Fish soup, especially the milky white Chinese fish soup, is something I imagine many love but shy away from making at home. The tasty savory sweet broth with a milky smooth feel is something difficult to dislike. But making a good fish broth can seem like a daunting task. The tedious process that I remember seeing my dedicated mother go through in her kitchen – scaling, gutting and cutting a live fish then cleaning up the mess afterward – is not something many look forward to these days. I appreciate every second of her effort in making the freshest and tastiest fish soup for her family. And fortunately today, many seafood departments in large Asian supermarkets will do all this work for you, even fry it, for free. All you are left to do is the preparation secret I’m about to share with you to make your best tasting creamy and milky white homemade Chinese fish soup.But before we go there, you must begin with a fresh fish to make a good fish soup. Live fish is always preferred. But if you can’t find a live fish, you can use one that has been slaughtered as long as it is fresh. How can you check the freshness of a fish? Check out the gills by lifting up the gill cover (also called the “operculum”). The gills should have a bright red color, similar to the color of fresh blood. The eyes should be dark in color and not sunken in. And sometimes, the muscles of a slaughtered fish would still twitch if it is fresh. These are all good signs indicating the fish is still fresh.
Once you choose your fish, you can ask the seafood clerk at the supermarket to scale, gut, and cut your fish. Then comes the secret of making a fish soup tasty, creamy, and milky white like you would find in high end Chinese restaurants. First, you must fry the fish until it is cooked to a light golden brown. Like I mentioned before, some supermarkets will even fry the fish for you. But sometimes, I like to do this step myself at home. Here’s how:
- Put about 2 tbsp of canola or peanut oil on a stainless steel wok. Heat up the oil over high heat.
- Put the cleaned fish in the wok and fry over medium heat until it is cooked all the way through to a golden brown.
- Optional step: transfer the fried fish onto a paper napkin to soak up any dripping oil.
- Place the fried fish into a boiling pot of soup water with some ginger slices. Cook on high heat for a few minutes until the water boils again.
- Skim off any foam on the surface and add other vegetables for added flavor and nutrition. See a list of my fish soup recipes for ideas.
This professional trick of frying a fish before using it in a soup miraculously turns the soup to a creamy white color with a milky smooth, savory sweet flavor. The use of tofu in the soup also helps make the fish broth white. But without the chief fish frying technique, the fish soup does not turn creamy white, nor is it at its highest flavor potential. Thanks to the reputable Cantonese chefs in Hong Kong who created this technique, a good bowl of Chinese fish soup is now transcended to another level.Besides making the soup creamy white, frying the fish beforehand also helps keep the fish in one piece. This is important for best presentation, or if you will serve the fish soup to young children or elders who are more prone to choking on fish bones. To further reduce that risk, you can also use a muslin bag over the fried fish before putting it into your soup water.
Another note on fish soup is that they only require a quick boil – 15 minutes will typically do. For more flavor, pork can also be added to the fish soup for a richer taste.