate.


NY – We have fish fins with sake. We put well dried and roasted fillets in warmed sake. The fillet creates a savory smell and taste. The fins have to be dried enough though, otherwise it makes the sake too fishy.


NY – Soft cods milt is a luxury food product in Japan. It has a smooth texture and doesn’t really smell of anything. You soak the milt in salt water, then you can either boil or steam the milt to create Chawanmushi (egg pudding) or fry it to create a Tempura. It goes particularly well with ponzu citrus vinegar.


NY – We love fish eggs such as salmon roe. Egg doesn’t have taste itself, so it can be seasoned in many ways. Fish eggs usually come in a chunk. We pour over hot water to solidify the film on the surface of the egg which makes it easier to release the eggs one by one. Salt plays the most important role to stop the egg from going white and breaking. Soy sauce and mirin add a good taste and flavour to the egg.

AR – Most recently I have used salmon roe in a cod dish. Once popped out of the roe sack, I cure it in lime juice to tighten the outside of the egg so that it pops when you bite into it.


AR – Halibut cheeks are in my opinion the best piece of fish money can buy. Unfortunately, it’s not something that you can get in the UK as the heads are usually cut off for shipment to reduce weight. So cod would be the next best bet. It’s quite unlike a fillet or loin of fish in that it’s stringy rather than flaky. I would pan fry the cheeks and serve with a white garlic puree with potatoes and capers.


AR – Quite simple really. Place the loin in a cool pan with a thin layer of fat for frying. The loin must be skin side down. Gradually turn up the heat to medium hot, rendering the skin so that it goes crispy. The flesh of the fish will change colour and you want to keep cooking until the colour changes half way up the loin. Flip the fish for 3 to 4 seconds. Take out of the pan and let the loin rest. Resting time is key.

‘We eat various different types of fish here in Japan instead of meat. We can see as many as 150 types of fish in Tsukiji market today and enjoy having the option to diversify menu choices on a daily basis. In our food culture, we have learnt over the years how to eat fish without wasting anything, using the head and bones as well as the more meaty part of the fish.
Naoyuki Yanagihara, Vice President of Yanagihara School of Traditional Japanese Cuisine, Culinary Specialist of Japanese Traditional Cuisine and Japanese Cuisine Goodwill Ambassador February 2018: