What is the best part of a salmon?
Sushi bars might favor fatty salmon and beady salmon roe; poké places will treasure the leaner, tauter flesh; and pan-fried salmon fillets might be the perennial dish du jour at brunch spots, served with a barely dressed salad and a side of sweet potato fries, no less. But for me, the best cut of salmon has always been the collar — that sickle-shaped chunk of flesh between the head of the fish and its belly.
While the collar of the salmon — heck, of any fish — isn’t coveted in most cuisines, the Japanese have long championed this underrated cut of fish. From roadside teppanyaki stalls, to smoky, boozy izakayas (Japanese bars), to Michelin-starred omakase spots, fish collars are grilled, smoked, stewed, and miso-glazed to fatty decadence.
Unbeknownst to many, the collar combines the best of both its neighboring parts—the gelatinous, cartilage-covered crannies of the fish head, and the fatty butteriness of the salmon belly. Yes, the collar does have a few bones in it, but snuck in between them is the supplest, fattiest flesh you can find on the fish. And as they say, where there’s fat there’s flavor. So, the collar might just be the most flavorful part of the salmon.
You don’t have to go to a Japanese restaurant to enjoy salmon collar. Just ask your local fishmonger for it. It’s usually sold together with the head, which you can save to make a killer fish head curry, or cook it together with the collar. Or if cooking with a whole fish head seems like a tall task, Japanese grocers are sure to have the collars individually packed and sold. And once you bring it home, there are a myriad of ways you can take it, but my go-to method of cooking salmon collar is grilling it shioyaki-style.
In Japanese, shio means salt and yaki means to grill. Naturally, shioyaki means salt-grilled. It sounds simple, sure, but that’s because there’s so much flavor in the collar that there’s no need to mess around with it much to tease out the best of the collar meat. All it needs is a little char and licks of heat from the grill, and a sprinkle of salt to accentuate its buttery flesh, and you have your new favorite fish dish.
If you get it jussssst right at the point of doneness, the flesh will be so supple and flaky, each bite of it will release an opulent, mouth-coating burst of salmon butter. Along with a squeeze of lemon, served alongside rice and miso soup, it makes for one of the simplest yet most flavorful meals.
So the next time you throw a barbecue party or whip out your George Foreman, slap a salmon collar or two onto the grill while you wait for the steaks and sausages to cook — and it might just steal the show.
Salt-Grilled Salmon Collar
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
1 salmon collar
1 tablespoon mirin
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 wedge lemon
1 (1-inch) piece daikon radish, optional
1. Using a brush, slather the salmon collar with mirin. Then, season both sides of the collar with salt, and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes. During this time, heat your grill or griddle pan up to temperature. You want it just below smoking-hot. (Alternatively, you can roast the salmon in the oven. If you’re going this route, preheat your oven to 450°F.)
2. Pat dry the salmon collar with a paper towel, and place it down on the grill skin-side down. Cook 3 to 4 minutes, until the skin has nice bits of char to it, and the sides begin to turn a cooked orange. Then, flip it over and grill for another 1 to 2 minutes. (If you’re using an oven, place the salmon on a baking tray, skin-side up, and cook 12 minutes. Depending on the size of the collar, it might go for longer.)
3. As the salmon is cooking, finely grate the daikon radish. Serve the salmon hot off the grill, with a slice of lemon and a mound of grated daikon on the side.