Sep 102011

[photo-bok choy fish head tofu pork soup]

Fish head soup had not always been a favorite of mine. I even thought it was gross when I was younger, making remarks like “Eeeww! Fish heads are so nasty looking.”  Granted, a fish head was not the most aesthetically pleasing sight when it comes to food, whether live or cooked. And even though the best part of an entire fish to me is the cheek meat, that was not enough to convince me that a fish head soup would be my thing. Inadvertently, after having tasted a fish head soup myself in a restaurant (without knowing that it was made from a fish head of course), I began to fall in love with fish head soup.

Having grown up in the United States, homemade soup cooked from a fish head (or any part of a fish for that matter) was unusual. This is mostly because there weren’t a lot of fresh live fish around, even in a port city of San Francisco some twenty-five years ago where I grew up. The most common live fish you would find in Chinatown then was Catfish. There would be a few other kinds of live or freshly killed fish, but they were mostly freshwater fish with a strong fishy taste that we didn’t care for. Over the years though, the variety of live and fresh fish (both saltwater and fresh water) slowly increased. And although the variety and freshness of the available fish in the states today is still behind in what you can find in Asia, the selection has definitely gotten better. I also began experimenting with making fish head soup at home.

One of the first things I learned from my father who is a humble food enthusiast is the technique of making a fish soup milky white. I loved learning about that trick from my father because I thought it was so magical that a soup would turn so creamy and milky white if you put the technique into practice. I also learned that this was a technique that the professional cooks used in high end Chinese restaurants. It made me feel special that my father taught me this special “secret” trick of the pro’s.

[photo-bok choy fish head tofu soup]

Ingredients for Bok Choy Fish Head Tofu Soup

5.0 from 1 reviews
Recipe: Bok Choy Fish Head Tofu Soup (白菜魚頭豆腐湯)
Recipe type: Soup
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
  • ½ lb baby bok choy
  • 1 block medium firm tofu
  • ½ of a carrot
  • ½ lb lean pork
  • 1 medium-sized fish head (just under 1 lb will do)
  • 3 big slices of ginger (1/8" thick)
  • 6 cups of water
  • ⅔ cup frying oil*
  • 1 tbsp rice wine**
  • ¼ tsp salt
  1. Wash the bok choy and cut the tofu to ½ inch slices.
  2. Peel and cut the carrot to ½ inch slices.
  3. Cut the pork to thin strips.
  4. Pan fry all sides of the fish head with oil on a hot wok until lightly golden brown.
  5. When the fish head is about done, boil 6 cups of water in a tall soup pot.
  6. When the fish head is ready, transfer the fish to a paper napkin to soak away some oil.
  7. When the water boils, transfer the fish head to the soup pot. Add all remaining ingredients except for the bok choy, rice wine, and salt. Cook on medium high heat for 10 minutes.
  8. Add the bok choy and let the soup cook until it boils. Then reduce the heat to a Low and simmer for 20 more minutes.
  9. Sprinkle in the salt and rice wine as needed to flavor the soup. Serve.
* For the frying oil, you can use peanut, canola, or grapeseed oil. ** The rice wine can be substituted with a few shakes of white pepper powder To make a gluten free version of this soup, use gluten free tofu.


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  8 Responses to “Bok Choy Fish Head Tofu Soup”

  1. Sounds like an interesting soup!

  2. For a soup like this, do you buy fish head or you keep the fish head for the soup? I drink this type of soup in a restaurant here or when we go back to Taiwan. It’s simple and really delicious.

  3. Hi Nami. I buy the fresh fish heads in Asian supermarkets. Asian fish mongers (in big cities like the Bay Area) usually have large fresh fish heads. If they are fresh, they are perfect for this type of soup. Thanks for your comment and I hope you can find fresh ones to make this delicious soup at home! =)

    Update: The star rating is an accident when I posted this comment and can’t take it off. Should have been more careful in posting! Otherwise, you may think I am tutting my own horn!

  4. Funny story on the fish head, though I have tried this soup once in MD and kinda liked it. I will try to pick some fish up the next time I visit the Asian supermarket.

  5. what kind of fish do you use? or can I use any kind of fish (such as snapper)?
    and can I add beef instead of pork?
    thanks :)

  6. Hi Xiao Guang! Thank you for your visit and the great question. I usually buy cod fish head to make fish head soup. You can use red snapper to make this soup as well. The important thing is that you are using *fresh* fish. Otherwise, the soup won’t taste as sweet and delicious. Also, red snapper is a saltwater fish. So this is good if you don’t like the muddy fishy taste that freshwater fish have.

    About the meat, I typically do not add meat to my fish soup. This is because I like to taste the sweetness of the fish in a creamy white fish broth. And this is also the way I learned to make fish soup in my family. If you want to add meat, I think pork is a better meat choice than beef. Would love to hear how your soup turns out either way. Enjoy the fish soup!

    Sharon | Chinese Soup Pot

  7. Hi, what do you think about using salmon head? Have you tried with that? Will it come out creamy/milky with salmon heads?

  8. @ Wondering –

    Hello and thank you for your visit! I have never made this soup with salmon head before, but I think it is a good choice as a substitute…as long as it is fresh! I think the salmon head will also make the soup come out creamy white if you follow the technique for making a creamy white fish soup here. I would love to hear how everything turns out if you end up making this soup with a salmon head!

    Thanks again for visiting! Enjoy this soup!
    Sharon | Chinese Soup Pot

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