A Chinese Delicacy: How to Prepare Dried Fish Maw (or Fish Bladder)

A Chinese Delicacy: How to Prepare Dried Fish Maw (or Fish Bladder)

A Chinese Delicacy: How to Prepare Dried Fish Maw (or Fish Bladder)

Have you ever walked by those Chinese herbal or dried food shops and wondered what those fairly large beige bubble things were?  I certainly did growing up and just always found it foreign until I was introduced to it in foods, soups, and stews and told how expensive they were (my parents’ Chinese way of telling me to eat it). 

Fish maw is the fish bladder (air bubble) of the fish.  Not the fish stomach, which is a common misnomer.  

I finally had enough curiosity to try to make them myself and got an hour crash course from the vendor in Hong Kong who basically walked me step by step (after I bought a bunch from them), having the vegetable vendor verify (after buying ingredients for the soup), and all the nearby old ladies share their various fish maw recipes.  What a way to immerse myself into Chinese cooking!

Check out how to prepare dried fish maw in the video and a selection of fish maw recipes.

There are many sizes, makes, cuts, and types of fish maw available!  So explore them all!  

Preparing Fish Maw (or Fish Bladder)

Preparing fish maw for use in soups, stews, or Chinese dishes can take up to 3 days depending on the size and thickness of the fish maw.  In the video, I’m using thicker fish maw, so it took 2 full days.  In some soups, the fish maw are much smaller, so you can just boil as you would like any meats.

Day -2:  Blanch your fish maw in boiling water for 15 minutes.  I used a ceramic pot so I could just change the water in the pot rather than switch it around.  The Chinese are very particular about their ceramic pots versus metal based pots because of the potential metallic flavours absorbed by the food.  Once you have boiled it you can let it sit overnight.

Day -1:  Change out the water and replace the fish maw pot with room temperature water in the morning.  Then put in the fridge until evening (12 hours) and replace the water again for overnight (12 hours).   

Day 0:  Pour out the water and rinse the fish maw.  It should still be pretty rubbery and thick.  Cut into desired pieces for your dish.  You can even save them in portions in the freezer for up to 6 months. Enjoy!

 

Recipes that use Dried Fish Maw (or Fish Bladder)

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Fresh Dates

Fresh Dates

Fresh Dates

Ingredient Name:

Fresh Red Dates

Traditional Chinese Name:

红枣 (hóng zǎo)

 

Ah!  The sweet crunchy crunchy of little fruit, bursting with juices and sugars.  This is definitely not your traditional Chinese soup ingredient, but I walked by a vendor this morning who insisted I try them with soup!  She knows I’m always on the look out for new and interesting ingredients, so she suggested this sweetish, fruity soup paired with pork shank for the family.  I’d never thought to use fresh dates, but this is a unique find indeed!  The seeds are not easy to extract, so I kept them in.  They aren’t are fiery as their processed cousins, the dried red dates, because of how they are processed.  And, you can eat them raw!  If you happen to chance across this during your shopping, try them!  A great pairing with the snow pear!

What is it?

  • A small, round, red, seeded fruit (in its mature state) produced by date palm tree
  • When eaten raw, it’s got a sweet almost apple like taste with a crunchy texture
  • Commonly found in Asia, some parts of Europe and India
  • In Chinese cuisine, the dried dates can be found in both salty and sweet dishes, in soups, as dried snacks and in teas
  • Fresh dates aren’t so common in soups and are quite seasonal, so be sure to check availability

How do I prepare it?

      • Rinse and wash under cold water before usage to remove dirt and grim
      • You can remove the seeds similar to apples, but you can also slice (as shown) and use in soups
      • You don’t need to peel the skin, they can be eaten with the fruit
      • Suggest to cut and slice only if you’re going to use them, else you can keep them in the fridge for a week (similar to apples!)

Where can I buy it and cost?

      • You can purchase fresh dates from any supermarket or your local wet mart

      • They are seasonal fruits and usually available in late September

What is the cost?

      • Fresh dates cost around $12 HKD for a pack of 8-10, this will vary on season and vendor

Any benefits?

  • Red dates are known to assist in maintaining healthy blood pressure and assist the stomach and spleen in poor appetites
  • It is also commonly used to address stress in drinks and teas
  • Due to its sweetness, it is soothing to the throat and used to treat sore throats
  • Red dates are an excellent source of Vitamin C (and also packed with great antioxidants that help kill free radicals which increase aging)
  • A common ingredient found for Chinese confinements
  • Dates are high in fiber, helping with digestion and constipation
  • They are also known to help blood sugar control

Any precautions?

  • Be sure you are buying red dates from a reputable source as some red dates do carry diseases
  • For soups, use pitted dried dates. The seeds are known to create “fire” in the body and not usually ideal

Looking to build your basic Chinese Soup Pantry?

The dried red dates is one of them!  Check it out in my video to learn more!

 

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Dried Coltsfoot Flower

 

 

Ingredient Name:  Dried Coltsflower, Tussilaginis Farfarae Flos, Dong Hua, Tussilago

Traditional Chinese Name: 冬花 (dōng huā)

What is this?

  • The flower is a perennial plant that reminds me of yellow dandelions or small sunflowers
  • When the leaves are dried it becomes a brownish-yellow texture
  • In the case of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the leaves are used, but sometimes the flowers and roots are used as well
  • This is also commonly used in western herbal supplements, all with the same usage of reducing coughs
  • This can be used in both teas and soups (although teas and Chinese herbal drinks more commonly)
  • Considered slightly warming ingredient

How do I prepare it?

  • No preparation needed other than storing in a dry, cool place

Where can I buy this?

  • In Asia, especially in Hong Kong, you can buy these at the wet marts, herbalists, dried food stalls (the ones that also sell dried red dates and fish maw)
  • They also come in prepackaged soup packs

What is the cost?

  • Very affordable, only a few dollars HKD for a handful

Any benefits?

  • Known in Traditional Chinese Medicine to help reduce coughs, remove phlegm, and moistens the lungs
  • It’s ideal for heaty bodies or yin deficiency
  • My Chinese herbalist recommends this when you’ve got the ends of a pesky cough that just won’t seem to go away, usually from the remnants of a cold

Any precautions?

  • Buy from a reputable source
  • Be sure to store in a dry, cool place as they can prone to spoiling in more humid weather
Dried and Sugared Whole Kumquat

Dried and Sugared Whole Kumquat

Ingredient Name:  Dried and Sugared Whole Kumquat

Traditional Chinese Name: 桔餅(Jú bǐng)

What is this?

  • This is a pretty unique ingredient to soups, especially soups that are designed for the throat and lungs
  • The Chinese recommend eating preserved and salted kumquats (whole) to soothe and heal the throat, or address coughs and this is the dried variation to be used in soups or teas
  • This dried kumquat is slightly sweet and slightly tart
  • They usually come in sizes varying from around 2-3 inches in diameter and are bright orange in colour with a white coating on the outside (the sugar)
  • A majority of these are produced in China

How do I prepare it?

  • No preparation needed other than storing in a dry, cool place
  • Some people do store this in the fridge as well
  • For teas, I usually use only 1 dried kumquat for 2 cups worth of tea

Where can I buy this?

  • In Asia, especially in Hong Kong, you can buy these at the wet marts, herbalists, dried food stalls (the ones that also sell dried red dates and fish maw)
  • They also come in prepackaged soup packs

What is the cost?

  • Very affordable, only a few dollars HKD for one

Any benefits?

  • A super healing food for the throat and lungs and stomach
  • Especially recommended for teas and soups that help with coughs (especially those coughs that last long and can’t seem to shake away)
  • Extremely rich in vitamin C, dietary fibre, and pectin, which can help lower cholesterol
  • As it is also sugar coated, no additional sugar is usually needed when making teas

Any precautions?

  • Buy from a reputable source
  • Be sure to store in a dry, cool place as they can prone to spoiling in more humid weather
Beetroot

Beetroot

Ingredient Name:  Beetroot, red beet, garden beet, or beet

Traditional Chinese Name: 紅菜頭 (hóng cài tóu)

What is this?

  • A dark, red root that brings a rich, bright red color to your soup
  • The texture of the beetroot (when boiled in soup) is similar to that of the white radish and takes awhile to soften relative to other rooty veggies (carrots and potatoes)
  • Be sure to select beetroots that are firm in texture with a vibrant colour (not squishy or soft feeling) – this means they are fresh!
  • This root brings a mild and sweet taste to the soup that is awesome!

How do I prepare it?

  • Cut off the top (or the leaves) as I don’t use it in my soups
  • You can treat this like any other root (ie: carrot, potatoes)
  • Rinse under warm water to wash away the dirt and remove the skin by peeling or slicing away
  • Slice or chop into edible sizes (as the beet doesn’t dissolve or soften as quickly as carrots or potatoes)

Where can I buy this?

  • Most supermarkets will carry this

What is the cost?

  • In Hong Kong, 1 root (as pictured above) costs around $22 HKD (which is pretty expensive for a veggie!) at the wet mart

Any benefits?

  • The beetroot provides an excellent source of folate, manganese, potassium and iron
  • Excellent in supporting blood supplement and helps lower blood pressure (because the beetroot contains nitrates which help open the blood vessels and helps with circulation)
  • They are also packed with Vitamins and antioxidants
  • Beetroots are also a great source of fibre, so it can be definitely eaten like a meal as part of your soup

Any precautions?

  • Consumption of beetroot may turn your urine or stool slightly reddish, there is nothing to fear in this as it is harmless. Just let it pass through your system.
  • The colour of the beetroot will stain your hands, so either wear gloves or use some lemon juice to help remove

 

Ginger Peel (Dried)

Ingredient Name: Fresh Ginger Peel (Dried)

Chinese Name: 薑皮 (jiāng pí)

I am writing about the ginger peel specifically because while normal people don’t use the skin very often, the Chinese highly value this “by-product” when it comes to confinement.  It is commonly used for bathing purposes (either literally soaking the ginger peel in water and then rinsing your body with it or soaking your feet).  What normally happens is that ginger is purchased in bulk (huge, huge amounts for confinement – especially the pig’s feet in ginger dish) and none of the ginger is wasted.
Peel the ginger in its entirety.  The peel is dried, while the ginger itself is cut up and used in various dishes and soups and stews.  For me, I am not a heavy believer of washing my body in ginger peel water, but did end up soaking my poor sore feet.  The tradition falls back to historical (pre-electricity) Chinese confinement practices.  Back in the days, after a woman gave birth, she was susceptible to virus, bacteria, disease because of the weakened condition of her body (for more information, you can do some leisure reading on the confinement practice).  Ginger, being a heaty ingredient, enabled her body to stay and keep warm.  Which is why she pretty much lived, consumed and breathed ginger.  This also accounts for the reason why women were not allowed to wash their hair for a period of time after child birth – very likely because back then, drying the hair increased her risk because at some point, her hair would become cold (especially in the winter).  Well, these days, we have the handy hair dryer and for those in colder climates, the benefit of a heating system – so the question is, do these traditions still apply?
Regardless, some traditions hold true and strong.  My mother argues that the Chinese have thousands of years of history behind it and that as a western raised girl, I shouldn’t discount the power of generation-passed knowledge.  Which is partially why I write and blog about everything I learn, because this is something I want to pass to my children eventually.  Whether they take it with a grain of salt or think I’m off my rocker is a whole other story….

So to end this post, you’ll find within thechinesesouplady.com, we’ve got a host of information on confinement.  That’s because collectively as a group of sisters, we’ve gone through 6 confinements personally and spoken to more sources than we can count on the practice.   Veggie vendors, meat vendors, herbalists, the neighbor, your child’s classmate’s grandmother – everyone has a say and angle on confinement best practices and approaches.  So please enjoy our collection of confinement soups and best practices.