Try these Chinese fish soup recipes and reap the health benefits of pairing them with Chinese herbs and other ingredients.
Fish is one of the healthiest meat in the modern diet, from a nutritious point of view. It is a good source of protein minus the saturated fat. Fish oils have been shown to improve brain power and reduce bad cholesterol levels.
We get really fresh fish in Singapore (both freshwater and saltwater fishes) so many home cooks like to cook fish. They get steamed whole and added to rice congee and soups.
Fresh slices of snakehead fish. Photo by Phoebe Lim.
Freshwater fish come mainly from rivers, lakes and streams. Freshwater fish tend to have a muddy taste unless they have been placed in fresh flowing water for a few days to clear their digestive systems up. Seasoning with ginger juice or parboiled with ginger is a must.
Many of them like perch will have numerous small bones which need to be removed unless you want to look for them while you eat. The Chinese will usually use them whole in soups such as these milkfish soups.
In recent years, concerns about pollution in rivers and lakes have also cast a rather bad light on freshwater fish. Some freshwater fishes have also been marketed as if they are ocean catch by giving them names closely associated with saltwater fish.
Some Chinese soups uses more exotic fish like the snakeheads and eel. These are usually medicinal soups. For example, snakehead soup is prepared for people who are convalenscing or recovering from a bout of illness. Snakeheads are very hardy fish and have a strong life force.
It caused quite a big stir in the United States a couple of years ago as they bred so fast and started to take over some waterways. The Americans should consider fishing them for food. The Chinese will definitely buy them.
Saltwater fish are more common in Singapore. They have relatively firmer flesh and larger bones. Fishes common to my region that are suitable for soups are grouper, garoupa, mackerel, tilapia, pomfret and threadfin.
They are easy to fillet and debone so they are mostly used sliced in soups rather than whole. One of the most popular hawker soup is the Teochew Fish Soup served with steamed white rice. If you are ever in Singapore, do try it.
Fish used in soups should be as fresh as you can get them. How to tell if a fish is fresh at the fishmonger?
White fish fillets should have a pearly appearance and the flesh should be firm and moist
Whole fish should have bright eyes, red sticky gills and the skin should have a glossy sheen
Now for some fish soup recipes. Most of the recipes will feature ginger. The Chinese will almost always pair ginger with fish. It rids the fish of any lingering fishiness and provide warmth to the dish.
1. Cod fish soup with egg tofu
Cod fish is a very firm white-fleshed fish and it is great in broths and congee or rice soup. It is quite expensive in Singapore so most people use it sparingly.
It is expensive because it isn't available locally and need to be imported from afar. The Chinese also prized it for its benefits to brain development. It is fed to babies and growing children. I'm not sure how true this belief is but it is widely held.
This cod fish soup uses fresh cod fillet, bok choy and an interesting egg custard known as egg tofu. It is a light clear soup but with great fish protein. It should be an appetizing dish for those on a weight loss diet.
Egg tofu is like silken tofu. It contains non-GMO soy beans and eggs. It is not as bland as tofu but some people might disagree. :P
If you cannot find this egg tofu, substitute with silken tofu.
300g cod fish fillet
1 packet of egg tofu
1 stalk of bok choy
1 litre soup stock
2 stalk spring onion
2 slices of ginger
1 tbsp soup stock
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp mirin
Wash the bok choy and cut into pieces
Wash the spring onion and cut into short sections
Clean the cod fish fillet and cut into big pieces
Bring the stock to a boil, add the egg tofu
Add the ginger, fish and seasonings
Bring back to a boil and lower heat to a simmer
Simmer for 20 minutes before adding the bok choy
Cook the bok choy quickly
Garnish with spring onion and serve
2. Egg drop soup with fresh fish fillet
This recipe for egg drop soup uses fresh eggs and fish. Ideal for pescetarians. Erm, what is a pescetarian? Someone who does not eat animals with the exception of fish.
This soup recipe is so simple and quick. Because there are only a few ingredients, make sure you use a soup stock preferably a vegetarian one. It makes a light starter to any meal.
If you are new to egg drop soup, you might want to find out more about how to cook it.
100g fresh white fish fillet
1 stalk spring onion
4 cups soup stock
1 tbsp sesame seed oil
Salt and pepper
Wash and slice the fish fillet thinly
Wash the spring onion and chop finely
Beat the 2 eggs lightly
Bring the soup stock to a boil
Add the fish slices and let it cook briefly
Pour in the beaten egg and give the soup a few quick stirs
Add salt and pepper to taste
Garnish with chopped spring onion and sesame seed oil before serving
3. Fish soup recipe with enoki mushroom and silken tofu
Spinach, enoki mushrooms and lotus root and wolfberry leaves also goes well with fish. This soup is slightly thickened with cornstarch. Use saltwater fish for this Chinese fish recipe such as garoupa, red snapper, or threadfin.
I love enoki mushrooms and can keep a whole bunch of them. Flavour clings to the surface of the mushrooms and makes slurping them up a very enjoyable experience.
150g saltwater fish fillet
2 dried scallops
1 stem Chinese broccoli leaves
75g enoki mushrooms
200g soft tofu
2 slices ginger
1 litre chicken stock
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 tablespoon cooking oil
1 teaspoon Chinese rice wine
2 tablespoon cornstarch mixture
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 stalk spring onion, chopped
Soak and soften the dried scallops
Shred and drain it
Marinate the fish with some salt and pepper
Slice the kale stems into thin slices
Cut the soft tofu into small cubes
Heat the cooking oil in a big soup pot or wok
Stir fry the ginger and scallops for about a minute
Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil
Add the kale stems, mushrooms, tofu and salt to taste
Add the wine and simmer for 3-5 minutes or until all ingredients are cooked
Add the cornstarch mixture to thicken the soup
Stir in the egg white
Garnish with chopped spring onion and serve
4. Fish soup with lotus root
This is a fish soup recipe with lotus root, tomato, and fresh fish. Lotus root is usually paired with pork ribs, so this pairing with seafood is quite unique.
1 small section lotus root
100g fish fillet
6 cherry tomatoes
1 stalk spring onion
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 fish stock cubes
Scrub the lotus root, peel and cut into thin sections
Wash the cherry tomatoes, score the skin
Wash the spring onion and cut into short sections
Clean the fish fillet, slice thinly and marinate with salt and cornstarch
Bring 5 cups of water to a boil and add the lotus root sections
Cook the lotus root for 20 minutes and add the cherry tomatoes
Add the fish slices and spring onion
Add the fish stock cubes and season to taste with salt
5. Bream fish soup with spinach
This fish soup recipe with bream fish is a slightly thickened soup. Bream fish is a generic term for fish that are deep bodied with flat sides and small heads. They can be saltwater or freshwater fish. Common varieties include pomfret and silver bream.
200g bream fish fillet
1 egg white
1 stalk spinach
1/2 bamboo shoot
3-5 slices carrot
Salt and cornstarch
1 tbsp cornstarch solution
1250ml fish stock
Clean the bream fish fillet and cut into small cubes
Marinate with salt, 1 tsp of egg white and cornstarch
Wash the spinach and blanch with boiling water, drain, cool and chop finely
Peel and julienne the carrot
Julienne the bamboo shoot
Bring fish stock to a boil
Add the bream cubes, spinach, bamboo shoot and carrot strips
When the bamboo shoot and carrot are cooked, add the cornstarch mixture to thicken the soup
When desired consistency is reached, remove from heat
Beat the egg white and stream it into the soup. Stir to create egg streaks
Serve this bream soup hot
6. Fish soup with rhizome gastrodiae
This soup is great for boosting blood circulation to the brain.
1 small sea bass 鲈鱼(lu yu)
8 rhizoma gastrodiae 天麻 (tian ma)
1 tbsp goji berries
1 litre water
1 tbsp cooking wine
Wash the sea bass making sure the scales and internal organs are all removed
Cut into 2 or 3 pieces
Slice the ginger and wash the goji berries
Place the rhizome and water in a pot and bring to a boil
Add all the other ingredients and simmer till the fish is cooked
Add the seasonings and serve
7. Fish soup with milkfish and basil
This is a quick and simple fish soup recipe with milkfish, basil and silken tofu. Milkfish is a common freshwater fish in Taiwan. The meat texture is softer than saltwater fish.
Basil is a great herb with a wonderful fragrance. It is a common ingredient in vietnamese pho noodle soup and Taiwanese cuisine. It is also a key ingredient in this simple fish soup.
If you don't like biting into ginger accidentally, remove from the soup before adding the milkfish and tofu.
1 tub of silken tofu
3g julienned ginger
1 milkfish fillet
2 small sprigs of basil
600ml water or soup stock
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp cooking rice wine
Dash of pepper
Wash and cut tofu into cubes
Wash and cut the fish fillets into several pieces
Bring the water or soup stock together with the ginger to a boil in a medium-sized saucepan
Lower the heat to a gentle boil
Add the milkfish pieces and tofu cubes into the soup
Continue the gentle simmer for about 10 minutes
Add the salt, cooking rice wine and pepper
Wash the basil leaves and break into smaller sprigs
Add the basil leaves to the hot soup just before serving
Fish in stocks
Fish can also be used in stock making especially if you have leftover trimmings from a whole fish. I often wonder what celebrity chefs do with the fish bones and trimming after they have demonstrated deboning a fish. Chuck them out? Why not collect and freeze them until you have enough to make some soup stocks?
Cooking with fish stocks may be healthier too. A friend once told me that her father's cholesterol levels improved greatly when she substituted her soup bases with those made from sardine and mackerel instead of pork bones. Sardine and mackerel are rich in omega oils and she believed this helped lower her father's cholesterol levels. He is now off medication. Isn't that wonderful? Here are a couple of recipes.
In many parts of Asia, there are a variety of food made from seasoned ground fish. Most common are fish balls, fish cakes, and fish tubes.
It all starts with making the fish paste and here's a basic recipe.
8. Fish paste recipe
600g fresh fish meat
2 tsp salt
2 tsp sesame seed oil
Ground white pepper
Equipment: Food processor
Mince the fish in a food processor
Slowly add the water into the fish paste in the food processor until all the water has been incorporated
Add the salt, sesame seed oil and white pepper and mix well
The fish paste should be sticky to the touch
Remove from the processor and let it cool and rest
Once the paste is cool, shape into balls or flat cakes for cooking
Add suitable ingredients such as chinese mushrooms, chinese sausages, coriander, chilli by dicing finely and adding to the fish paste.
If you do not have a food processor, mince the fish by hand using a big knife and then mix everything in a big mixing bowl.
The Chinese in Singapore and Malaysia like to use the spanish mackerel to make fish paste. It seems to give the desired texture as compared to other types of fish.