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.
- 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
- Wash the bok choy and cut the tofu to ½ inch slices.
- Peel and cut the carrot to ½ inch slices.
- Cut the pork to thin strips.
- Pan fry all sides of the fish head with oil on a hot wok until lightly golden brown.
- When the fish head is about done, boil 6 cups of water in a tall soup pot.
- When the fish head is ready, transfer the fish to a paper napkin to soak away some oil.
- 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.
- 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.
- Sprinkle in the salt and rice wine as needed to flavor the soup. Serve.