Mastering the Art of Fish Scales as Food with Chef Josh Niland

Table of Contents

Sustainable fish options are becoming more popular in kitchens these days. Yet, there’s a part of the fish that is often overlooked: its scales. Taking a page from Chef Josh Niland’s recent masterclass, today, we’re diving into the underexplored world of fish scales. This discussion will shed light on a unique technique that not only keeps the fish’s texture intact but also opens up a new avenue of culinary creativity.

The Conventional vs. The Novel

Most chefs who cook seafood know that the way a fish is descaled can significantly impact its taste, texture, and overall quality. Thus, the scaling technique is a pivotal aspect of the culinary process.

Traditionally, descaling a fish has been seen as a necessary evil, often carried out with tools that might bruise or even tear the delicate flesh beneath. This conventional method, while effective, compromises the quality of the meat, especially when the fish is intended to be stored for later use. Why? Because the bruises expedite the deterioration of the flesh, resulting in a less desirable texture and freshness.

On the other hand, the novel technique introduced by Chef Niland, which he honed from Japanese culinary experts, involves a meticulous process of cutting off the scales. This method is a game-changer as it prevents bruising and retains the fish’s texture. All of this is a significant advantage when preparing delicate dishes like sushi and sashimi, where the texture of the fish plays a critical role in the overall dining experience.

Chef Josh Niland’s Descaling Technique Explained

The brilliance of this technique lies in its simplicity and how well it works. It all starts with expertly cutting off the scales, a skill that demands a steady hand, a bit of patience, and a good grasp of the fish’s structure.

But what sets this approach apart from the usual one is that it doesn’t disturb those little pockets where scales used to be. This small but vital detail keeps the fish fresh and avoids that fishy smell, something that can be a turn-off for many.

A Closer Look at Fish Scales

Upon removal, a closer examination of the scales reveals a honeycomb-like arrangement where they were nestled on the fish’s skin. This observation provides a clear understanding of the rationale behind Chef Niland’s descaling technique, which is reducing water retention on the fish’s skin to slow down spoilage. This insight emphasizes not only the ingenuity behind the technique but also the importance of understanding the anatomy of the ingredients we work with, expanding our culinary possibilities.

How to Incorporate Fish Scales into Your Dishes

Your culinary journey doesn’t have to end with scaling the fish. In fact, once those scales are removed, a whole world of creativity opens up in the kitchen. Here’s how it works:

Boiling: Start by boiling the scales in water to cleanse them thoroughly. This process needs to be repeated three times for optimal cleaning.
Drying: After boiling, dry the scales to prepare them for the next stage.
Deep Frying: Deep-fry the dried scales until they attain a crispy texture.
Seasoning: Season the crispy scales according to preference. With this, Chef Niland suggests a blend of pepper and fennel or a dash of vinegar powder to introduce a zesty touch.

Sweet Version (Optional): For a sweet twist, add sugar to the water during the final boil, followed by drying and deep frying. This process results in caramelized, sugary fish scale garnishes.

Watch it Here

There you have it! We’ve uncovered the culinary potential of fish scales thanks to Chef Niland’s technique. And while it’s a small change in the descaling process, it opens up new possibilities in the kitchen while promoting sustainability. Interested in more tips like this? Check out Chef Niland’s masterclass for deeper insights into innovative cooking techniques.

Picture of Anchored Outdoors

Anchored Outdoors

Anchored Outdoors is an ever-growing network of fly fishing experts who’ve been brought together by podcaster and fellow outdoorswoman, April Vokey.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Related Stories

In this episode of Anchored, we discuss the history of Trout Unlimited, the issue of abandoned mines and hydropower in the US, as well as how TU navigates the issue of introduced fish.
Have you ever thought about what drives the feeding frenzy of trout beneath the still surface of your favorite lake? Look no further than the chironomid, an insect often mistaken for a mosquito but far more crucial in the aquatic food web...
In this episode of Anchored, we cover the challenges and rewards of running a fly shop, the complexities of obtaining an outfitter license, and Millie's journey as a female ambassador in the industry.