Fish head soup with coconut cream

Fish head soup with coconut cream |

This was lunch several weeks back when we still had a house helper. I cooked two medium-sized fish heads, one for her and one for me, and I was shocked to find out that she didn’t eat fish head. Well, okay, she was from a small fishing village in Bohol where fish is cheap and always fresh. Apparently, they only ate choice cuts there. Anyway…

When you hear the term “fish head soup”, the picture that forms in the mind is fish head in a clear broth with leafy green vegetables. I have a few of that in the archive — one with sili leaves and a sinigang version. But I’ve often dreamed of a fish head soup that was more filling, more robust and less ordinary. No clear broth with subtle hints of garlic and ginger but full-bodied and with a lot of bite in it. Chilis and coconut cream seemed like a great idea.

To make this soup, you will at least one whole fish head. Obviously, eh? I had two whole talakitok (trevally), each weighing about three-quarters of a kilo. Two fish heads of that size are more than enough to feed two people. Contrary to what most people think, fish heads are quite fleshy especially if one does not balk at eating the jelly-like skin, lips and eyes.

You will also need two cups of coconut cream (use fresh, canned or powdered), an onion, about four cloves of garlic, as many siling haba (finger chilis) as you like (three or four are enough for me) and some finely sliced onion leaves to finish the dish.

Clean the fish heads; remove the gills if your suki at the wet market has not done so yet. If the heads are rather large, you can chop them into halves.

If you want the chilis to bite but not scorch, slit them open lengthwise and scrape off the seeds (a trick I learned from Nigella Lawson).

Peel and thinly slice the onion. Crush, peel and finely mince the garlic (it’s easier to peel garlic after crushing the cloves first).

Heat about two tablespoonfuls of vegetable cooking oil in a pot that should be wide enough to hold the fish heads in a single layer to ensure even cooking. Add the garlic, onion and chili peppers and cook until fragrant (about a minute over medium-high heat).

Add the fish heads in a single layer. Pour in about a cup of water, season with patis or salt then bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes (longer if they are rather large). The water need not cover the fish heads — the heat from the steam is enough to cook them.

Turn up the heat to medium and pour in the coconut cream. Bring to a gentle boil. Continue cooking the fish, uncovered, for a few minutes. Taste the soup and add more patis if necessary.

With a large spoon or spatula, lift the cooked fish heads and transfer to individual soup bowls. Pour the soup and spices over them and garnish with chopped green onions.


    • curious says

      I understand not wasting food, but even bears in the woods wont eat the head of a fish…I mean hello, brain flesh, prions anyone? I mean trash is trash…and I certainly WILL balk at eating eyeballs. By the way, what the heck is a house helper? A maid? If you can have a maid you can afford a better cut of fish. ^.^

    • Khandi says

      Loved this recipe, although i did not add chillies as i didn’t have any. Was thinking of adding scotch bonnet pepper but decided against it. I made mine with salmon heads (and adapted the recipe a lil), it was mouthwatering.

    • says

      is it the same IP? hanggang dito pala parang op-ed parin ;-)

      anyway, at a chinese wedding, i tried turtle cooked in a similar way with this fish head. the taste and texture of the turtle is almost similar with the jelly fish head skin but knowing it’s turtle and not fish is what makes me not want to try more.

  1. says

    Kotsengkuba, no, not the same as the commenter in the other blog.

    Rhodora, yep, it’s a pretty rich dish. Not your everyday kind of thing.

  2. Janet says

    Hi Connie!

    Great recipe idea. My coworker gave me fish head and I dont know what to do with it. I was just going to make sinigang but I think this is better. I’ve been craving food with coconut milk.

    More power!

  3. Nadia says

    Great recipe..i have been trying to decide what to do with the tuna head in the freezer. At least your helper doesn’t eat fish head lang, mine won’t touch sardines, tuyo or even vegetables. Unbelievable.

  4. Den says

    Hi Connie. Your fish head soup looks so appetizing. I just want to ask how much water you put to get a good coconut cream and coconut milk. Thanks!

  5. says

    Nadia, what??? She wants what — fried chicken, pork chops and steaks only? LOL

    Den, if you’re using fresh, it’s the first squeeze. If it’s powdered, there are instructions on the package. If you’re using canned, well, it’s coconut milk not cream so don’t add any more water.

  6. says

    Hi Connie, i did something similar before using whole tilapia in cream. Didn’t really take off at the dinner table. Might have another go at it seeing this recipe of yours. BTW, i like the new format of your site!

  7. says

    peterb, there’s a “floating” resto in Quezon. We ate there once on the way to Lucena. They grill the whole tilapia first before pouring in the coconut cream with spices and veggies. One weekend when it isn’t rainy and hubby can be cajoled into grilling, I’ll try to replicate that. :)

    Re new theme. It’s Brian Gardner’s Revolution News Theme. I am so loving it!

  8. says

    This recipe will be a hit, esp. for us bicolanos.

    Re: your helper, hay, my friends and I have had ones who didn’t eat chicken, beef, tuyo, danggit, vegetables, tahong or halaan, etc. You can just imagine how difficult it is to plan menus with kasambahays like that.

  9. brenda says

    Here’s a tip I’d like to share for those using fresh coconut milk, this is how we do it Bicol: Put the shredded coconut in a metal strainer and slowly cook over fire, just enough to brown them, then pour in some lukewarm water before squeezing. I tell you, ms masarap ang ginataang isda nyo. Medyo mabusisi nga lang gawin.

    @ peterb: favorite ko yan, ginataang tilapia but my bicolano version is to wrap the whole fish in pechay leaves, with lots of chile and little of ginger.

    Another favorite is tulingan, pero mas masarap kung ipa-paksiw nyo muna yung tulingan, with salt, vinegar, black pepper and lots of garlic. Kapag medyo dry na sya, pour in the coconut milk (first squeeze lang) and add chili. Cook until the sauce thickens and medyo magmantika na sya. da best with plain hot rice!