Grilled Salmon Collar with Ponzu Sauce

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grilled salmon collars recipe
Photos by Holly A. Heyser

Every few years California gets a great salmon season, and when that happens we eat a lot of salmon. On the boats I fish, I see lots of people getting their fish filleted and happily walking away with slabs o’salmon.

They’re happy, but I can’t help but feel sorry for them: They just left the best part of the salmon with the deckhand: the salmon collar.

I’ve been a deckhand before, and I know that what the clients leave behind is often the best part of the fish. In no case is this more stark than with salmon collars.

What is a fish collar? It is the part of the fish behind the head and gills that extends to where you sliced off the fillet. It includes the pectoral fins. If you’ve ever eaten hamachi kama at a sushi restaurant, that’s the collar from a yellowtail jack.

Why bother with it? Well, it is insanely rich, meaty and just plain fun to eat. Lots of rich, fatty meat nestles in pockets around the fins, and then you get some regular meat at the top of the collar that you missed with the fillet knife. In all honesty, I’d rather eat collars than the regular fillets.

Only bother with collars from fish about 5 pounds or larger; anything smaller is not worth the trouble.

You remove the collar after you’ve filleted the fish. Do this with a knife and/or a pair of kitchen shears. The best way is to fillet your salmon from right behind the head, taking the collar with you. Then, you slice off the collar from just behind the pectoral fin.

Salmon collar is made for grilling. I cook them in no other way, although you could broil them if you don’t have access to a grill.

I’ve cooked them barbecue style, with indirect heat, as well as straight over the coals. I actually prefer a little char (oooh, fish pun!) that I get with the direct heating method. Indirect heat limits the charring, but the collars can stick to the grill more that way. Your choice.

A marinade is a good idea. Why? Because the collar isn’t very thick, so a marinade can penetrate quickly, giving you a boost of flavor. What I provide below is a pretty traditional hamachi kama marinade, but let yourself run free. Your mind is your only limitation here.

Dipping sauce? Traditional, but not vital. I’ve eaten collars both ways. Ponzu, a citrus-soy blend, is a great idea for salmon, because it’s so rich. You might want a sauce with a little fat in it if you were to grill a collar from a lean fish, such as a lingcod or striped bass.

grilled salmon collars recipe
5 from 11 votes

Grilled Salmon Collar

While I prefer to use salmon collars for this recipe, this dish is traditionally done with the collars from a yellowtail and is called hamachi kama in Japanese restaurants. Both fish are excellent here because they are fatty. Can you use the collars from another fish? Sure. I've done this with lingcod, striped bass and albacore tuna. Just use a large fish for this; something over 5 pounds.
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Japanese
Servings: 4 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 2 hours
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 10 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 4 salmon collars or collars from another large fish
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup mirin or rice vinegar mixed with 2 teaspoons sugar

PONZU

  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup lime juice
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup mirin

Instructions 

  • Put the sesame oil, soy and mirin in a container and toss with the salmon collars. Cover and marinate for at least 20 minutes, but 2 hours is better. You can marinate them as long as overnight, but more than that and the fish will get too salty.
  • While the fish is marinating, mix all the ingredients for the ponzu sauce and set aside.
  • Get your grill going. Wood is the best here, but charcoal or gas works fine, too. You want medium heat for fatty fish like salmon or yellowtail, hotter heat for a lean fish like a lingcod. The fat in the fish protects it from overcooking. Make sure your grill grates are hot, and spotlessly clean. Drain the fish collars from the marinade and allow to drip any excess away; this helps prevent flare-ups. Right before you set the fish on the grill, ball up a paper towel and grab it with tongs. Dip the paper towel in vegetable oil and wipe down the grill grates.
  • Lay the fish on the grill skin side down. Cover the grill and cook until the skin side gets a little charred and a lot crispy. This should be at least 3 minutes, but if you have your heat at a nice medium, it will be closer to 5-6 minutes. Carefully flip the collars with a large metal spatula and cook for another 4-6 minutes on the meat side.
  • Serve with steamed rice and the ponzu sauce on the side.

Notes

The proportions of the citrus in the ponzu can be changed according to your taste, but please squeeze them fresh; it makes a big difference. Once made, the ponzu sauce will last several weeks in the fridge.

Nutrition

Calories: 403kcal | Carbohydrates: 28g | Protein: 42g | Fat: 14g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 94mg | Sodium: 4464mg | Potassium: 1073mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 14g | Vitamin A: 109IU | Vitamin C: 24mg | Calcium: 38mg | Iron: 3mg

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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33 Comments

  1. Hey Hank…I have caught lots and lots of salmon in my life. A couple of years ago I went out on a trip with R. J., your buddy and mine. It was a group of people, most of which had never caught a salmon before. So I waited until everybody else on board got their fish. We ran out of time and decided to head home. R. J. approached me and asked if I was ok with not catching a fish. I just smiled and said “I’m gonna take all of the heads and collars after your guy fillets everyone’s fish”. He grilled from ear to ear! This recipe is excellent. I make it with no modifications, comes out perfect every time.

  2. Salmon heads — with collar — are only $1.99 a pound at my favorite grocery. (Steaks and filets at the same shop, by contrast, are commonly $20-$30 per pound.) We were delighted to see that you had a recipe for them, and it was perfect — we added a little garlic and ginger to the marinade for an extra kick, but otherwise made it just as written. Completely fantastic, and wild that it cost us practically pennies…

  3. Since we cut off big belly fins so they don’t poke holes in the cling wrap when preparing for the freezer, this lovely marinade works well for those too.

  4. Forgive me if this is a dumb question, but what counts as a collar? Are there two collars per salmon (one collar on each side) or is there one per salmon (the collar forming a u shape around the back of the head)?

  5. This is such a killer recipe! I use it for fatty salmon (pinks), belly’s and evening the farmed Atlantic’s when I’m out of my stash of fish.