Eating Gross Things: fish head soup at Catch
By Jon Sufrin
Squeamish eaters are weird. They will readily eat minced whatever in their hamburgers, or slurp the pork buttock off their plates with glee, but then avoid eating animal heads. This is messed up.
The reason, I imagine, is denial. People like to forget that filet mignon was once part of a living thing, a thing that would probably have enjoyed snuggling and long walks in the park if it hadn’t spent its entire life in bovine Alcatraz. If there is a face staring back at you on the plate, it becomes harder to pretend that dinner fell from the heavens like manna, which is the way we’d all prefer it to happen.
Let’s face it: eating is gross. It involves murder and all sorts of evil things. When we eat carrots, we wrench them out of their comfy homes in the dirt and chop them up and masticate them, which must suck for carrots. I say we either eat nothing at all or we eat every single thing that is not poisonous, including heads. At least Torontonians are opening up and getting into tongue on brioche, beef cheek tacos and pig ears, all good things that come from animal noggins.
Fish heads, though, still seem to be off-limits in this town. Which is a shame, because if you have never sucked the juices out of the face of a freshly steamed prawn, you haven’t lived (yes, prawns are not fish, but still). It’s true, though, that sea creatures aren’t very comely. But those who know seafood often proclaim that the head is the best part. Chef Charlotte Langley, who recently took over the kitchen at Catch on St. Clair, digs fish heads.
“Love them,” she says. “Juicy cheeks, tasty and high in fat. Good for your brain.”
At Catch, Langley makes fish head soup for around $7. It is yummy. It wasn’t on the menu when I called to ask about it, but Langley was eager to make me some anyway. I asked so many stupid questions about that soup that she clued in to the fact that I’d be writing about it, so, disclosure: Catch knew I was coming in to write about the fish head soup, and chef made it extra gross for me. But she’ll do the same for anyone else, just give her some advance notice.
Langley’s fish head soup was inspired by the traditional soupe de poisson, which is French for fish soup. She takes heads, usually from pink fish, and sears them. She adds garlic, onions and other spices such as cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, star anise and wine-soaked saffron. Then tomatoes and water are thrown in, and it’s all simmered for a few hours, then puréed and strained.
Usually, whole fish heads aren’t part of the presentation, so customers just see a fun bowl of fish juice. Some people are so weirded out by fish heads that they’ll shell out for a whole fish at Catch and then proceed to ask for the head to be removed. This is an affront to good eating, and it also makes you look silly.
This soup had some lightly grilled smelt fillets, plus three heads: two smelt heads and one sizeable turbot head with teeth like an orc. The broth was good and bold. The little heads were eaten whole, but the larger head was best eaten with the hands, torn to shreds so that the buttery meat could be sucked and slurped off the bones. The cheek and gill areas were the most succulent; the eyeballs, which had the surprising texture of frozen peas, could have been skipped.
Conclusion: fish head soup is good, especially with fish heads actually in it.
Jon Sufrin is the editor of PostCity.com. For his column, Eating Gross Things, he eats things that are widely considered to be gross and writes about it. He has no scientific method to determine what “gross” means. The article is just meant to be fun, so relax. For more of his thoughts on stuff, gross and not, follow him on Twitter. If you would like to suggest a gross food item for him to try, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.