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!
This crab congee is super easy to make! The key ingredient really is just the crab. It’s a warming, traditional comfort food that can also be luxurious and delicious. If you get nice female crabs, the roe comes all out into the soup and really adds a special flavour.
Prepare the crab (see my post on fresh crab on preparation), cut into quarters and set aside
Prepare the fresh chicken by cutting in thin strips
Begin to boil your water and throw in the rice using high heat
Stir every once in awhile to ensure that the congee doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot
When the water boils, add in chicken strips, dried scallops (or conpoys)
When the water boils again, throw in the prepared crab
Continue to stir the congee occasionally and add one cup of boiling water as it thickens. How thin or thick is a personal preference, so you can add less or more water as you desire.
Reduce heat to a medium simmer, cover the pot and let it continue to boil for another 30 minutes. Revisit the pot to stir it, ensuring you stir it right from the bottom.
Add in the preserved Chinese vegetables and mix again.
Let it boil for another 5 minutes.
Serve and top with your favourite toppings such as fresh parsley, green onions, chives or any of the delicious preserved Chinese goodies like garlic, radish, baby cucumbers or pork floss
Here’s how I made it!
To start, you’ll need: 2 fresh live crabs, fresh chicken slices, ginger slices, fresh green onions, dried scallops, and preserved Chinese vegetables (as shown).
I’ve made this many times trying different types of crab. The best and most flavourful crabs ideal for congee are smaller crabs that really aren’t as expensive (at around $70 HKD per crab). While they are smaller, the seem to seep a crab-y and seafood, ocean flavour into the congee, including the roe and cream of the crab into the soup. I’ve also tried more expensive crab (at around $170 HKD per crab) which had more meat, but somehow, it was more just crab by itself and the congee by itself – the two never really blended. But definitely explore yourself and see what works best for you and your family.
You can see my other post on how to prepare fresh crab. A few tips:
Using a big knife, chop off the sharp edges of the legs, shell, claws and any other sharp parts
Using also the back side of a big knife, create cracks in the legs and hard places (so that you can easily eat it out of the congee)
Do not throw away any of the eggs, roe, or cream (found at the head primarily) – the Chinese call these the best parts!
Buy female crabs
Slice the fresh chicken into thin strips. How much you use is really up to you. Since I like my protein, I tend to add more protein everywhere I go! The dried scallops can also be rinsed under warm water ahead of use. And take a few slices of fresh ginger. I tend to keep the pieces quite large so that I can isolate them in the congee and not scoop them out. I also don’t use a lot as I am not a fan of ginger and neither are the children, but you do need a little bit to eliminate any fishy taste in the congee, although I find the crab doesn’t really emit this.
Start boiling your congee water (the bigger the pot, the better!) it’s easier to add more hot water than let it reduce to the appropriate amount. I’ll throw in the rice right away and wait until the water boils. Once it boils, I will add in the chicken, scallops, and ginger.
Once that boils, then feel free to add in the prepared crab. Be sure to stir this pretty often to ensure that the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom. This will also help keep the heat even throughout the pot as it might be quite crowded with all the stuff inside.
Boil this on medium heat for another 30 minutes. The rice will thicken and you can add a cup of boiling water (or really hot water from the nice Chinese hot water boilers) to thin it out. How thick you’d like your soup is completely up to personal preference. I like my congee a bit thinner, with more liquid, but this is up to you.
When it’s almost done (with about another 5 minutes until serving), throw in a handful of preserved Chinese vegetables. I use a very specific one that comes in a ceramic pot and is called “dong choy”. It’s very salty, so use with caution. I don’t add any additional salt after that.
When ready, serve and enjoy! I also top with chives or parsley or fresh green onions. There’s also some other cool Chinese condiments that go with congee, such as preserved baby cucumbers, radish, onions, shallots, dried pork floss, or vinegar soaked garlic.
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)
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
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
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!
Recipe Type: Soup
Serves: 6 bowls
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
Start boiling the water in a large soup pot
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)
Add the lobster shells and spring onion and stir-fry for another 5 minutes (optional)
Put everything into the soup water (on high heat)
When the water is boiling, turn down the heat to medium and continue to boil for 1 hour.
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