thatsmyfullname

Chicken or Fish?

In chicken, eastern, fish, soup, vietnamese on January 12, 2011 at 1:25 am

Sweet-and-Sour Fish Soup - part of my lunch at work! Oops! I forgot to take a picture of the Chicken Noodle Soup. I'm sure you can imagine what soup looks like.

I’ve been cooking a lot of Western soups, where the method is boil and blend. Getting a hold of Bobby Chinn’s Vietnamese Cooking brought me back to my Eastern roots.

Eastern soups are always clear and light, sometimes sour or salty, which you’d rarely find with the Western kind. They also need a lot more ingredients, which can be a hassle.

This time around, I tried the Sweet-and-Sour Fish Soup and Chicken Noodle Soup. Cooking it back to back over two weekends gave me a sense of Vietnamese cooking. Two words – fish sauce. This ingredient is to Vietnamese cooking what oyster sauce is to Chinese. Remember Wok With Yan? “If Yan can cook, so can you!!” He used oyster sauce and Chinese rice wine for almost everything.

Now I have a use for the fish sauce I bought. I’ve only used it once as a marinade for a chicken and onion dish (friend’s mum’s recipe – yummilicious!). Fish sauce is essentially anchovy extract, salt and sugar. Friend’s mum recommends the Squid brand.

Sweet-and-Sour Fish Soup

This is a hearty soup and it packs a pleasant surprise with the addition of okra/lady’s fingers (first time I used it in a soup). For the fish stock, I used the cubed kind. Bobby’s fish stock uses fish bones, celery, leek, onion, parsley, garlic and bay leaves, so you can add these in if you have them lying around.

This recipe calls for barramundi fillets, but I suppose any fish will do. I can’t tell my fishes apart (except for the obvious one like pomfret, eel, catfish and yellow tail), so I just asked my regular fishmonger for ‘fish good for soup’.

The soup also contains pineapple and tomatoes. If you put in a lot, the soup can be a meal on its own.

Shopping list: barramundi fillet, pineapple (ask the seller which type is suitable for soups), okra, red chilli, tomatoes, celery leaves, beansprouts, mint leaves, coriander leaves

From the pantry: tamarind (for tamarind water), sugar

Can I do it?: Easy enough but tedious on cutting up the pineapple.

Credit: Vietnamese Cooking by Bobby Chinn

Tip: If you made too much tamarind juice, freeze in an ice cube tray. Keep the cubes in a Ziploc bag for future use. For the bean sprouts, buy just enough a day or two before your cooking day. They don’t keep well and turn brown and icky easily. Wrap in newspapers! Don’t leave them in the plastic bag because condensation will ruin it fast.


Chicken Noodle Soup

Compared to the fish soup, there doesn’t seem to be a lot going on in this. Besides the shreds of chicken meat, star anise and cinnamon stick, you don’t see much of anything else apart from the garnishing. It’s meant to be enjoyed with noodles, but I prefer it on its own.

The surprise in this is the charred ginger and shallots, which give the soup an interesting layer of taste. If I’m a wine snob, I would write this like a wine review.

For the stock, I used Knorr Chicken Stock (in powder form, for professional use) because making stock from scratch takes too much time. Again, if you have these stock ingredients at hand, just add them to the soup: parsley, garlic, peppercorns, onions, carrots, celery and leek.

And here’s something I learned from Chef James Thong of the Loaf. Chefs don’t waste. If you have any stalks from herbs, don’t throw them away. Save them in Ziploc bags and store in the freezer. I also keep the stalks of leafy vegetables, which I don’t eat anyway. When you’re making stock or any soup, just add the stalks in. Good for extra flavour and additional nutrients.

Of the two soups, I prefer the fish one. The fish sauce, pineapple and tamarind gives it a nice twang.

Shopping list: chicken breast, ginger, and for the garnishing: spring onion, coriander, Thai basil, cili padi, lime

From the pantry: chicken stock (cube, powder, liquid, whatever you fancy), shallots, star anise, cinnamon stick, fish sauce, sugar, rice noodles, black pepper

Can I do it?: Easy lah, soup mah…

Credit: Vietnamese Cooking by Bobby Chinn


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  1. Both soups sound yummy and delish to me. I wouldn’t know which to choose.

    • Hello! Welcome! Try both! If you have to choose, fish if you like fish and sour stuff, like laksa. Chicken if you want something that warms your insides (the effect of the charred ginger, shallots, star anise and cinnamon stick). The chicken soup also has that nice, smoky tinge to it.

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