Photo: Iain Bagwell; Styling: Sara Slavin Photo by: Photo: Iain Bagwell; Styling: Sara Slavin

Simple Fish Soup

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.

Sunset AUGUST 2012

  • Yield: Makes about 4 qts.
  • Total:1 Hour, 45 Minutes


  • 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


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.

*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.

Note: Nutritional analysis is per cup.

Nutritional Information

Amount per serving
  • Calories: 105
  • Calories from fat: 51%
  • Protein: 5.1g
  • Fat: 6.3g
  • Saturated fat: 0.8g
  • Carbohydrate: 7.2g
  • Fiber: 0.4g
  • Sodium: 261mg
  • Cholesterol: 14mg

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Simple Fish Soup recipe