Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Thai-style Salmon Head Soup with Cilantro and Shrimp

This turned out very nicely, so I'm recording how I made it before I forget!

My latest kitchen gadget is a simple mandolin and I LOVE it!  The razor-sharp blade makes thin even slices of almost anything firm enough to be sliced at all. Here, I used it to make almost paper-thin slices of red bell pepper, green pepper, and ginger, which made lovely translucent colors floating in the white broth. 

Fish broth is made very quickly and should never be simmered at length like chicken or beef broth.  The broth can become bitter if simmered too long.  This recipe is easier than it looks. 

The bell peppers in this recipe are what I had on hand tonight, but they could be replaced by others like broccoli, green beans, carrots, which you would cook al dente in some of the broth rather than add raw like the peppers.  Avocado slices would be a nice addition just before serving, too.


2 Salmon heads with part of the neck
2 quarts filtered water

1/2 of a sweet green pepper (optional)
1/2 of a sweet red pepper (optional)
3 to 5 cloves garlic depending on size and how garlicky you like stuff
3 cups coconut milk (approx)
2 tsp salt or to taste
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger root
1 lb fresh or frozen shrimp, with or without heads, peeled or unpeeled (optional)
2 Tbs chopped lemongrass (optional)
6 to 10 mushrooms, fresh or dried (optional)
6 to 10 sprigs fresh cilantro
6 green onions 
hot cayenne pepper to taste
3 lemons or limes or 8 key limes


1.  If you have dried mushrooms, soak them in a bowl of boiling water.  If you have fresh mushrooms, cut them into thick slices and saute them for 5 minutes in coconut oil.  If you have no mushrooms that's ok too.  

2.  Rinse the fish heads. Put the heads in the large pot with the water, bring to just under boiling and simmer for 20 minutes.  Do not boil!  

3. Strain the broth into a large container and return to the large pot.  Let the strainer contents cool down in a bowl.

4. Meanwhile, slice the peppers thinly (a mandolin does this superbly), peel and slice the ginger very thinly (mandolin!), and slice the spring onions as finely as you like, green and white parts (but not the wilted or tough parts of the green).

5.  Prepare 2 extra containers for picking the heads apart.  In one container, put the flesh, which is mostly in the neck (collar?), but there's also a lovely piece in the cheek and other bits here and there in the head.  In the other container, put all the soft gelatinous or fatty tissues you can pick off the "bones" (it is cartilage).  You can put the eyes in this bowl (they're are said to have a wonderful flavor - I'm to chicken to taste them...!).  Discard the hard parts.  The skin has a lot of fat under it, so put it in the fatty tissues container (that fat is home to all those great omega-3 fatty acids). 

6.  Pour about 2 cups of the broth into the medium pot and add the shrimp.  Simmer until just cooked.  Pour 1 cup of the broth into the small pot and add the lemongrass, if using, and simmer 5 to 10 minutes.

7. Put the soft tissues in the blender with 2 cups of broth and the garlic.  Liquefy.

8.  Pour the contents of the blender into large pot holding the rest of the broth and also add the coconut milk, salt, sliced peppers, green onions and ginger root, the salmon flesh and the shrimp with its cooking broth.  Strain the lemongrass-flavored broth into the soup.  Add hot cayenne pepper to taste and correct the salt to taste.  Reheat the soup gently.

9.  Meanwhile, wash the cilantro and discard any wilted leaves.  Lay in a bunch with all the stems in your supporting hand.  Chop the leaves into approx one inch pieces.  Add to the soup just before serving.

10. Juice the lemon/limes and add to the soup just before serving.

I wish there was a way I could figure out how much n-3 fatty acids was in a cup of this broth!  All I know is I read somewhere that some of the commercial fish oils are extracted from fish eyes, so I know the fatty acids are in there.


  1. I've now been making this soup about once a week and it is one of our favorites. I've found that 1 large fish head makes 2 quarts of really tasty soup and it doesn't have to be salmon to have lots of fat. You can use smaller fish heads but it would be such a pain to pick out the bones! Which reminds me of a fish soup that was once made by a friend of mine in Provence, a local recipe. They use very small fish, which are cheap, simmer for a while, then blend with all the bones still in. I imagine this has even more of all the good nutrients in it!

    I wish there was a way I could figure out how much n-3 fatty acids was in a cup of this broth! All I know is I read somewhere that some of the commercial fish oils are extracted from fish eyes, so I know the fatty acids are in there.

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