The inspiration for the dishes I am sharing in this post presented themselves to me while I was looking to satisfy a taste for some roasted yellowtail “collar.”
My search began after reading a recent article in the New York Times titled “Every Last Bit,” by Mark Bittman. I began by exploring various ways of roasting fish frames and fish heads that the fishmongers I use were all too willing to give away.
That was kind of fun and made for some interesting dining. However, it led me to continue to seek out that collar portion of the fish—the area just behind the head and pectoral fin—which I first sampled in a Japanese restaurant many years ago. Roasted yellowtail collar was served as a special offering provided you knew to ask for it. With this approach I learned that both yellowtail collar and wild salmon collar, although different tastes and textures, are equally good.
Yellowtail is more challenging to source, although I was able to connect with a local fishmonger who sold a 5-pound Japanese farmed filet with the collar attached. Thus I had plenty of yellowtail to use for other dishes once the collar was simply roasted, sprinkled with sea salt, doused with fresh lemon juice, and then quickly dispatched.
Yellowtail is often mistaken for tuna as the name can be and often is confused with yellowfin tuna, yellowtail flounder, and/or ahi, which is the name used for yellowfin tuna in Hawaii. Yellowtail, or hamachi as it is known in Japan, is a member of an Atlantic and Pacific ocean species known as amberjacks or simply jacks. Wildly popular in Japan and found in almost all sushi bars, hamachi is a rich, fatty, buttery, mild-tasting fish equally good served raw as in sushi, sashimi, or crudo, or cooked similar to tuna or swordfish, especially the collar as mentioned above. Hamachi is extensively farmed in Japan.
In the first recipe, using the trim and the tail section from the 5-pound yellowtail filet, I adapted a Sicilian preparation which included the fish in a sauce served over pasta. In the second recipe, I seasoned two thick filets cut from the larger 5-pound piece, which were then grilled and served over a mix of confetti-size summer vegetables.
Pasta with Yellowtail Sauce
In the province of Trapani, an important port on the west coast of Sicily, this recipe was adapted from one prepared in Favignana, an island commune, often using either tuna or swordfish. In the traditional recipe, the fish is quickly sautéed, then when cooled it is immersed in a marinade emphasizing a mix of fresh herbs which will include all or most of the following: basil, lemon verbena, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, and sage. The fish is then marinated for an hour or more and served slightly chilled with some of the marinade and herb mix drizzled over.
In this adaptation, after trimming away the blood line and skinning the fish, it was seasoned and then infused only in the herb mix (not a marinade), for several hours. The herb mix was then removed, the fish cubed, and incorporated into the final sauce served over the pasta.
1/2 pound linguini (in this recipe, squid ink pasta was used), allow 1/4 pound per person
1 to 1-1/2 pounds yellowtail filet, skinned, and blood line removed
1 medium sweet onion, minced
2 to 3 garlic cloves, split
3 to 4 fennel stalks, minced
8 oz chopped tomato and juice
Herb mix chopped (basil, lemon balm, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, and sage)
Basil leaves and fennel fronds for garnish
Salt and pepper
Hot chili pepper flakes
Season the prepared fish with salt and pepper and then cover with the chopped herb mix to infuse for 2 hours. Once fish is done, remove the chopped herbs and cube the fish, setting aside to combine with the sauce to finish.
In a large sauté pan heat 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Once the oil is heated, add the onion, garlic, and fennel, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until the soffritto begins to soften and lightly color, mixing to combine.
Once the soffritto has softened, pour in the tomatoes and add the chili flakes, again mixing to combine. When the tomatoes are completely incorporated and heated through, add the fish, again mixing to combine and lower the heat to barely a simmer.
Cook the pasta according to package instructions and then drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Raise the heat under the sauce and if it’s too thick, add a little of the pasta water to thin it. Ladle some sauce on the bottom of each plate, place the pasta over the sauce and again ladle a small amount of sauce atop the pasta. Drizzle some olive oil over and garnish with basil leaves and minced fennel fronds.
Grilled Yellowtail with Summer Vegetable Confetti
For the Summer Vegetable Confetti I used the following vegetable mix: carrot, 1 hot red chili pepper, spring onion, white and some green top, sweet white corn removed from the cob, green summer string beans, yellow summer squash, and zucchini. Other vegetables can be added or substituted but the corn and the squash should be part of any mix.
All of the vegetables except the corn were minced finely and mixed together. Just a simple chiffonade of fresh basil leaves and a sprinkle of salt and pepper was all that was needed to punctuate the flavors of the vegetable mix.
2 center cut filets, skin on
Spice rub (in this recipe the spice rub consisted of finely ground fennel seed, black pepper, and a dry roasted chipotle chili) plus a sprinkle of sea salt
After the vegetable confetti is prepared and mixed together, set aside. Rub the filets generously with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, and then dust liberally with the spice rub on all sides.
Prepare the grill, or if not using, heat a grill pan on a high temperature. When the flames are down on the grill and a good coal bed is established, or when the grill pan is hot, place the filets skin side down and begin to sear. Turn the filets frequently until all sides are cooked, the skin is crisp, but the flesh not burned.
Place several spoonfuls of the vegetable confetti in the center of a plate, place the cooked filet on top and garnish with a chiffonade of one or more fresh herbs. In this dish basil and shiso were used.
So here you have two ways to prepare a delicious fish beyond the sushi bar. Yellowtail or hamachi is available all year; however, these two recipes make good use of the abundance of the summer season’s fresh produce and herbs. Let me know how your yellowtail meal turns out.