Coming soon to a restaurant menu near you: sheepshead.
No, not a sheep's head. We're talking sheepshead -- a small fish with lots of bones and little teeth that come in handy for mashing its prey.
The odd-sounding fish is one of many lesser known fish that chefs including Chicago's Paul Kahan and Susan Spicer of New Orleans are confident will catch on among salmon- and tuna-centric American consumers -- if not because such fish are ecologically sound choices, then because they taste so good.
Kahan, Spicer and Mark Palicki of Chicago's Fortune Fish Co. were talking up croaker, Spanish mackerel and other overlooked species (that's capelin and herring to your right) at the Chefs Collaborative National Summit, a gathering this week in Chicago of chefs, farmers, purveyors, academics and other food industry types.
At the Publican, 837 W. Fulton, Kahan's paean to pork, seafood and beer, sardines and smelt are big sellers.
"For cost reasons and a lot of other reasons, we stay away from mainstream [fish]," he said. "I just don't think it's interesting."
Audience members later were treated to plates of sturgeon done Kahan's way -- lightly smoked, with a salad of edamame, bean sprout leaves, jalapeno and lime -- and cornmeal-crusted sheepshead a la Spicer, served over okra, blackeyed peas and tasso ham.
"How you serve it will make someone take a chance on it for the first time," Spicer said. (Of course, tasso ham makes anything taste better.) Kahan, who worked as a youth at his dad's smokehouse, favors smoking, pickling and potting fish.
Palicki, who sells to restaurants, offered up lists of under-utilized fish that included bycatch (fish unintentionally caught with other fish), such as amberjack and trigger fish, and invasive species, such as lionfish and Asian carp. He went so far as to float a rather creative idea for dealing with the invaders, which drew some chuckles.
"We're trying to figure out a way to get rid of them," Palicki said. "I say, let's eat 'em."
The Chefs Collaborative summit ended today.