Vietnamese Sour Fish Soup

Vietnamese Sour Fish Soup

Vietnamese Sour Fish Soup

I love soups. I particularly do love sour soups as an appetizer because they really bring out my appetite! I know sour soups aren’t for all taste buds, but here’s a simple one you can make at home with fresh ingredients. You can always adjust the sourness (and even the spiciness) as desired.  I came across this type of soup one day at a Vietnamese restaurant and loved it! So I googled it and then kind of tweaked it to my own tastes. To be honest, I don’t always follow soup recipes that I find. I love the fact that I can create, twist, tweak, add, remove, and flavour it with my personality – so this is my interpretation of it!

Soup Name:  Vietnamese Sour Fish Soup (Canh Chua Ca)

For the whole recipe and to skip my commentary, scroll down.

To start, you’ll need fresh fish heads. To be honest, you can use any type of bigger fish, such as salmon, tuna, big head fish, or bass. I just go to my local wet mart and pick up some “big head” fish, which is at like $15 HKD a head, which is cheap! If you’d like more protein, you can buy the fish tail as well. Don’t forget to use a fish bag in the soup. This will help keep the fish bones together as it disintegrates in the soup.

To start, you’ll need some fresh ingredients such as fresh parsley, okra, bean sprouts, garlic, ginger, shallots, green onions, lemongrass, tomatoes, celery, and fish sauce. In some recipes you’ll also find Vietnamese taro stems (which aren’t easy to find, so you can replace this with celery).

Fresh Ingredients

Fresh Ingredients

To make your fish heads super fragrant for the soup, use your soup pot (empty) and add in a dollop of oil (any type) and pan fry on medium head the diced garlic, ginger slices, sliced green onions, tamarind, sliced lemongrass, and diced shallots and fry until fragrant. Add in your clean fish parts and fry until the skin is a golden brown.  When sufficiently yummy, you can throw everything into a thin mesh soup bag and set aside (optional).

Pan fry fish parts until fragrant

Fry garlic, ginger, lemongrass, green onions, tamarind, and shallots to set your base.

 

Pan fry fish parts until fragrant

Pan fry fish parts until fragrant

Because I do sometimes get lazy and know that the kids aren’t likely going to fight me to drink this soup, I didn’t use a fish bag and just added water at this time until the pot is 3/4 full.

Add water to the fried fish head

Add water to the fried fish head

After you bring the soup to a boil, turn to medium heat and add in the tomatoes, celery (or taro stems), okra, and pineapples and continue to boil.  Boil on medium for another 15 minutes or until the fish is completely cooked and the vegetables have softened.  You can almost consider this a quick boil soup.

Adding in vegetables to the soup

Adding in vegetables to the soup

Taste the soup and add fish sauce as desired to increase the saltiness. This is when you can add the bean sprouts because they pretty much flash cook. Then serve immediately with parsley (and little spicy peppers, too) and enjoy! Be sure to scoop out all the goodies inside. Serve with rice or noodles! I love the colours of this soup – but more importantly, the flavours!! I do add more tamarind because I love sour stuff!  Did I say that already? Haha… the best, are Costco giant sour keys….

Vietnamese Sour Fish Head Soup

Vietnamese Sour Fish Head Soup

 

Vietnamese Sour Fish Soup
Recipe Type: Soup
Author: LadyTong
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 8 bowls
Ingredients
  • 2 large fish heads, halved (or use fish tails)
  • 2-3 stalks of celery (or Vietnamese taro stem), chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 cup of pineapple chunks (canned is OK)
  • 1 cup of bean sprouts
  • 1 cup of okra, chopped
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 slices of fresh ginger
  • 2-3 stalks of fresh green onions, diced
  • 2-3 stalks of fresh lemon grass, chopped
  • fresh parsley
  • 2 tbsp of tamarind
  • fish sauce, to taste
Instructions
  1. In your soup pot, add a tablespoon of oil and fry the shallots, garlic, ginger, fresh green onions, and fresh lemon grass.
  2. When fragrant, throw in clean fish parts and pan fry until the skin is golden and crispy.
  3. Fill the pot to 3/4 full.
  4. Bring to a boil and turn to medium head, scooping out any oil or foam on top.
  5. Throw in tomatoes, pineapples, celery (or taro stems), and okra and let simmer for 15 minutes until the fish is completely cooked or the vegetables are soft.
  6. Taste soup and add fish sauce as needed.
  7. Add bean sprouts to boil for 1-2 minutes and serve. Garnish with fresh parsley.

Fresh Crab

Fresh Crab

Fresh Crab

Ingredient Name:  Fresh Crab

Traditional Chinese Name: 蟹 (xiè)

What is this?

  • The crab is a crustacean with a short tail and typically two large claws and multiple legs
  • Crabs often have hard shells, but there are species of soft-shelled crabs
  • The most edible types of crabs include: flower crabs, snow crabs , blue crabs, edible or brown crabs , Dungeness crab, and mud crabs
  • Crabs primarily come from the ocean, but there are crabs that are extracted from fresh water (most popular in Asia is the Shanghainese Hairy Crabs available around Oct – Nov of every year)
  • Crabs are used in various dishes across Chinese dishes such as stir-fried, with noodles, steamed, in congee, or in soup.

How do I prepare it?

  • The Chinese way is to peel off the shell (as quickly as possible) and then chop the crab down the middle in half ensuring it’s completely dead
  • Also remove the gills and brain (would recommend you google where these parts are) and then quarter them for congee. Don’t throw anything else – especially the jiggly, yellow, green, or orange “cream” – this is the best part and comes out into whatever dish you are making
  • You can rinse in warm running water if you’d like
  • Another way to prepare crab is to simply steam them in boiling water – or drop them in a pot of boiling water. This is if you want to eat the crabs as is.

Where can I buy this?

  • In Asia, especially in Hong Kong, the best and freshest crabs come from the wet marts (or supermarkets)
  • Be sure to buy the crabs that are moving and whole
  • If they are tied up, press right between their eyes and there should be movement, indicating they are still alive
  • You can keep them alive in water at home until you’re ready to cook them (or in the fridge)

What is the cost?

  • This really depends on the breed, size, location, and season
  • When I bought mine around Autumn, with a nice fresh water crab, they cost $100 HKD each (and not very large)

Any benefits?

  • Crab meat is extremely low in fat and high in protein
  • Crabs are rich in chromium, which helps insulin to metabolize sugar, and thereby lowers the blood glucose levels in the body
  • Crabs have a healthy dose of antioxidants, which help help kill free radicals in the body (free radicals are what make you age)
  • Excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids

Any precautions?

  • The cream of the crab is extremely high in cholesterol and should be avoided by those who need to watch their intake
  • Don’t overcook the crab meat, this will destroy a lot of the vitamins and minerals contained within the meat
  • Be careful of the claws and potentially sharp points in the legs and head
  • When serving children, be sure to fully check for any sharp parts of the crab, especially if you’re making soup or congee, the parts of the crab will dissintegrate

 

Fresh crab (ready for congee)

Fresh crab (ready for congee)

Lobster Broth

lobster_soup02_web-2

 

Lobster is a popular seafood in Chinese cuisine.  Traditionally, it can be fried with ginger and scallions, or for a modern take, Chinese restaurants are increasingly offering lobster cooked in a creamy cheese sauce atop a bed of tender egg noodles. As with most proteins, when you’re finished eating the actual dish, don’t toss the left-over bones or shells! Save them because they can be used to create a delicious soup instead.  Lobster shells are the perfect base for a seafood broth, particularly the head which contains a lot of the rich creamy roe and flavours.

Soup Name: Lobster Broth

Traditional Chinese Name:  龍蝦湯 (lóngxiā tāng)

For this particular soup, we quickly devoured the meat of three small, boiled lobsters (we dipped the meat in salted butter of course) and carefully saved the shells, including the back, legs, claws and especially the whole heads. When making lobster broth, leaving the meat in the shells seems wasteful as I don’t feel the meat contributes that much flavour to the richness of the broth, so feel free to enjoy the meat separately first.

In the below recipe, stir-frying the ingredients first is optional — however I find it does help to bring out the flavours, particularly if the shells are slightly caramelized around the outside.  Also, feel free to add carrots and other root vegetables to create a hearty, healthy meal.

As a tip, when making any seafood soup (or seafood dish), one of the key ingredients when cooking in a Chinese-style is to use fresh ginger.  Not only does ginger add to the complex flavours of the seafood, it is also key because it cuts through any potential fishy tastes and smells.

The below recipe can be used stand-alone (as a soup), as the soup base for noodles, or it can also be poured on top of cooked rice to make a sort of lazy Chiu Chow-style congee.  Enjoy!

Lobster Broth
Recipe Type: Soup
Cuisine: Chinese
Author: LadyTong
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 6 bowls
Ingredients
  • 2 L water
  • 3 lobster shells (with head)
  • 5 slices of ginger
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 stalk, spring onion
  • Salt to taste
Instructions
  1. Start boiling the water in a large soup pot
  2. Stir-fry the onion, garlic and ginger in 1 tbsp of cooking oil for 3 minutes until onions are soft (stir-frying is optional, but will help to enhance the flavours)
  3. Add the lobster shells and spring onion and stir-fry for another 5 minutes (optional)
  4. Put everything into the soup water (on high heat)
  5. When the water is boiling, turn down the heat to medium and continue to boil for 1 hour.
  6. Once in a while, use the [url href=”http://www.thechinesesouplady.com/oil-scooper/”]oil scooper[/url] to scoop out extra oil and foam that may rise to the surface
  7. Add salt to taste (I use about 1 tsp)
  8. Serve and enjoy

 

Lobster

lobster_soup01_web-2

Ingredient Name:  Lobster

Traditional Chinese Name: 龍 蝦 (lóngxiā)

What is this?

  • A type of shellfish
  • A large, 10-legged marine crustacean with a cylindrical body closely related to shrimp and crabs
  • For eating, lobsters are traditionally steamed or boiled and the meat extracted from inside the shell
  • Once the meat has been eaten, the remaining lobster shell and the head can make a great base for soup

How do I prepare it?

  • The easiest method to cook lobster is to boil it in salted water for approximately 15 minutes (times may vary depending on the size of the lobster)
  • Using a nutcracker, remove the meat and enjoy separately (Tip: it tastes great dipped in butter)
  • Save the shell and head for your soup

Where can I buy this?

  • Most international grocery stores will sell lobster
  • Typically, spring through autumn is lobster season
  • It is best to buy live lobster, with their tails flapped or curled up

What is the cost?

  • Lobster prices vary depending on the season.  The lobster featured above cost $80 HKD each.

Any benefits?

  • Bones (any animal) are an excellent source of nutrients and minerals such as Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, and silicon
  • The broth created from bones are easy to digest, are high in amino acids, collagen and gelatin
  • Bones broth is actually known to help fight colds and viruses because of these amino acids that help boost immune system and heal disorders like allergies, asthma and arthritis
  • Nothing beats real stock with real bones – store bought stock (which are primarily enhanced with flavour enhancers) has nothing over real stock

Any precautions?

  • Lobsters are low in fat content and relatively low in cholesterol
  • They are a good source of omega 3-fatty acids and phosphorus, which aids in the formation of teeth and bones
  • Lobsters are also a good source of selenium, B12, Vitamin E and Niacin

Sago Tapioca Pearls

Raw Sago

Raw Sago

Ingredient Name:  Sago Pearls

Traditional Chinese Name: 西米 (xī mǐ)

What is this?

  • The extract of the tapioca root which are rolled into balls (hence tapioca pearls)
  • It is a form of starch which is commonly used around the world (to make noodles, bread)
  • A lot of Chinese desserts incorporate the tapioca pearls (white kinds)
  • There are the brown tapioca pearls (added sugar) which are commonly used in tea drinks (which originated from Taiwan)
  • Tapioca comes in all sizes, flavours and colours – but are primarily white and when boiled become transparent
  • When cooked and boiled as is, it becomes a chewy ball with a sticky texture

How do I prepare it?

  • For round, white sago pearls, simply boil starting with cold water for at least 15 minutes
  • You’ll know its completely cooked when the ball is completed transparent
Sago tapioca half cooked

Sago tapioca half cooked

 

Where can I buy this?

  • Most Asian supermarkets will carry the white tapioca balls (in various sizes)

What is the cost?

  • Tapioca pearls are relatively affordable
  • A small bag cost around $10 HKD

Any benefits?

  • Tapioca is primarily made of carbohydrates and contains no fat
  • It has a variety of uses and can store for quite some time (up to 6 months in a dry place)
  • They are actually really fun to eat for kids (and adults!)

Any precautions?

  • After cooking the tapioca, immediately run it through cold water to prevent the balls from sticking together
Cooked sago pearls

Cooked sago pearls

Fresh Beef Bones

Fresh Beef Bones

Fresh Beef Bones

 

Ingredient Name:  Fresh Beef Bones

Traditional Chinese Name: 牛骨 (niú gǔ)

What is this?

  • In soups, beef bones are primarily used to make beef stock
  • Not a common ingredient used in Chinese soups at all – in fact, beef is not a common ingredient for “old fire” soups traditionally compared to pork – if you consider it from a historical perspective, having a cow back in those days meant you were wealthy
  • Bones are rich in nutrients (calcium & magnesium), collagen, easy to digest and rich in flavour
  • Shown in the picture are the ribs of the cow – I used this for my pho base because it’s relatively low in fat, but you can consider using cow knuckle and leg bones as well
  • The amount of fat on the bones will vary depending on which part. The ox-tail (of beef tail) is often a fatty part of the cow, but the most commonly purchased bone part from the vendor! He usually has the tail on reserve already for clients.

How do I prepare it?

  • Make sure the pieces you buy can fit into your pot (that’s probably the first most important thing!)
  • Blanch the bones in boiling water for at least 5 minutes to boil out the impurities and fat – this will produce a brown film of “gunk” which you should just throw out

Where can I buy this?

  • Most Asian wet marts will carry beef bones at the beef vendor
  • Supermarkets may also carry beef bones, which are already cut up into manageable pieces for you to take home

What is the cost?

  • The cost will vary depending on supply, but in Hong Kong, 3 bones (as pictured above) cost me $30 HKD

Any benefits?

  • Bones (any animal) are an excellent source of nutrients and minerals such as Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, and silicon
  • The broth created from bones are easy to digest, are high in amino acids, collagen and gelatin
  • Bones broth is actually known to help fight colds and viruses because of these amino acids that help boost immune system and heal disorders like allergies, asthma and arthritis
  • Nothing beats real stock with real bones – store bought stock (which are primarily enhanced with flavour enhancers) has nothing over real stock

Any precautions?

  • Be careful of an over fatty cut of the bone – knuckles, ox-tail, or any other cuts that come with fat should be either cut off or boiled off and then removed from the soup
  • Consider purchasing animal products that you know are pasture-fed and free of antibiotics and hormones
  • Be sure to remove any scum that boils from the soup or blanching process