Creamy Fish Soup (奶白鱼汤 Nai Bai Yu Tang)
August 8, 2020
If you like the umami and ocean taste of seafood, this Creamy Fish Soup will surely please you. It’s simple, flavorful, and does not break the bank at all. In fact, it’s better to use inexpensive small whole fish for this soup. Small fish tend to have more flavors but also have smaller bones. Many people don’t enjoy spending the effort to pick out the bones from smaller fish. So you won’t feel too bad for not eating the fish after drinking the soup if it doesn’t cost much.
The ingredients for this recipe are quite simple; just fish, ginger, green onions, tofu, and some hot water. The result is a creamy, milky colored soup that has quite a strong umami fish flavor.
The key to producing the coveted creamy color depends on two factors. First, the pan needs to be very hot when sautéing the fish. Second, when adding water to the fish, the water needs to be very hot as well. These two factors will ensure the fat in the fish becomes completely emulsified in water, resulting the creamy milky color.
This creamy fish soup is not only delicious but full of nutrition. It is a common soup for women to drink in China during the recovering process after giving birth and also while nursing due to its protein content and nutritional value.
Although I like to use a nonstick pan when cooking fish to keep the skin intact, I do not recommend using a nonstick pan for this soup recipe. Many nonstick pans cannot reach the high temperature required for this recipe (high temperature will damage the coating of nonstick pan). Therefore the fat in the fish cannot be fully emulsified to produce the desired creamy color. A cast iron wok or Dutch oven is the most desired cooking pot for this recipe.
Dairy Free, Gluten Free, Low Carb
Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Tools: Wok, Dutch oven, or deep sauce pan
- 1 medium or 2 small whole fish1
- Kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 1-inch long ginger
- 1 or 2 green onions
- Hot water
- Half container of medium or soft tofu (about 8 oz or 225 g)
- 1 teaspoon table salt
- Clean the fish. Most stores will have gutted the fish or even descaled the fish. If not, remove the guts and liver, making sure no blood or thin membranes remain inside. Remove the gills. Leave the head and tail if possible since they will add a nice flavor to the fish soup. Removing the fins is completely optional.
- De-scale the fish. Using kitchen scissors, the back of a chef’s knife, or a butter knife, gently scrape the fish from tail to head. Make sure not to miss the small white scales around the collar. Scales will tend to fly around as you scrape, so do it in a place where you can easily clean up.
- Wash the fish under cold water and pat dry with a paper towel.
- Lay the fish on a cutting board and sprinkle kosher salt all over the body and inside the fish. For a medium fish, cut two slits on each side and sprinkle salt in the slit as well. Leave the fish marinating in the salt for at least 15 minutes on the kitchen counter.
- Cut the ginger into slices and green onions in long pieces. Slice the tofu into 1-inch long rectangular pieces.
- Heat a wok, Dutch oven, or deep sauce pan under high heat. When the pot is hot, add the 1 tablespoon of oil and swirl the oil around. After 10 seconds, add the ginger and green onion pieces, tossing for a few seconds.
- Add the fish into the pan to lightly fry, maintaining a high heat. Leave the fish in the pan for about 2-3 minutes. During this time, do not move or turn the fish around. Then flip the fish to fry the other side. Don’t worry if the skin does not stay intact during frying and flipping.
- When both sides are golden or lightly browned, add hot water. You will hear a sizzling sound while pouring the hot water. The fish should be mostly immersed in the liquid. Add the tofu pieces, then close the lid (you can also add the tofu later, as depicted below).
- When the liquid starts boiling, lower the heat to medium-high but still maintain boiling for about 5 minutes. Then lower the heat to medium-low to maintain a simmer. Cover the lid and let it cook for 10-15 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and add the 1 teaspoon of table salt. Add more salt to taste.
- Pour a few pieces of tofu, soup, and a few fish pieces (if you do not mind picking out the bones) in a deep bowl to serve.
- Here I used whole trout that I got from Costco. There are usually 4 to 5 trout packed together for a quite reasonable price. You can use whole tilapia, bass, or other mild flavored fish for this recipe.