Fish are one of the best protein to use in soups, but I think underrated! The grass carp is also one of the most common fish types in the Cantonese soup base, commonly found in all supermarkets and also the fish of choice in restaurant soups. It’s because it’s readily available and not too expensive. I think the meat is a big rough when steamed, which makes it amazing in soups! The other amazing thing about fish of this size is that they are packed full of collagen when used in soups, especially the heads and tails. Although, there are mercury warnings with large fish, so it’s definitely a balance!
How do I prepare it?
When you purchase the fish at the fish vendor (or already prepackaged), see if you can get them to cut up into smaller pieces. I typically request quartered heads, meaning, right down the middle in half and then half again. This will allow the frying to be easier and it fits better into soup pots.
For all types of fish in soup, I will always clean, scrub (in running water) and pat dry with paper towels. I also try to pick up as much blood as possible. And then, I will also always pan-fry in oil, ginger, and fresh scallions. This will help eliminate the fishy taste and smell and allow all the ingredients to come through.
Where can I buy it and the cost?
You can buy fresh grass carp from most Asian supermarkets and definitely all wet marts in Hong Kong that have a fish vendor.
The cost of a grass carp head, very large one, is $12 CAD so super affordable
A large grass carp head serves about 8 in a 4L pot
Fish are a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which act as a natural blood thinner and anti-inflammatory
They are also a good source of protein without the high saturated fats
If you use more of the bones, such as the head or tail, they have a good amount of collagen
There are fears of increased mercury in large fish, although the carp isn’t too large and not considered a high risk mercury fish (unlike mahi mahi or canned tuna)
Be sure to use a soup bag if you’re using smaller fish (or fish bones) or use a scooper to separate the soup as you serve
Tips for using fish!
Pan-fry in ginger and oil (add scallions if you’d like) the first before you add it to the soup. This will make it more fragrant and eliminate the fishy smell and taste.
Keep a soup bag handy!! For smaller fish, you can use a soup bag to keep all the bones, meat, and skin together as the fish melt into the soup.
Salt fish very lightly if you’d like. I usually don’t salt at all! It turned out amazing and people can add salt afterwards as they like.
Ingredient Name: Golden Threadfind Bream or Hung Sam
Traditional Chinese Name:紅衫魚 (hóng shān yú)
What is this?
A type of fish that is found in the Western Pacific
The Chinese name is directly translated as “Red Shirt Fish” which means the fish is colored red
It is a popular type of fish found in the East and South China Sea
They reach maturity in less than 15 months and do not grow very large in size, reaching 2 feet in length at most
Since they can be purchased relatively small in size, a whole batch is ideal for soup
How do I prepare it?
If you are buying frozen, you will have to thaw the fish first by letting it sit in room temperature for a few hours
Clean the fish inside and out, removing all internals and cutting the fins off
Use a bit of salt on the inside and outside of the fish and let it stand for an hour
In a pan with a moderate amount of oil, fry the fish on medium heat until thoroughly cooked and the skin is crispy and brown (this will ensure that the fish doesn’t fall apart too much in the soup and give it lots of flavour)
USE A FISH BAG! These are useful in soups (it will keep all the bones and fish together). Definitely use this if you’re giving this soup to your children. The bags are disposable.
Where can I buy this?
You can buy this fish fresh in Hong Kong wet marts and supermarkets – be sure to ask the vendor to de-scale and clean the fish for you
In Canada, you can purchase this fish frozen in Asian supermarkets
What is the cost?
Frozen golden threadfin bream costs around $3.99 CAD per pound
Fresh golden threadfin bream costs around $40 – $60 HKD per pound
Most any little fish can substitute the golden threadfin bream in soups
Ideally, use fish that have scales (this is especially true in women who are doing confinement because non-scaled fish are considered poisonous)
It is a very affordable fish to use for soups (as compared to other fish)
Fish are low in saturated fat and have a high content of Omega-3 fatty acids (which are good for the heart)
Fish are high in protein with the fewest calories as compared to other meat choices
If you’re purchasing fresh fish, be sure to check the gills to make sure they are bright red (which means its still fresh)
Avoid purchasing large fish for soups, as it can potentially contain higher levels of mercury and toxins
Frozen fish can keep in the freezer for up to 6 months