It’s storming outside and it’s perfect weather for having a piping hot bowl of fish soup. One of the go to meals I choose when I eat at hawker centers is fish soup. Apparently fish soup is one of the 40 dishes that Singaporeans can’t live without. It’s light and flavourful and I’ve always been a sucker for rich soups. So since it’s so easily available out there, then why bother making it at home?
So I confess it’s purely for selfish reasons. In home cooking you can 加料 and add lots of extra ingredients. Obviously a fish soup stall would give you only a few slivers of fresh fish slices that are sliced almost paper thin. But at home you can put in a lot more fish and vegetables and the bowl of soup becomes infinitely more hearty and delicious. Making this soup from scratch at home is super easy if you have a pressure cooker or Instant Pot. You can throw in the bones and make a decent stock and the kitchen doesn’t acquire a sometimes nauseating smell of cooking fish (which boiling on an open stove sometimes causes). I realise I’ve become so reliant on the Instant Pot to make all my soups and stocks. The other day I had a mini crisis when my Instant Pot could not bring the pot to pressure and water and condensation started to spill out of the water trap and created a pool around the pot. Thank goodness for the internet because I could quickly figure out the cause which was a leaking sealing ring…thankfully it wasn’t something seriously wrong with the pot.
Anyway it was marketing day today and I picked up some filleted snakehead fish and bones. Most wet markets do have individual stalls dedicated to selling this. The stall at Whampoa wet market sells this alongside beautiful salmon fillets and skinned whole frogs. I so love wet markets! I confess I can barely identify the huge array of fish available. But most of the stall holders are quite chatty and are willing to discuss the best types of fish or cuts for different dishes.
My version of fish soup is kind of simple; there are very rich versions that include cognac or fish roe in the soup. Speaking of which I also adore fish roe but I haven’t seen a store offering fish roe for quite a while. My best memories must have been the staff canteen in NUH in the 1990s to early 2000s. The “Vista” canteen had an elderly couple who sold fish soul and they always had a bowl of raw fish roe waiting to be added in for those who wanted it. Both staff as well as NUS students used to line up in long lines waiting for their umami bowls of fish soup with the little bits of roe floating to the surface.
Back to the recipe – super simple but really tasty. It’s meant to be light and fresh, without the heavy fishy flavour that some fish dishes have. Traditionally, a kind of white rice noodle or bee hoon is the noodle of choice for the soup, but in keeping with the low carb lifestyle, I usually use zoodles, shirataki noodles or oat fiber noodles. Most people see fish soup as a healthy meal option when eating out, but it’s important to avoid the hidden carbs like milk, noodles or the battered fried fish that is one of the common options to add to the soup. Today’s soup version does have a dollop of cream – it’s more carb friendly than the evaporated milk that most stalls use, and only a little is needed to give a creamy taste.
Finally, any kind of vegetable can be added to this soup, but my personal favourite is bittergourd. Bittergourd was something I never liked as a child but I guess with age and a changing palate I’ve come to love the tinge of bitterness this gourd adds to the soup. Alternatively any quick cooking vegetable such as lettuce will do as well. So here’s the fish noodle soup recipe – a real gift on a cool rainy day!
Sliced Fish Noodle Soup
- 400g fish bones
- 1-2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
- 1 tbsp oil
- 4-5 L water
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1/2 tsp fine white pepper
- 400-500g sliced snakehead fish
- 1/2 bittergourd, deseeded and sliced very thin
- 1 medium tomato, quartered
- 2 tbsp heavy cream
- 1 piece of dried seaweed, about 1 inch width for each bowl
- 1 tbsp fried shallots (optional)
- 1 red chilli sliced and served in a bowl with soy sauce (optional)
- Turn on the Instant Pot saute mode. Heat up the oil in the pot, then saute the bones and ginger for 5-8 minutes till browned.
- Add water, salt and pepper, then turn off saute mode, close the pot and put the valve in the sealed position. Put on manual high pressure for 45 minutes. When done, do a quick pressure release. Drain the stock through a sieve and discard the bones and ginger.
- Bring the stock to a boil and add the bittergourd and tomato quarters, then add the fish slices. Add the soy sauce and cream and stir through, then turn off the flame. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
- Prepare each bowl by putting the noodles in, followed by several slices of fish, 1/4 piece of tomato, 1 piece of seaweed, bittergourd slices and 1-2 tsp of shallots. Ladle soup into the bowl and serve hot with a side of sliced red chili and soy sauce.