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japanese fish head soup

It’s not all about long-cooked broths. While broths develop deep nutritional qualities from extended cooking, simple stocks are still nutritious. In the Chinese Medicine picture, anything edible made from bones is going to nourish bones, and the Qi of the Kidney organ-meridian system that is associated with them.

One day I’ll write the “What is Qi?” blog. For now just accept that it’s good to nourish it.

Fish heads make delicious stock and soup, and they are usually ridiculously cheap. Many fishmongers will give you the head with the spine, tail, and a fair bit of flesh hanging off it, others will charge you a dollar or two. The exception is those who have Asian customers, who are willing to pay more. These will often charge by the kilo.

Salmon heads and frames are great for this soup, but any large, firm-fleshed fish will do. I don’t know what I put in here, it was the freshest looking head with the brightest eyes and bright red gills.

  • 2 large fish heads, gills removed, and backbones
  • A 7-9cm squared piece of dried konbu
  • 1 shitake mushroom (optional)
  • A knob of ginger
  • A few spring onion roots
  • a piece of celery
  • 100ml mirin (sweet rice wine)
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons white miso paste (optional)
  • Sliced spring onions to garnish
  1. Soak the konbu and shitake mushroom in cold water for one hour.
  2. Heat the konbu, mushroom and water until it starts to steam, then turn off the heat and rest for 30-45 minutes. Remove the konbu and mushroom and reserve the water. If you don’t mind a bit of cloudiness and bitterness to your stock just chuck the mushroom and konbu in the water with the fish heads and leave it in.
  3. Wash the heads and bones, and remove the gills as these make the stock cloudy.
  4. Cover the heads and frames with cold water, add the water that the mushroom and seaweed were in, the spring onion roots (white bits), ginger, and celery, and bring to the boil.
  5. Simmer for 20 minutes skimming off any scum that forms on the surface.
  6. Remove the fish, let it cool a little and pick the flesh from the bones.
  7. Strain the stock then reheat it in a clean pot. Add the soy sauce, and mirin, and simmer a few minutes.
  8. In a bowl incorporate the miso paste into some of the stock and return to the pot.
  9. Divide the fish meat between the servings, add the soup, and garnish with the spring onion stalks (green bits). If you have more stock than you are going to serve immediately, just adjust the quantities of mirin, soy and miso to what you will use, and refrigerate or freeze the naked stock. It’s more versatile.
  10. Serve with rice, or noodles in the soup

Mirin is sweet sake. Common varieties use corn syrup to sweeten cooking sake, try to find some that attenuates the rice wine fermentation to leave natural sweetness. Spiral Foods mirin is easy to find in Australia.

Some miso pastes are combined with dashi stock powder. They are usually labelled as instant dashi, and are not appropriate for adding to stock.

When fennel is in season I add a few fronds to the stock. Personally I find onion a bit strong for a delicate fish stock, but be creative as you wish.