how to prepare a delicious homemade fish head soup

Fish head soup is not a common dish in many parts of the United States, but the heads are actually versatile ingredients capable of holding up to a variety of treatments. Fish heads have a variety of textures ‒ the eyes offer a fatty-tasting pop, and the cheek meat is dense and fine in texture. Even the bits of cartilage add interest to a fish head soup.

Fish Head Soup Background

In many parts of the world, recipes for fish head soup call for leaving the fish heads whole because deboning and stripping it down removes some of the textures and flavors. However, if you choose to debone your fish head, a meaty fish such as salmon is an excellent choice and makes a delicious salmon soup. You can use any type of fish you like, provided it’s large and has enough meat to be worth cooking.

If you choose to debone your fish heads, you’ll want to separate the cooking process into two parts. Once the fish heads are cooked, you need to remove them from the soup and let them cool long enough that you can handle them safely. Once they’re completely cool, pick apart the fish carefully. Add the meat as a last step when serving or reincorporate into the soup after deboning.

Regardless of the type of fish you cook, simmering or sauteing the head will bring out the most flavors.

Fish Head Stew

Total Time: 90 minutes | Prep Time: 45 minutes | Serves: 4


  • 2 fish heads
  • 4 cloves garlic (peeled)
  • 1 inch piece of ginger
  • 2 shallots
  • 2 cups coconut cream
  • 3‒4 finger chilies
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 4 large leeks (sliced)
  • ⅔ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into chunks
  • 4 cups canned crushed tomatoes
  • 2 large potatoes (peeled and cubed)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 2 pinches of saffron
  • 1 pinch ground cloves
  • 10 cups water
  • Fish sauce, cayenne pepper and salt to taste
  • Fresh fennel leaves to garnish (optional)


  1. In a food processor, coarsely grind the garlic, leeks and some pepper.
  2. Heat the oil in a wide, heavy pot over medium-high. You will need enough room to arrange the fish heads side-by-side.
  3. Add the ground mixture to the pot and saute until all of the liquids evaporate.
  4. Peel and thinly slice the shallots.
  5. Peel and grate the ginger.
  6. Slit the chilies lengthwise and scrape off the seeds.
  7. In a pot, combine canned tomatoes, potatoes, wine, cayenne, cloves, bay leaves, paprika, saffron, salt and water. Bring to a boil.
  8. Reduce heat to medium and cook covered for 45 minutes.
  9. Add the garlic, shallots, ginger and chilies. Cook until fragrant.
  10. Pour in about a cup of water and season with fish sauce or salt; then bring to a boil. 
  11. Cover and simmer (about 10 minutes). 
  12. Turn up the heat to medium and pour in the coconut cream. Bring to a gentle boil. 
  13. Continue cooking the fish, uncovered, for a few minutes, tasting regularly and seasoning as needed. Add additional spices and cream to taste.
  14. Place the cooked fish heads in a large, shallow bowl.
  15. Ladle the broth over the fish heads and garnish with chopped green onions and fennel leaves.