Salmon head soup has a more gruesome name than the dish actually is. Yes, it is indeed a fish head soup, and you do use salmon heads to made the broth, but there are no eyeballs, bones or jaws floating around.
It is actually a refined, Japanese-style miso soup with noodles. It doesn’t even take very long to make, and this soup is so, so satisfying. You’ll never toss those fish heads again.
And while I prefer to use large salmon heads here, you can make this a generic fish head soup by switching up the species. Cod and striped bass heads are common in the Northeast, grouper and snapper in the Gulf, lingcod and halibut in the Pacific. Inland, I’d use big pike or bass. All these are lean fish, however.
Salmon heads make this a luxurious broth — it’s the fat — so if you want to substitute other species that will give you a similar effect, try lake trout, large char or other trout, catfish, cobia, sturgeon, amberjack or tuna.
Here is a good list of fatty fish you can try.
Two important things to remember when you use salmon or other fatty fish are 1) to never let this broth boil, or it will get overly fishy and cloudy (think making a tea rather than boiling a soup); and 2) it doesn’t keep well. Eat your fish head soup that evening or the day after. Beyond that, and things can get stinky.
Salmon Head Soup
- 4 large salmon heads, gills removed
- 1 small onion chopped, about 1 cup
- A 2-inch piece of dried kombu seaweed (optional)
- A 3-inch piece of slivered ginger
- 1/4 cup 1/4 cup mirin (sweet wine)
- Asian noodles somen, udon or rice noodles
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons white miso paste
- Chives and sliced chiles, for garnish
- Wash the salmon heads well to remove any blood or gills. Gills will ruin the broth by making it bitter and cloudy. Cover the heads with water in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add the onion, kombu and ginger and bring to a bare simmer. Do not let this boil. Simmer gently for 20 to 30 minutes.
- Strain the broth and save the heads. Pick out all the meat from the heads, especially the cheek meat. Reserve in a bowl.
- Return the broth to a clean pot and add the mirin. Heat but do not let boil. Add the soy sauce. If the broth still needs salt, add salt -- not more soy sauce, as that will make the broth too dark.
- Bring another pot of salted water to a boil: This is for the noodles. Cook the noodles according to the directions on the package.
- Ladle out some broth into soup bowls. Add a heaping teaspoon of miso (or more) to each bowl and stir to combine. Portion out the noodles to each bowl. Add the salmon meat on top of the noodles. Each person should get at least one cheek. Cover with more broth, garnish with chives and sliced chiles and serve at once.