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Hamachi Kama at home

Partially decimated Hamachi Kama at Tomo

Partially decimated Hamachi Kama at Tomo

We all have those dishes that, no matter how many hundreds of times we have had them, you simply can’t resist ordering. I’ve got quite a few, which can be a hindrance for someone that both loves to and is professionally obligated to try new things when eating out. But I’m also a creature of weak will when it comes to my stomach.

And when I’m ponied up to a sushi bar, I can’t bring myself to ignore an order of Hamachi Kama. This is the collar cut – the area right behind the head/gills of the fish – of yellowtail.

At first sight, the collar doesn’t look like much more than scraps, especially when raw. But those in the know see the sexiest, fattiest, most succulent cut of fish around, and drool accordingly. Typically served grilled, with little more than salt and a side of ponzu, the collar – or the cheek, as some menus semi-accurately call it – is to fish what the “oyster” is to chicken: A treat most chefs would probably rather save for themselves.

Oily, tender, fatty, and often a little grey in color, this is essentially the dark meat of the fish. By the time most of my dining companions are reaching for their chopsticks, I’m already digging glorious morsels out of the pockets of the collar bone. (Tip for beginners: The harder you have to dig for the meat, the better the bite will be.)

As you can see, I’d already begun ravaging an order at Tomo before I remembered to snap a photo. Consider yourselves lucky that isn’t just a picture of picked-over bone.

However, what was once a late night snack for the kitchen staff has caught on, and some restaurants will charge upwards of $12-$15 for one 4-6 oz portion (though I find $8-$10 to be more common). While I’m happy to pay that, whipping this dish up at home is easy and extremely inexpensive. You just have to know where to look.

Sometimes, if you are lucky, somewhere like Whole Foods may have a bin of collars, or you can ask the fishmonger if they have any in the back that you can buy. But Asian grocery stores, Hmart, Buford Highway Farmer’s Market, or YDFM are usually surefire bets. Just go to the seafood section and look for what appears to be the scrap heap…don’t let it throw you, there is pure gold in there. And if there is no yellowtail collar behind the glass, salmon (sake kama) is just as delicious.

Once you have your fish, all you need is a grill, some salt, a side of ponzu for dipping, and a lemon slice garnish, and you can have some delicious kama at home for only a few dollars. Season the fish, grill over medium-high heat for 10-15 minutes, turning twice, until the outside crisps, and you are all set.

That isn’t much of a “recipe”, I realize, but that is the beauty of kama…you don’t really have to do anything other than buy it, grill it, and eat. It is an easy way to impress your friends….assuming you actually let them have any of it.

- By Jon Watson, Food & More blog

14 comments Add your comment

Steve

June 22nd, 2012
11:09 am

Also a big fan of the hamachi kama. The collar is an amazing cut. Its crazy to think that so many people will just toss it out! And FYI… collar and cheek are not the same. Cheek comes from under the fish’s eye. Collar, like you said is behind the head/gills of the fish. Because there is not much meat in the cheeks, a lot times restaurants will serve part of the collar along with the cheeks.

Kar

June 22nd, 2012
12:17 pm

It’s hard to find collar or cheekbones around the restaurants here but you seem to have better luck than me. Particularly like the cheeks which are surprisingly meaty.

What do you do if you’re grill-impaired? Does broiling work with these cuts?

Packed Colon

June 22nd, 2012
2:30 pm

U all are sick!

Baltisraul

June 22nd, 2012
3:36 pm

Most seafood resturants in the Fla Panhandle will serve cheek and collar. Not so much around here. Had a mess of grouper cheeks at 2 spots in Panama City this past winter.

Jon Watson

June 22nd, 2012
4:01 pm

@Kar – I’ve found them pretty regularly at Taka, Shoya Izakaya, and Tomo…pretty much any sushi/Japanese restaurant with a small plates menu. And broiling is certainly an option for these, and in fact, that is how many of the restaurants around town prepare them. Sometimes, the flesh crisps up a little better in the broiler.

TRex

June 22nd, 2012
4:47 pm

I like the cheek and bone but not when I think about it being on the fishes face. Somone once told me it’s okay to eat fish because they don’t have any feelings but one time I swear I saw a sad fish when I pulled him up on the shore and so I thru him back in the water. Or her, i don’t know how to tell with fish. But I like this place. It’s almost as good as Yami Yami.

Steve

June 22nd, 2012
5:02 pm

Hashiguchi Jr. serves a pretty good one too

Naruto

June 23rd, 2012
11:33 am

hmm.. I have never seen any hamachi collar sold at any market. And I frequent Hmart, Assi and BHFM very often. You can find Salmon Collar but its not the same.

Anyway, if writer and pinpoint where to find these, so we can grill em ourselves, it would be great!

Jimmy

June 24th, 2012
4:34 pm

I’ve had the collar at several spots around town, although sometimes they won’t tell you about it unless you ask. (I suspect some chefs hold onto it for special customers.) Really an amazing cut and one of the most incredibly tasty things you can eat.

Baltisraul

June 25th, 2012
6:15 am

Jimmy….give us a name or 2

Pot Pie

June 25th, 2012
9:27 am

Hey Baltisraul – where did you get them in Panama City?

totm

June 25th, 2012
12:33 pm

There’s a Korean owned Japanese restaurant around the corner from me that has 2 collars for ~$11. Such a deal and now I’m craving hamachi kama!

Baltisraul

June 26th, 2012
6:49 am

PotPie Captain’s Table & Bill’s Oyster Bar had them. Call ahead, cheeks go fast or they did not get any in that day.

Pot Pie

June 26th, 2012
10:54 am

Thanks, Brothah!