About Beth

Beth, along with her husband, Mike, is co-owner of two Italian Deli/Markets in St. Louis - Viviano’s Festa Italiano. When not creating yummy new menu items for the deli, she’s the pediatric research lab supervisor at Washington University School of Medicine. Read more out about Viviano’s Festa Italiano.

About Irene

Irene loves to think, read and dream about food. She enjoys cooking & eating in general. Although she demures about her talents, Irene has a finely-tuned palate that her friends envy. She bakes on occasion. The rest of the time she's creating memories with her family and friends. . . or she's learning a new needlecraft technique.

About Deborah

Deborah is a wife, mother, grandmother, traveler, bootlegger, and a very poor speller! As Victor Hazan so eloquently puts it, Deborah has chosen Umbria to be the home of her soul. When she can’t be there in body, she spends her free time cooking & reading about Italy. She blogs mostly about food and about trips – past and future – here: Old Shoes New Trip.

About Doug

Doug lives in Eastern Ontario in a farmhouse built in 1903. He is a retired teacher with four adult children, a wife, a son-in-law, two Irish step-grandchildren and one grandson who he is lucky to hang with a lot. He has way too many books. Doug also blogs at To Slow Time Down.

About Cindy

Cindy lives in Eagle River, Alaska where her freezer is always full of salmon, halibut & shrimp. Cindy participates in several regular cooking challenges. You can read more about her cooking and life in the last frontier on her blog, Baked Alaska.

About Sandi

Sandi is a true Southerner, but a traveler & Italian cook at heart. She lives in Alabama and knows more about fried green tomatoes than fricassees. Her family owned the WhistleStop Café for many years. Sandi also blogs at Whistlestop Cafe Cooking.

About Jan

Jan, a serious home cook, has owned “Essentials” since 1992. She is passionate about all things Italian, especially the cuisine & the language. Jan blogs about her travels (next trip Italy May/June of 2010) at: Keep your Feet in the Street.

About Jerry

Jerry is a food obsessed Canadian. He learned to love Italian food as a child while eating the meals prepared by his Napolitano uncle. He learned to cook Italian foods by watching his uncle cook these feasts for the family. This love of Italian food has been honed through serious personal experimentation in eating and cooking. Willing to try most anything once, Jerry isn't so sure about tripe! Jerry also blogs at Jerry's Thoughts, Musings, and Rants!

About Palma

Palma is a Marriage & Family Therapist in Palm Desert, CA. She’s an Italian-American with a passion for cooking, entertaining, & travel to Italy. She’s always planning her next culinary adventure to Italia on her blog, Palmabella's Passions

About Kim

Kim is our permanent sub and the image above gives you a good idea of the look on her face when she realized she was drafted. Kim loves to eat, drink, travel and cook - probably in that order. When she's not here, you can find her organizing and leading food, wine and beer tours in Europe as co-owner and operator of GrapeHops or blogging at What I Really Think.

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Fish Sauce

Well, we all have a recipe on our list that we are not looking forward to making. This week was mine. It is fish sauce made from whole fish heads. I had a bad experience in college when I was taking a class in fish biology. Suffice it to say that the idea of dealing with a whole fish was not something that I wanted to tackle again, but for this challenge I put aside my reservations and went for it.

The first problem that I had to overcome, was actually finding the fish heads. In some areas of the country this may be easy to accomplish, but not so much here in St. Louis. After much discussion with my friends, I decided to try a store that I hadn’t shopped at before. It is called Olive Farmers Market. My friends had said that it was one of the best places to get whole fish.

This was a very unique shopping experience. The outside of the store advertised it to be a Chinese/Mexican store. When I walked in the front door, the store looked pretty typical, cash registers to my right and lots of items on the shelves to my left. That is when the smell hit me. I had to stop for a minute and wait to see if my stomach was going to let me continue. As I made my way through the store the fish smell kept getting stronger and stronger. When I finally got to the seafood section of the store, the reason for the smell became apparent. They had large tanks containing live catfish, bass, turtles, frogs, lobsters, and crayfish. They also had a long tray stacked with all kinds of iced fish from red snapper to octopus. Some of the selections look pretty questionable, but the red snapper looked good. Since that was one of the selections that Marcella had recommended that is what I choose. I ended up having to purchase the whole fish and then I froze the rest of the fish to use later.

The sauce itself wasn’t hard to make. The fish heads are cooked with olive oil, onions, and garlic until cooked through. Then the meat is taken off of the bones and the soft pieces forced through a food mill. The rest of the sauce consists of San Marzano tomatoes and some dry white wine.


I was really impressed with the final product. The pasta that I chose for this sauce was a new cut that we have just added at the store. It is called Garganelli Emiliani. It is similar to Penne Rigate which is one of the choices that Marcella gave in the recipe, but different. I really liked it. It held the sauce nicely and had a good flavor just by itself. The sauce itself was very rich. Michael loved it. He thought it tasted almost like crabmeat. To my surprise I really liked it. I just tried not to think about the fish eyes looking at me as they cooked!! Now that I have overcome my fear of cooking with whole fish, who knows what I will be brave enough to tackle next. I looked through the recipes and the only other one that I have trepidation about is lamb’s kidneys. I wonder what type of adventure I will have to take to find those?

Comments (7)


good job, Beth!

Beth, you were singing keroke at 8:30PM last night, and hadn't made this yet. You've posted this morning already.
Just when did you and Michael have fish head pasta? A midnight snack? :grin:

As a biologist, it's good that you trusted your nose on your fish selection.

No worries about the lamb kidney's. I have a great hook-up for you! A Hahal butcher out near Washington, MO. He'll butcher one day and deliver fresh the next. That's where I got my goat shanks a few months ago.

Beth responds- Now you know my secret!!! No sleep and eating at midnight. It works out well though, because that is when Michael gets home on Saturday nights anyway. Life is busy, but good. Happy Anniversary again!

Great job Beth!

I remember making boullaibase in Provence at a cooking class. I could not believe the number and variety of fish heads we used. We ran them through a mill as well and the flavor that was extracted was amazing. All from something that we would normally throw away. (Unless you are a gardener and bury them next to your tomatoes or roses!)

Another must try dish, thank you!

Looks good - I learned how to make garganelli during the cooking class in Bologna. Rafaella sold us the special tool you use to roll the pasta on to make the grooves. It is easy and the end result is far more complex than the effort would suggest.

Beth responds-I am so jealous, Jerry. Cooking class in Bologna? Does it get any better than that!

I must say I have no desire to cook that one. Although I do know a reliable supplier of fish heads.

Mindy Smith:

Beth, I admire your determination to buy fish heads! Don't think I could have "stomached" that store, made me think of a similar store here in Quincy, MA. I walked in, grabbed what I wanted and got the heck out!

Another entertaining post, :-) Hope I don't dream about fish eyes or that silly singing wall-mounted fish.

Rah! Rah! Great great job!!!!!

Marcella Hazan:

This sauce reminds me of a funny story. I have always had my name listed in the phone book, and during a period that I lived in New York I had a call once from a man who had made this sauce from fish heads. It was partly complimentary and partly a complaint. He said the flavor was delicious, but the sauce was full of small bones. How could that be, did you follow the recipe? I asked. Of course, he said, to the letter. I took him through it and at the end when I said, Then you pureed the heads through a food mill, he said, Oh, no, I don't have a food mill, I used my blender.
Italians feel exactly the opposite from Americans about buying fish. They do not buy fillets because they want to know what happened to the rest of the fish. And they would never patronize a fish store or stall that smelled bad. You are to be complimented for having done this so well notwithstanding your reluctance to deal with a whole fish and the foul-smelling store. Brava, Beth!

Beth responds-Thank you. I have learned so much during this journey we are on! I learned this week that it is possible to put some things behind you and rise to the challenge even when your nose objects!

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