Welcome to Chef v. Chef!

This is a new way for our members to share their techniques and see what others are doing, too.

Every couple months, a couple of chefs will challenge readers to raise the stakes on the sustainability-minded practices in their kitchens. Chefs Collaborative then wants you document and share your work: in a comment and on Twitter and Facebook. We even have a Twitter hashtag: #chefsskills.

So: August’s challenge: Pick one fish on your menu and bring it in whole.

When it comes to the fish he buys for his restaurant, 606 Congress, Chef Rich Garcia goes whole. He writes:

Chef Rich Garcia, 606 Congress

It amazes me that more and more chefs and restaurants with the capacity to process fish in house are deciding against it.From an economic standpoint, I find that the ability to use the whole animal is much more profitable despite the extra labor involved. And for me this is why I cook. I love to create and develop new dishes with what is made available to me. I take the time to research what I can do with the heads, bones, scales, tongues and gills. How he does it:

At 606 Congress, a striped bass is broken down into 3 separate groups:

Striped bass “head cheese” served in its spinal cord.

1) Fillets– 6oz portions for dinner service and any smaller pieces and trim go to lunch features, including fish cakes, fish sandwiches or tasting portions for VIP and amuse.
2) We then scrape all the remaining meat off the bones and use it for raw dinner features like striped bass tartare, ceviche or even a mousse for our charcuterie board.
3) Last pile consists of head and bones. We either make a flavorful fish fumet or my favorite thing we have done is make fish head cheese. We take the bones, split the head and place them in the CVAP oven with a standard mirepoix , fennel and white wine, and let it all cook for a couple of hours at a very low, controlled temperature. The result is a super flavorful, gelatinous meat that can be picked off the bones and head and transferred into a terrine mold to form into an amazing feature for the charcuterie board for the night. We’ve even taken the spines of larger striped bass and split them along the vertebrate to use as the serving dish for tartar or head cheese.

So try bringing in some of your fish whole, says Garcia. “You’ll be amazed at how your culinary team will immediately be more motivated and will want to educate themselves, especially if they have never had the chance to butcher whole fish. Your service team will be proud to go to a table and talk about the whole fish they saw you fabricating so carefully earlier in the day and then describe to the table the amazing features you have created.”

Chef Tenney Flynn, GW Fins

Likewise, New Orleans chef Tenney Flynn of GW Fins, a seafood restaurant in the French Quarter, brings almost all of his fish in whole, he says. “A recent list of whole local fish would include American red snapper, Mangrove snapper, gag grouper, pompano, tripletail, triggerfish, cobia, redfish, drum, sheepshead, yellowfin tuna, swordfish, triggerfish and escolar. I’m sure I’m missing a few,” says Flynn. How he does it:

1) We make a lot of fish stocks, primarily for gumbo, so lean fish like snapper and grouper carcasses end up there.

Potstickers with fish mousselline.

2) Trimmings go into mousseline for lobster dumplings and crab potstickers. We always remove the cheeks for special orders or tasting menus.

3) The oddest thing we’ve done lately was hot smoking the rib bones from a 100-pound local swordfish. I gave them away at the bar.

It’s relatively easy for Flynn to work with so much fresh whole fish, he says. “Restaurants talk about flying their fish in daily—we get to drive ours in because we are so close to the docks.”

Chef Nico Romo, Fish, Charleston

At Fish in Charleston, chef Nico Romo gets most of his fish fresh from the boat of local fisherman Mark Marhefka—and brings it all in whole, to be butchered in a special walk-in reserved for that purpose. Among the fish he works with: red grouper,  scamp grouper, hog  grouper, triggerfish, red porgy, vermillion snapper, tilefish, amberjack, wahoo, and pompano. How he does it:

1) The beauty of fish this fresh is we don’t have to do anything to it. Just salt, pepper, and right onto the plancha, then served.

Steamed fish potstickers w/ kaffir lime consomme

2) With the trimmings, we make brandade and steamed and fried dumpling. We also sometimes make fish burgers.

3) The best dish we’ve made with trim has been fish and kaffir lime consomme with spicy steamed dumpling and brunoise mirepoix. And all the bones always go to stock.

So, chefs—you’ve seen how Rich, Tenney, and Nico handle whole fish in their restaurants. What about you? What’s your technique?