Grilled Fish Collars

5 from 5 votes
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grilled fish collars on a platter
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

My family is from New England, a region well known for being thrifty, especially with fish. Cod cheeks are my favorite part of that fish, and halibut cheeks are even better. Cod throats and collars are not uncommon menu items in Massachusetts, although sadly they’re becoming moreso because of overfishing.

Collar, you say? Yes, collar. It’s more or less what you think it is: The meaty bit of a fish behind the gills and before the first slice of the fillet. And I am here to tell you that you need to master this cut, because it produces the best part of the fish.

I am not joking. The collar is fatty, even on lean fish, and has several contrasting textures of meat to get into. And when grilled, the skin gets all crispy and the ends of the fins char a bit, breaking down the strength of the bones within them so you can nibble on them like chips; they taste surprisingly nutty.

If you’ve ever been to a sushi restaurant and seen hamachi kama, this is grilled yellowtail collar. Order it and you will soon see I am right about fish collars.

But how to get one? First, you need a large fish. Not tuna size, although that would be hilarious: A gigantic collar over a huge fire, roasting away for all to pick at. Maybe on a lazy susan with various dipping sauces. (Filing this idea away for later.) No, I mean a “normal” big fish, like 10 pounds or larger.

I am using striped bass in the pictures, but any large, bony fish works. (See below for options)

Striped bass collars grilling
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

To remove fish collars, remove the gills and gut the fish as normal. Now make your fillets, but be sure to cut straight across (perpendicular to the spine) from about 1/2 to 1 inch behind the pectoral (side) fin. What that does is a) give you a nice, triangular fillet that avoids the weird pointy bit you get from behind the back of the fish’s head, and b) leaves more meat for the collar.

To get the collar, take your knife and slice just over the backbone toward where the gills used to be to cut through any pin bones. Good kitchen shears work well for this, too. Now cut straight down behind the fish’s head where bone meets meat (cut through the meat) until you get to the middle of the fish. That should free the collar for the most part, although you might need to snip here and there where things are sticking.

When you’re done, you’ll get a piece of meat that looks like the state of Minnesota.

How to cook it? Grilling or slow smoking are the ways to go.

fish collars in a roaring grill
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Grilling hot and fast is normally what I do — thus this recipe — but with fatty collars from trout, salmon and sablefish I will also smoke them. Smoking is better for fattier fish in general, I find, because smoke adheres better to fat than lean.

Whatever fish you use, cook them simply and enjoy the kaleidoscope of texture and flavor you get from this largely unloved portion of your catch.

Serve these simply, with maybe some grilled vegetables and potatoes, or with some bread. To drink, something uncomplicated, like a lager or pilsner beer or a nice but not-too-fancy white. A dry rosé is another good choice.

If you have leftover fish collars, flake out the meat and use it for a fish salad the next day.

grilled fish collars recipe
5 from 5 votes

Grilled Fish Collars

You can use the collar from any large fish here. Some good candidates include: striped bass, salmon, lake trout, redfish, tautog, yellowtail, white seabass, really big Pacific rockfish or largemouth bass, lingcod, snapper or grouper, and sablefish, also known as black cod. The fattier the fish, the shorter the marinade. I often marinate collars from salmon or lake trout only a few minutes. I also really like to grill salmon collars Japanese style; this method also works great for yellowtail.
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: American
Servings: 4 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes


  • 4 collars from large fish such as striped bass, yellowtail, salmon or snapper
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper or lemon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons mixed dried herbs such as basil, thyme, oregano, mint
  • 1 to 4 garlic cloves, sliced thin
  • Lemon or lime wedges to serve


  • Put the collars in heavy duty freezer bags and add all the remaining ingredients save the lemon wedges. Seal the bags and shake them around to coat the collars well. Marinate in the fridge at least 1 hour and up to overnight.
  • Get your grill nice and hot and clean the grates. Arrange the collars skin side up in one layer so they don't touch. Grill over high heat with the grill cover open until charred a little, about 5 minutes or so. Turn and do the same to the other side. If the meat's not cooked through (it will start to flake), give it a little more time.
  • Serve hot with lemon wedges and a bowl to toss the various bits of bone and fin.


Calories: 167kcal | Carbohydrates: 2g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 18g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 1mg | Sodium: 584mg | Potassium: 53mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 15IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 45mg | Iron: 2mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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  1. Hmmm… to find words to explain this deliciousness…. It may not look pretty, but neither does the oyster that makes the pearl. We read up on this before throwing the red snapper collars away. Thank you, Hank, for helping us discover the hidden gem of a fish prep recipe!

  2. A friend asked me to smoke a 200 lb monster tuna collar(s) that won’t fit in the smoker.
    How do I cut these down? I tried a frozen food knife on the collars from a 100 lb tuna, and that took a lot of effort.

    1. Kohersch: Crazy! I’ve never had that problem, but I’d saw the big arc of the collar exactly in half at the thinnest point. Let me know if that works for you.

      1. I know this reply is a bit (read: very) late, but in Japan tuna collars are halved just as you said Hank. Heavy meat cleaver will do the job, or a miter saw if its real thick. Tuna collar and head (kabuto) are fantastic smoked or grilled.

  3. I do long range trips out of San Diego and have smoked several collars from 100+ pound yellowfin tuna. Just a light rub of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Absolutely amazing.

  4. Hank,. I made a similar version with collars from enormous (6lb+) black bass caught off the coast on Maryland. A few lucky anglers were filleting their catch at a dock where we were crabbing with ring nets. We asked them for the heads and bellies they we’re picking into the water. We gleaned a large quantity and they were happy to part with them. I separated the collars and grilled them with a few whole heads and they were fantastic. The bellies were separated for adding to soup and the rest of the heads were made into stock!

  5. Hi Kay, I like to smoke my own bacon, which I’m sure causes my next-door neighbours some consternation. I avoid this by giving them some bacon once in a while, and thus far I have had no complaints. 8^)

    As for the fish collars… damn… just reading this article is making me hungry.

  6. I have been really enjoying grilling black cod collars on our little hibachi grill but it produces a lot of smoke because of the high fat content so a little worried about upsetting the neighbours. I want to try smoking them in our komado and get some of the fat rendered out and then finish by grilling on the hibachi again. I am thinking of doing it the same way i do chicken wings 🙂 about 250 for a couple of hours, then high heat on the hibachi to crisp up the outside. Do you think it may work?

  7. Last large striper I had (27#) was filleted and then the collars grilled, wonderful. But on a large fish don’t forget the head itself, split up the middle through the chin, opened and grilled, was another meal for two.

  8. Agreed – the collars are the best part of the fish. Here on the west coast of Florida the shallow water groupers (gag, red, scamp) yield excellent product. The best however are the deep water varieties – yellowedge, Warsaw and kitty Mitchell. Don’t overlook the snapper collars either!

  9. You don’t need large collars.Sockeye grilled is awesome. S & P or teriyaki or just smoke.Also try pickerel collars floured and deep fried(and the tails, of course) for crispy crunchy apples. We also flour and fry whitefish,rainbow and Dolly. Waste nothing , you worked hard and it is all good!

  10. Hank
    As usual a brilliant read. Thanks. This week it’s very timely as The Pink Cook has just had a guest chef in to do a sustainable seafood class.
    I’m all for encouraging people to use everything.

  11. In Spain, back in the old days, fishermen were very poor, so they sold the fish, but kept the throat and cheeks for themselves (those parts were almost worthless). These days, however, the throats and cheeks are considered to be a delicacy and go for a premium, way above the price of the fish itself!
    I love the idea of grilling the collars – I’ll have to try that 🙂