Hed Chef

Make a Teochew favourite: Steamed song fish head

Steamed song fish head with black bean sauce.
Steamed song fish head with black bean sauce.PHOTO: HEDY KHOO

SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) - Steamed and blanketed in a black bean-based sauce, song fish head is a dish that brings back fond memories of "food expeditions" I enjoyed with my late father.

Not everyone likes freshwater fish, but those who like to eat song fish (Asian bighead carp) - known in Hokkien and Teochew as "songhe" - prize it for its gelatinous gummy texture.

My father used to take me to a zi char stall located somewhere in Ang Mo Kio Industrial Park 2 where he would order the steamed song fish head that was "off menu".

The chef cooked the dish only for regular customers who could pre-order it. Otherwise it was a matter of luck even for regulars as the chef didn't always have stock of the song fish head.

Steamed song fish head was also a regular feature at our dinner table as my father cooked his own version of the dish, using less oil and less of the salty fermented black beans for a healthier option.

After my father died, I tried locating the zi char stall but without success. I don't know the name of the stall nor can I remember what the chef looks like.

Today's recipe is based on my memory of how my father used to cook it. Copious amounts of garlic, shallot and chilli combined with fermented black beans help to stave off any strong fishy odour.

Make sure the fish is thoroughly cooked for food safety reasons.

Steamed fish head with black bean sauce


One side of a song fish (Asian bighead carp) head (600g)
30g ginger, thickly sliced
¼ tsp salt
40ml cooking oil
60g garlic, chopped
30g shallots, chopped
30g ginger, finely chopped
2 red finger chillies, chopped
3 chilli padi, finely minced
15g fermented black beans, slightly crushed
2 tbsp Shaoxing wine
1 stalk spring onion, finely sliced


1. Clean and rinse the fish head. Pat dry with paper towels.

2. Rub salt on both sides of the fish head.

3. In a heatproof dish, place the ginger slices and place fish head on top of the ginger slices.


4. Steam for 12 minutes, then transfer the fish onto a serving dish. Discard the cooking liquid.

5. In a wok or pan, heat the oil on medium heat.

6. Add the garlic and lower the heat. Fry for a minute until the garlic is fragrant. 

7. Add the shallots and ginger. Fry for 45 seconds until fragrant.

8. Add the chopped chilli and chilli padi. Fry for 30 seconds.

9. Add the fermented black beans. Fry for a minute. 

10. Cook the mixture over low heat for 2 minutes, then add the Shaoxing wine.

11. Add the spring onion and cook for 10 seconds. Turn off the heat. 

12. Ladle the mixture over the fish head and serve immediately.

Yields three servings.