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Simple Fish Soup

Photo: Iain Bagwell; Styling: Sara Slavin
Total time 1 hr, 45 mins
Yield Makes about 4 qts.
When Charles was growing up in Vietnam's Central Highlands, every meal included a light, brothy soup like this one. Its purpose, he says, "is to stimulate the appetite, much the way...a crystal-clear consommé begins a classic French dinner." Even on a hot summer day, it's a great way to start a meal.


  • 1 whole branzino or black bass (1 lb.), filleted, skeleton and head saved in one piece*
  • About 1 tbsp. Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup thinly sliced shallots (from about 3 large)
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2 cups diced fresh or canned tomatoes, with juice
  • 1 piece fresh ginger (1 in. by 2 in.), cut into 1/4-in.-thick coins
  • 1 Thai or serrano chile, stemmed and sliced on the diagonal
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons Toasted Garlic

Nutrition Information

  • calories 105
  • caloriesfromfat 51 %
  • protein 5.1 g
  • fat 6.3 g
  • satfat 0.8 g
  • carbohydrate 7.2 g
  • fiber 0.4 g
  • sodium 261 mg
  • cholesterol 14 mg

How to Make It

  1. Slice fish fillets into 1-in.-wide strips and place in a bowl. Add 1 tbsp. fish sauce and the cornstarch and toss to coat evenly.

  2. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until just softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook another 30 seconds. Add tomatoes, ginger, chile, fish skeleton and head, and 2 qts. water; increase heat to high and bring to a simmer. Lower heat to a low simmer and cook, uncovered, 1 hour. Remove fish skeleton and head and discard.

  3. Add fish strips and lime juice just before serving, then simmer 3 to 5 minutes, until fish is opaque throughout. Taste broth and add more fish sauce if you like.

  4. Ladle into warmed soup bowls and top with cilantro and toasted garlic. Serve immediately.

  5. *A fishmonger can fillet the fish for you, but be sure to ask for the bones and head--they give rich flavor to the soup.

  6. Note: Nutritional analysis is per cup.

Adapted from Vietnamese Home Cooking, copyright 2012 by Charles Phan.