Fish Head Soup: Simple, Economical, Nutritious and Delicious!

Seafood Recipes

I know, a fish head floating in a bowl of soup may seem strange, or just downright terrifying, but fear not my friends! This simple fish head soup recipe is designed for my fellow Americans who did not grow up eating fish head soup. And that means just about all of us. It will therefore not include a whole fish head staring back at you!

fish head soup recipe

That said, many cultures do grow up eating fish head soup. I’ve personally encountered many incarnations in my travels in Asia. Fish head curries, in particular, are popular throughout Asia. I’ve also seen brothy preparations in both Cambodia and Thailand.

There are reasons so many countries value fish heads be it in soup form or other dishes. So before we get to the recipe, let’s explore why fish heads are so beneficial, why they make surprisingly good soups, and where to find them in markets.

The Many Benefits of Fish Heads

salmon heads for fish head soup

For starters, fish heads are incredibly nutrient-dense. They harbor lots of cartilage, bones, skin, and other collagen-rich pieces that are high in polyunsaturated fats, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.

We all know that omega-3 fatty acids are important for brain health, cardiovascular health, as well as vision, immunity, and many other health benefits. Omega-3s are a type of polyunsaturated fat that the human body cannot manufacture on its own and therefore must be consumed through diet.

Fish and seafood are some of the best sources, especially fatty fish like salmon. In fact, many fish oil supplements are often manufactured, in part, from fish heads. Besides being rich in omega-3s, fish heads are also rich in amino acids, vitamin A, and minerals such as iodine and selenium. How sad that we discard the most nutrient-dense part of fish!

Second, fish heads are also super economical. The salmon fish heads (pictured above) for this recipe cost me $2.99 per pound. Demand is so low for them that sometimes you can even get them for free.

Third, eating fish heads also helps reduce waste. From an NPR article titled Why We Should Stop Tossing Fish Heads and Eat ‘Em Up Instead:

Norwegian fishermen alone dumped an estimated 220,000 tons of wild fish parts at sea in 2011 after processing their catch on the water, according to a report published in February in the journal Trends in Food Science and Technology. Filleting a fish and tossing the scraps can be extremely wasteful, producing two to three pounds of head and scraps for every pound of boneless, skinless meat, the National Marine Fisheries Service reports.

I can’t even imagine how many tons of wild fish parts American fishermen throw away every year.

Finally, for the purposes of this post, this is the best benefit of them all…

Fish heads make great soup!

Why Fish Heads Make Great Soup

They’re collagen-rich

It’s why cultures all over the planet use them in such a wide variety of soup recipes. The collagen-rich parts of the head create a variety of bold and interesting textures and flavors. For this reason, fish heads should always be included when making fish broth. And fish heads have more meat than you might think, as you can see in this picture:

meat in salmon heads

The cheeks and collars

These meaty pieces also contribute flavor. Every seafood chef knows that the meat from the cheeks and the collars are the most prized parts of fish. Collars are found just behind the gills. Both pieces are succulent, moist, and tender. The cheeks are personally my favorite part as I think they taste sort of like scallops. You’ll find other meaty pieces too, especially on top of the head.

Those other parts

And then, there are the parts that make people squeamish like the tongue, brain, and eyes. But they contribute their own flavors and textures too and many cultures value these parts. Of course, you don’t have to eat any of them. Sometimes, it’s hard to even identify them. When heated and cooked in soup, they turn very soft and gelatinous and blend into each other. Just know that outside the bones and the denser cartilaginous pieces, everything is edible in fish heads.

What are the Best Types of Fish for Fish Head Soup?

Ideally, you want fish heads that are not too big and not too small. Small fish heads don’t have enough meat on them though they are great for making fish broth. Large fish heads can be too unwieldy for a stock pot. So look for medium-sized fish heads.

Salmon is a great choice. Any type of fish with a similar size to salmon is fine. Bluefish, black sea bass, snapper, haddock, medium-sized cod, and medium-sized striped bass are the ones I’ve used in the past.

Where to Find Fish Heads for Fish Head Soup

Your local fishmonger may have them for sale. If not, ask him/her to set some aside for you when they fillet their fish. They’d be more than happy to do that and often will give them to you at a very reasonable price. Some may give them to you for free if you’re a regular customer.

Conventional supermarket seafood counters may also have them, especially if there’s a big ethnic population in the area.

Speaking of ethnic populations, Asian markets are a great bet as most Asian cultures use all parts of the fish.

Finally, there are many online suppliers that will ship them to you. Simply google “fish heads for sale” and you’d be surprised how many options there are.

More Fish Soup Recipes to Try

Fish Head Soup vs. Fish Head Stock

I see a lot of recipes online for fish head soup that technically speaking, are not really fish head soup. So just to be clear, a fish head soup either has an entire fish head in the soup or, in the case of my recipe below, removes the edible parts of the fish head and puts them back into the soup.

Otherwise, cooking fish heads and straining the broth for soup is simply a fish broth or stock. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Fish heads make excellent stocks and broths.

If you’ve never made fish stock before, here’s a simple video I made years ago. You can substitute all fish heads for fish frames.

How to Make Fish Stock

OK, enough background information. Let’s get to the recipe.

Salmon Fish Head Soup with Dill

This is a great recipe for fish head soup if you’re making it for the first time. It’s actually pretty simple. It also includes leeks, carrots, peas, lemon juice, and some heavy cream. The latter tempers the strong fish flavor of the soup. I adapted the recipe from the Wild Salmon and Dill Soup in my cookbook, New England Soups from the Sea. In fact, it’s almost identical with the obvious exception of using salmon heads instead of salmon fillets.

seafood cookbook imagery

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That said, I’ve included the option to add some salmon fillet meat if you want. If you’re making this fish head soup for the first time, I would recommend it to complement the other parts that may not be as familiar.

Also, feel free to substitute any type of fish heads you can find. Bluefish is a great substitute as it’s also an oily fish like salmon and will result in a nice, pronounced fish flavor.

Ingredients Needed

  • 3 TBSPs of unsalted butter
  • 1 large leek or 2 medium leeks, green leafy part removed, white part cut in half lengthwise, and diced into ½-inch pieces
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced into ¼-inch rounds
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine, optional
  • 4 salmon heads or fish heads from similar-sized fish like bluefish, snapper, striped bass, black sea bass, etc.
  • 3-4 quarts filtered water, or enough so that the heads are fully submerged
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 cup dill chopped and tightly packed, or more!
  • 1/2 to 3/4 pound salmon fillet, chopped into bite-sized pieces, optional
  • Salt, to taste
  • Lemon wedges, freshly ground black pepper, to taste per individual bowls

How to Make Salmon Head Soup with Dill

Step 1. Saute the leeks and carrots in butter

sauteing leeks and carrots

Heat the butter over medium heat in a medium-sized stock pot. Saute the leeks and carrots for 5 minutes or until the leeks soften. Add the optional wine and simmer for a few more minutes until it’s reduced by about half. Note: it’s fine to substitute onion for the leeks.

Step 2. Sweat the fish heads

sweating fish heads

Sweating is basically cooking the fish first before adding the water. This process will start to release juices from the fish heads. It’s these juices, full of flavor compounds, that will bring out some bold flavors.

Add the fish heads on top of the veggies, cover the pot, and cook for about 10 to 12 minutes. You’ll notice that the eyes will turn opaque, a sign that the fish is cooked.

fish heads cooking in fish head soup

Step 3. Cover the fish heads with water and simmer gently

adding water to fish heads

Add the water and raise the heat to high. You’ll probably notice that the water will immediately turn a golden yellow color. It will continue to develop a darker color as things simmer. Just before the water comes to a boil, reduce the heat to a very gentle simmer, and cook, uncovered for about 25 minutes.

fish heads simmering

Taste the soup a few times during the simmering. You’ll probably notice the flavor will develop over time. You might also gently press into the fish heads to release additional compounds and flavors. Try not to break them up but if it does happen, it’s no big deal.

Step 4. The icky part

salmon head parts

There’s no way around it. At some point, the edible parts have to be separated from the bones of the head. This step is it! But you’ll see how easily these parts pull away from the bones. Most of them will just fall right off.

Turn the heat off. With a slotted spoon, gently remove the salmon heads and let them cool for about 10 minutes. Once cooled, break them apart and pick off all the meat, tender cartilage, and gelatinous pieces (including the eyeballs if you dare). Set these edible pieces aside and discard the bones and tougher cartilage.

Step 5. Add the peas and optional salmon fillet

Raise the heat back to a gentle simmer. Add the peas and the optional salmon fillet and cook for a few more minutes or until the salmon is cooked through.

Step 6. Add everything else to the soup

finished fish head soup

Start with the heavy cream and fresh dill. Stir them both well. Then add the reserved salmon head pieces and stir them back into the soup.

Step 7. Add seasonings, to taste

Start with salting the main pot of soup. Go slow and salt, to taste. Add some extra dill, if desired. Next, ladle the soup into individual bowls and let each person add additional seasonings to taste such as freshly ground black pepper, a squeeze or two of fresh lemon (highly recommended!), and additional dill and/or salt.

Recipe Notes

1. If your fish heads include the gills, make sure to cut them out. They can impart a bitter flavor. If you source your fish heads from your local fishmonger, ask them to do this for you.

2. Make sure the fish heads are fresh! They should NOT smell fishy. A good sign of freshness is the eyes will be nice and clear.

3. Salmon and dill are a classic combination. But in soup form, you need to be quite liberal with the dill as it can easily blend into the background of the broth and other ingredients. Don’t skimp! I call for 1 cup of packed dill, which basically means a lot. You can always add more, including when you season your individual bowl. 

4. I would also recommend not skimping on seasoning your fish head soup with some lemon juice. The acidity really perks things up and balances the flavors.

5. Finally, you can substitute half and half for heavy cream but heavy cream is a better choice in brothy soups like this one. The higher fat content results in a more satisfying mouthfeel, texture, and flavor.

Salmon Head Soup with Dill Recipe

fish head soup

Simple Fish Head Soup Recipe

This simple fish head soup includes veggies, salmon, dill, spices, lemon, and cream.
Print Recipe Pin Recipe
CourseMain Course
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time1 hour
Total Time1 hour 10 minutes
Servings8 servings
AuthorCraig Fear


  • 3 TBSPs butter unsalted
  • 1 leek green leafy part removed, white part cut in half lengthwise, diced into ½ inch pieces
  • 2 carrots peeled, sliced into ¼ inch rounds
  • 1/2 cup white wine dry, optional
  • 4 heads salmon or fish heads from similar sized fish like bluefish, snapper, striped bass, black sea bass, etc.
  • 3 quarts filtered water
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 cup dill chopped and tightly packed, or more!
  • 1/2 to 3/4 pound salmon fillet chopped into bite-sized pieces, optional
  • salt to taste

Optional Seasonings, to Taste

  • 1 squeeze lemon
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • salt
  • fresh dill


  • Heat the butter in a medium to large sized stockpot over medium heat. Add the leek and carrots and saute until softened for about 5 minutes. Add the optional wine and simmer a few minutes until reduced by about half.
  • Add the fish heads, cover the pot, and cook for about 10 minutes.
  • Add the water. Raise the heat to high. Just before the water comes to a boil, reduce the heat to a very gentle simmer, and cook for about 25 minutes.
  • Turn the heat off. With a slotted spoon, gently remove the salmon heads and let them cool. Once cooled, break them apart and pick off all the meat, tender cartilage, and gelatinous pieces (including the eyeballs if you dare).
  • Raise the heat back to a gentle simmer. Add the peas and the optional salmon fillet and cook for a few more minutes or until the salmon is cooked through.
  • Add the heavy cream and dill and stir into the soup. Add the salmon head pieces back into the soup.
  • Salt, to taste. Add more dill, if desired, to taste.
  • Ladle into individual bowls and add optional seasonings, to taste.


Serving: 1serving | Calories: 198kcal | Carbohydrates: 4g | Protein: 7g | Fat: 17g | Saturated Fat: 10g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Trans Fat: 0.2g | Cholesterol: 61mg | Sodium: 90mg | Potassium: 289mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 3767IU | Vitamin C: 8mg | Calcium: 60mg | Iron: 1mg

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Fish Head Soup: Simple, Economical, Nutritious and Delicious!

About the Author

Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.

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