Winter is not a time I eat a lot of fish, but my sisters visited me last weekend and they are both well-known pescavores, so I wanted to include a fish course in the special meal I cooked for them. At this time of year, that means dredging something out of the box freezer – in this case, striped bass collars.
What, you may be asking, is a striped bass collar? I bet you didn’t even know they had necks, let alone donned formal wear. Actually, a “collar” is the piece of meat that is right behind the gills and includes the pectoral fins. Few people other than Asians make much use of this cut of fish (if you have ever seen Hamachi Kamaon a Japanese restaurant, it is this piece of fish, only from a yellowtail tuna). That’s a pity.
Collars are fun to eat, you get a lot of crispy skin and if you are careful, you can get the fins beautifully browned – they are nutty and extremely tasty. Trust me on this. Unfortunately I burned mine this time, so they stayed on the plate. A smidge of tin foil would have fixed that. The meat is also unusually fatty and rich, almost like the belly that makes toro tuna so expensive.
They are best done with larger fish such as striped bass, tuna, salmon or big lingcod in the West, or stripers, tautog, grouper or tilefish in the East. A big red drum would also work for Gulf Coast readers.
Marinate them, then grill or broil. They will be sure to please every time, unless you are serving those squeamish folks who don’t like the notion that they are actually eating an animal. I try not to cook for those people too often.
GRILLED FISH COLLARS
This is a dish I do a lot when I am catching larger fish such as striped bass or salmon. It makes use of a part of the fish that few cooks bother with, but the meat you get, combined with the crispy skin, makes this a special treat on the grill. Collars also freeze well and are particularly suited to marinades. Here’s a primer on collars:
After you fillet the fish, remove the gills and with a knife or poultry shears cut the bottom of the fish from where you filleted it to the gills exactly in half. You should then be able to pull off each side to get a crescent of meat, skin and two sets of fins. Some fishmongers will do this for you, and Asian ones will probably not even look at you funny while doing it.
FISH TO USE
The list is endless, but use large fish – larger than 5 pounds. Also use bony fishy, as opposed to sharks, sturgeon or catfish. Some good choices include striped bass, salmon, lingcod, very large black sea bass or rock cod, tilefish, tautog or blackfish, Pacific seabass, red or black drum, very large sea trout (or freshwater trout, for that matter), grouper and snapper are fantastic choices, and the king of them all is tuna. The one place you can reliably find fish collars on a restaurant menu is in a Japanese place, which serves grilled yellowtail collars as Hamachi Kama. Try one, then you’ll be…hooked. Ahem.
WHAT TO DO WITH THEM
I like marinating them, although when you have really fresh ones you might need only olive oil, salt and lemon. One frozen, I go stronger.
Prep Time: 4 hours
Cook Time: 15 minutes
- 8 striped bass collars
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons real maple syrup
- 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons good, grainy mustard
- 1 teaspoon salt
Mix all the ingredients together in a plastic bag, seal and marinate at least 4 hours, or up to overnight.
Grill or broil over high heat. Hardwoods or alder is my favorite. You want them cooked through and you don’t want to burn up the yummy fins, then ends of which are a nutty, crunchy treat you will be shocked to learn you absolutely love! The meat in collars is fatty so it can withstand a little extra cooking. Put the spurs to your grill and have at it.
Do these as appetizers or if you have big salmon or group or tuna collars, you can go for a main course. I do 2 striped bass collars per person typically, but even one will whet their appetite for more, so use your judgment depending on the size of the fish. Enjoy!