Hamachi kama: Fish neck like grandma made

While enjoying some sushi recently at BARcode 1758 in Clifton, I was perusing the menu just for fun and ran across something called hamachi kama. I’ve eaten at a lot of sushi joints in my day, and I couldn’t recall having heard of it.

So I grabbed my phone, Googled it and found a Huffington Post story describing it as a delicacy that usually is saved by the chef, or offered only to special guests. Why? Apparently, it’s the best part of the yellowtail tuna.

I knew I had to try it, so I returned sometime later and ordered this hamachi kama, which in English translates roughly to “yellowtail collar.” You know, fish neck, because the collar refers to the portion of the fish directly behind the head and gills.

The odd-looking appetizer arrived at my table some minutes later, garnished with three lemon slices. To be honest, it’s a piece of fish that doesn’t look terribly appetizing to the naked eye, with its odd shape — like a derelict chicken part, as I stated in my tasting notes — and visible fins.

I told my server I was a first-timer and asked if I should use chopsticks or a fork.

“Are you good with the chopsticks?” he asked.

“I do OK,” I replied, to which he told me I should be fine to skip the fork. Fair enough.

I squeezed a bit of lemon on the fish neck and then poked at a particularly meaty-looking spot. The fish was grilled, so the skin was just a tad crispy, yet still pliable. My first impression, when I came away with a pretty impressive bite, was just how juicy the meat was, especially having been grilled.

I knew with my first bite that I was hooked (that’s not a fish pun); the meat was amazingly moist all the way through, with a rich, lightly-sweet flavor and succulent tenderness. The $7.95 appetizer also came with a soy sauce boat and, after I took a bite or two, my server placed some wasabi next to my plate.

The soy and wasabi mix does enhance the clean flavor of the fish in an interesting way, yet I really don’t think it’s necessary. I’m not even sure the lemon is, although I love lemon on almost all fish. The hamachi kama is just that tasty on its own, and the bits of char are a nice complement to the mild fish.

Since it is served bone-on, at some point I knew I would inevitably run into a portion where chopsticks no longer are getting the job done. Fortunately, I am not shy about finding my inner T-Rex — I merely picked up the fish neck and nibbled at it directly, with no middleman to get in the way.

Hey, it’s Kentucky. If we can eat fried chicken this way, then there’s no reason we shouldn’t also eat grilled fish neck that way, too. Fish neck like grandma used to make, or something like that.

And it really is like eating fried chicken — there are big, juicy pieces of meat, and then there are fringe parts that have a slightly different consistency and even flavor. You just have to pick around to find it all. Of course, the hazard when going primal on hamachi kama is that eventually you’ll wind up putting a piece into your mouth that wasn’t really meant to go into your mouth — something not quite chewable. Then you have to look like a slob as you pluck it out and hide it in your napkin.

Ultimately, I picked it clean.

My server came over and eyeballed my plate and the pile of bony fish neck remnants scattered across it.

“I loved it,” I told him. He smiled knowingly.

The question is, what other places in town have it and just aren’t trumpeting it on the menu? I did a quick check and Fuji on Springhurst Boulevard lists it as well as salmon (or sake) kama. Likewise, Osaka in Clifton lists it, as do Hiko-a-Mon on Herr Lane and downtown and Caviar downtown.

Good to know, because I’ll be wanting more fish neck very soon.