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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Fish Maw with Seabed Coconut and Pork Bones

Soup Name: Fish Maw with Seabed Coconut and Pork Bones

Traditional Chinese Name: 海底椰花膠豬骨湯 (hai di ye huā jiāo zhū gǔ tāng)

Fish maw is usually associated with a chicken soup base, but it is just as ideal with pork.  This soup is not naturally that flavorful (as fish maw itself has no taste and neither does dried lily bulb).  The seabed coconut gives it a slightly sweet tinge, but you can consider adding some vegetables (like corn or carrots) to further enhance the flavor.  Salt to taste as necessary – although it’s still refreshing without the salt.

What Ingredients are required?

1 pound of fresh pork bones
5-6 fresh seabed coconut (dried will suffice)
1-2 pieces of dried fish maw
1 piece of dried tangerine peel
20 g of dried lily bulb

1 teaspoon of salt (for marinating pork)
2-3 L of water

How do I prepare it?

  1. Marinate pork in salt overnight (to expel the fire in the pork)
  2. Soak your dried fish maw in warm water (for at least 4 hours)
  3. Boil your soup water
  4. In a separate pot, boil water to blanch your pork
  5. Wash dried lily bulb, tangerine peel and seabed coconut
  6. Cut up the fish maw into edible pieces (optional)
  7. When your soup water boils, add all the ingredients together
  8. Boil on high heat for 30 minutes, reduce to a medium boil for another 2 hours
  9. Serve and enjoy!

Any benefits?

  • Excellent for nourishing the lungs or relieving cough symptoms
  • Ideal source for collagen
  • Soup is neutral and ideal for confinement, pregnancy and children

Any precautions?

  • If boiled too long, the fish maw will slowly disintegrate which naturally thickens the soup

Chicken Fish Stomach Soup

Soup Name:  Chicken Fish Stomach Soup
Traditional Chinese Name: 魚胃雞湯 (yú wei ji tāng)


Fish stomach does not have a strong taste and is usually combined with another meat, using the other meat (chicken or pork) as the base flavour for the broth.   It is not uncommon to occasionally combine different meats in soups together for added flavour and nutritional benefits.  

The fish stomach makes for a very rich broth that tastes delicious when combined with ginger and the natural sweetness of dried longan.   A great winter or fall soup.
What Ingredients are required?

1/2 dried fish stomach
1 whole chicken (or chicken bones or feet)

20 pieces of dried chinese mushrooms
1 tablespoon dried wolfberries
15 pieces dried longan
1 small piece of fresh ginger
4 pieces of dried scallop
1.5 – 2L cold water

How do I prepare it?

  1. Soak and thoroughly wash the dried fish stomach (may need to rinse and re-soak a few times) for one to two hours or until softened.   When soft enough, cut the fish stomach into bite-sized pieces
  2. Soak the chinese mushrooms for at least one hour.   Wash and cut off the stump.
  3. Prepare the whole chicken (see here for details) and blanch the chicken in a separate pot of boiling water.  Alternatively, you can use chicken bones or chicken feet and pieces.
  4. Start boiling your main soup water
  5. Add the chicken and dried fish stomach to the soup
  6. When boiling again, add the chinese mushrooms, wolfberries, fresh ginger, dried longan, and dried scallops to your soup
  7. Boil for at least 60-90 minutes on high heat.  The longer you boil it, the tastier the soup!

 Any benefits?

  • It is a great soup to drink during the winter or fall because of the richness and heatiness of the soup.

Any precautions?

  • If you are too heaty, it is best to wait until you have re-balanced  before drinking.