entree dishes

Classical Chinese Fish Head and Tofu Soup

Fish has numerous benefits to our health-generous amount of high quality protein, heart healthy omega-3 fatty acid, bone healthy vitamin D, and also calcium, phosphorus and a wide range of minerals. Other than being discarded, fish head is a tradition gourmet in Chinese diet. Here is the process of making a heart warming, absolutely delicious and highly nutritious traditional homemade soup with fish head and tofu.

I went to a local Chinese supermarket expected to find some fresh fish head, surprisingly they don’t sell fish head separately except for salmon head. There are several reasons for salmon head’s very affordable price ($1.99/lbs)–it has a strong fish odor, and it is very hard to break into pieces. After a little bargain, the seller agreed to break down the fish head into 6 pieces for me for free. To deal with the fish odor I bought the several other ingredients: rice vinegar, ginger, garlic, fresh scallion, fresh cilantro, and of course a box of soft tofu. With my cumin and black pepper stock at home, I am officially ready to make my fish head and tofu soup in my kitchen!

First of all, get all ingredients prepared:

  • Fish head–one, cut and washed.
  • Tofu–3.5-4oz, cut into cubes
  • Ginger–1 oz, sliced
  • Garlic–5 cloves, minced
  • Fresh scallion–one bunch, cut into 1 inch segment
  • Fresh cilantro–one bunch, use only the leaves (stems are stringy, but good fiber source if you dice them and use in another dish)
  • Olive oil-2 tbsp
  • Salt, rice vinegar, black pepper, cumin-handful for flavor
  • (optional: 20 particles of peppercorns and 2 star anise)

Step 1: Heat olive oil in a non-sticky pan, put the ginger and garlic in and stir. When ginger and garlic start to sizzle, put in the fish head pieces. No more olive oil is needed since the fish head will release it’s own oil during pan searing. Heat until the salmon meat turns light pink.

Step 2: Add in half litter water with the rice vinegar, salt, cumin, (peppercorns, star anise), and black pepper. Simmer for 40 minutes. Don’t cover the pan for the first 20 minutes but let the water and vinegar evaporate freely-they carry the fish odor away.

Step 3: Add in the tofu cubes and scallion segments into the soup, cover the pan and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Step 4: serve the soup and enjoy with cilantro-if the cilantro is well washed, it can go on the soup without cooking. Otherwise cook the cilantro leaves for one minute with the soup in the pan.

Looks delicious isn’t it! And it taste yummy too! The vinegar and all the seasonings hides the fish odor and scallion and cilantro add on a taste of freshness. Tofu is definitely the  essence of this soup since it absorb all the flavors and become silky during simmering. If the look of fish head turns down your appetite, you can serve the soup without it but still gets all the collagen that is dissolved in the soup. I absolutely love fish head itself and eat almost all parts beside the bones haha.

I leave peppercorns and star anise optional just in case you don’t know what they are or hesitate to try them. Well if you want the soup taste even more authentic Chinese, a trip to local Chinese store to get these 2 seasonings is highly recommended. They are traditionally and widely used in Chinese soup dishes to hide the odor of meat or fish and adds on more layers of flavor. Just remember don’t chew or eat them, the strong flavor will hurt your tongue. They usually stay in the bottom of the soup and if you see them just pick them out.

Star anise

Chinese peppercorn


14 thoughts on “Classical Chinese Fish Head and Tofu Soup

  1. Very interesting recipe. I’m going to try it. But why do you call for using Olive Oil? Definitely NOT a “classical” Chinese ingredient. Plus, Olive Oil has such a low Flash Point that it is less useful for searing food. And it has such a distinctive non-Chinese flavor (but it does dissipate somewhat with cooking). Canola oil, I suggest, is just as healthy and better for cooking Chinese food. Just sayin’…

    1. I agree with you that Canola oil is better for Chinese stir fry! I appreciate your input, thanks =) I used olive oil because I personally like the flavor, so fresh and distinctive, and I use non-sticky pan for a mild pan frying before boiling. It turned out fine, but canola oil is definitely a great choice for this recipe as well!

  2. Great recipe! I added fresh tomatoes with the tofu to add color and slight tartness. I thought it was a nice touch.

  3. I bought super fishy fish head from the wet market! After cooking once and hubby was quite put off with the fishy taste and smell, the balance is still in the freezer. I’m reluctant to throw it away. Found your recipe and will definitely try it during the weekend. Thanks!

    1. You are welcome Jennifer! I usually look for the most fresh fish I can find and and use these seasonings I mentioned to make it less fishy. Hope the recipe works well for you! =)

  4. I’m trying it now. It looks good. I don’t know if I need to boil the fish for so long because the meat is starting to look cooked. I’ve got everything but the star anise and peppercorns. I’ve added some 5 spices powder. Not sure if this will help but it smells okay. Next time I’ll look for some star anise because I’m in Guangzhou and everything is here. The salmon head is cheap at the market and they always cut it up for me.

    1. Hi Chris, my hometown is Guangzhou =) So glad you like my recipe. Feel free to modify and let me know how it comes out!! Look forward to hearing back from you =)

  5. Great recipe. For those who would like it spicier, consider ancho chili powder and ground cayenne pepper, both of which are easy to find. I realize this is less authentic than the Chinese peppercorns, but some like spicy but not numbing. (Or use all of them.)

  6. Great recipe. This is the first recipe that does not taste overly fishy. WE got some fresh sockeye fishhead recently and tried the recipe. My whole family enjoyed the soup and a few of us went for seconds. Will try adding tomato and or chinese preserve mustard greens in the future. Thank you.

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