I hadn’t been to France in a year. Vera lives in Paris, and we hadn’t had the opportunity to see each other since the beginning of 196 flavors.
I’ve just returned from Paris where I spent two great weeks. When I told the news of my arrival in the capital to Véra few weeks ago, we immediately decided to cook together. We still had to find a date, a place but also a menu or theme.
We were undecided until 2 days before our meeting. After a lot of back and forth, I suggested to follow an “intercontinental” theme, namely an Asian appetizer, a Latin American main course and a dessert from Oceania.
For the appetizer, I chose a rather unusual recipe. I know, I know, “unusual” has become my specialty. So I suggested that we prepared a soup (something I am really not a fan of), but not just any soup: a fish head soup!
Suffice to say that Véra was not that enthused at the idea of preparing this soup initially. But after I convinced her that I would take care of cutting the head, she finally gave in to my whims.
Singaporean cuisine is mainly influenced by Malaysian cuisine, but also by Chinese, Indonesian, Indian and Western cuisines (especially English and Portuguese). Although this fish head soup called “Yue Tow Mai Fun” (or 鱼头 米粉 in Chinese) has clear Chinese origins, it is unique by the presence of milk in the recipe, which is not common in the cuisine of the communist country, making it a traditional Singaporean version.
Yes, there is a version of this soup with fish meat (not fish head), but I intentionally forgot to tell my partners about it. It would have been much less fun! The fish that is traditionally used in this recipe is grouper. As it was impossible to find grouper, Vera, who kindly offered to shop for the fish, settled for huge cod heads with which we had a lot of fun. Even if the heads can put off people at first, you should not forget that they contain the best and most delicate pieces of meat (cheek, neck, etc..). No, fish eyes are not used in any recipe… even if they were highlighted on some pictures we posted on our Facebook page. Yes, we are big kids indeed!
That day, our British friend Nicky came to help us. She almost fainted at the sight of the fish heads. But after Vera and I prepared the fish by removing the good parts of the head, she went past her initial apprehension and helped prepare the soup.
I recently made another Asian soup, khao poon from Laos, which helped me reconcile with soups. A few weeks ago, Véra also posted her lohikeitto, a fish-based soup, this time originating from Scandinavia, similar to our Singaporean recipe as it included milk.
I have to admit that even though I’m not a fan of soup, the final result of the “fish head beehoon soup” or Yue Tow Mai Fun was delicious, original and appealed to everyone without exception. The fact that the fish pieces are fried before cooking the soup probably helped by providing more texture and also probably a more pronounced taste.
Recipe of Yue Tow Mai Fun
- 3/4 lb fish head meat (preferably grouper), washed
1 cup cornstarch
1/2 lb rice vermicelli (beehoon), immersed in water, then drained
1 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, cut into very thin slices
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon neutral oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
4 cups water or fish stock (can be prepared with the fish head carcass)
1/2 lb mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup evaporated milk
Neutral oil (enough to deep fry)
1 tablespoon of salt
For the seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon fish sauce (nuoc-mâm or similar)
1 tablespoon chicken bouillon powder
For the garnish
- 2 sprigs of scallion, cut into 1-inch slices
Red hot chili pepper, sliced
Season the pieces of fish head with salt, then drench in the cornstarch. Deep fry in a hot oil bath until the pieces are golden and crispy (about 8-10 minutes). Lay the pieces on paper towel and set aside.
Heat oil and sesame oil until hot. Sauté the garlic and ginger for 2 minutes. Add water or fish broth and bring to a boil.
Add seasoning, rice vermicelli (beehoon), mushrooms and fish head pieces. Simmer for 5-6 minutes, then add the evaporated milk. Bring to a boil.
Ladle the soup into individual bowls and serve immediately with garnish.