Fish Maws

An elementary page on fish stomachs, fish maws and dried fish bladders.

In this issue, you can enjoy a delicious bonus with seafood as all varieties not only tastes good but share a rich nutritional beneficence. Among the Chinese community, the four most prestigious seafood luxuries are arranged according to the order of importance and value. Top-of the range comes abalones (pronounced as aba-loh-nees), next will be sea cucumbers followed by sharkfins and the final order, fish maws.

Most of us do have a wrong interpretation of what fish maws are. It is wrong to assumed it is the general stomach portion. This is not a true chart as it is the air bladder we should be looking at. The area is also known as the floating bladder as it is filled with arteries and blood capillaries. Fishes are cold-blooded, water-inhabiting vertebrates with tails and fins, taking in oxygen through their gills. The contract and expand actions enable the fish to stay afloat in the waters whilst the tail and fins helps to propel and steer the body's movement when it glides along. Evolution makes different species, an example, shark, which is not controlled by the air bladder but it has its own built-in huge oily liver. The body is streamlined shape which makes it ideal for moving fast through waters.

Fish stomach carries an excellent source of protein and a host of minerals, vitamins, iron and iodine. A substance, collagen, adds to the virtures as it is believed this complex structural beauty protein helps the skin to remain radiant and youthful. It has and will always be a legendary food to many wealthy people, especially those with lung illnesses, to consume loads of fish maws. The Chinese medicine-man perceived it to have the medicinal properties, to repair damaged tissues.

The smaller part of the fish stomach is known as fish bladder. This is easily available at the wet markets in both dried and deep-fried forms. Prices vary according to the grade sold. Generally after purchasing it, this is sun-dried, sliced and then deep-fried. It expands quickly like prawn crackers being immersed into hot oil. Soak the fried maws in water, drain well and coat with some flour. Give this a quick rinse as it helps to remove any excess oil trapped in. You can cook it with other ingredients or stocks as the fish bladders soak up flavours easily.

The thicker pieces are known as fish maws as these come from the last of the ruminant's stomach. Being a delicacy, prices are high, comparable to good quality sea cucumbers and are available at dried marine product shops or the larger-scale herbal shops. Quality of fish maws are determined by the thickness, gender, categories of the fishes caught, depth of the ocean waters, as all these attribute to their goodness.

Steps taken for processing fish maws are generally not much different from sea cucumbers. They are soaked in either warm or cold water for two days. Water should be changed several times in-between and make sure all utensils used are totally free of oil as it can caused the fish maws to decay easily. On the following day, heat up a big stainless steel pot with lots of water. Bring this to a rapid boil and turn off the heat. Immerse in the pre-soaked fish maws, let the water cool naturally. Remove fish maws and repeat this boiling hot and cooled water treatment several times till the fish maws are soft enough for the finger prick test. Do not boil them as it is not a good procedure. Wash the soften fish maws well. Clean off the slimes, as you squash it, there is a sponge-like feel. Keep cleaned fish maws in a storage box filled with clean water. Place in the freezer's lower compartment and it keeps pretty well if instructions are followed closely.

Our previous articles on abalones and sea cucumbers are found in Issue 4 and Issue 10 respectively.

A short lesson on processing dried fish baldders

Buy the pre-fried dried fish bladders. In a wok of warm oil (not boiling hot), refry it to expand it further. The colours should not changed to golden. If what you purchased are in the dried form, cut them into small pieces. Sundry it before deep-frying them in warm oil. This helps to expand the bladders a lot better. Soak them in a bowl of clean water for approximately 10 minutes. Remove above and coat it with some flour. This is to soak up excess oil trapped in. Wash flour coated bladder pieces well. Change the murky waters several times till it is clear looking. Squeeze it dry and this is ready for your cooking.

A Spread Of Dried Fish Bladder Dishes

With the approaching Lunar New Year, it is definitely a good opportunity to savour all the hallmarks of Chinese cuisine. If you are a fan of timeless appeal dishes, seafood delicacies should be on your high profile list. To help readers zero in on the dried marine products - fish stomachs/ dried fish bladders, we embarked on a food journey to Triang. The Lees showed us the various examples of how this classic ingredient can be served. On it's own, dried fish baldders are virtually bland, it depends entirely on borrowed flavours from the stocks and other ingredients used. Yet nutrition-wise, it is a wholesome food.

Prosperous looking Mr. Lee Hang Huat and wife, Mdm. Wong Chew Fong are now both in their prime of life. Success did not come easy for him as he fared badly in a business project during his younger days. His wife was a trained cook and encouraged him to learn the food trade. On picking up the tools of-the-trade, he ventured into running a restaurant. This venture is a success but is also a back-breaking task. They do not get home any earlier than one a.m. nightly. After attending to the accounting, bedtimes are regular at three a.m. It is not wrong to say that success depends on your own efforts too. Being a gourmet, Mr. Lee loves to dine at different places, he enjoys other people's cooking and get inspirations from it. Cooking is an art, be inspired by Mr. Lee's presentation of dried fish bladder recipes. Are you game enough to practice and thrill family and friends with your skill? In the spirit of a New Year, let us rejoice together.

Selected Recipes:

(1) Braised Dried Fish Bladders With Mushrooms And Sea Cucumbers

150g dried fish bladders (soaked, cut into small pieces)
600g soaked sea cucumbers (braised, cut into pieces)
10 mushrooms (soaked)
500 ml chicken superior stock
A little fragrant oil (refer to method below)
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine/ Hua Diao
Some pepper
Some dark soy sauce
For thickening:
1 tbsp potato starch/ tapioca flour
1 tbsp water
1.Heat up 5 tbsps oil, fry sea cucumbers over high heat till fragrant, drain off excess oil and set aside.
2.Heat up the wok, put in seasoning and sea cucumbers, mix well. Add in superior stock and braise for 15 minutes. Remove the sea cucumbers, place on a plate and retain the stock.
3.Add dried fish bladders into stock of no.(2), simmer over low heat for 5 minutes. Dish up.
4.Finally, put mushrooms into the same stock. Simmer for 5 minutes over high heat and bring it to a boil. Add in thickening and a little fragrant oil. Pour over fish bladders and sea cucumbers.

(2) Broccoli With Scallops And Dried Fish Bladders

150g deep-fried fish maws (cut into small pieces)
200g fresh scallops (parboiled in oil)
15 fresh prawns (parboiled in oil)
200g broccoli (cut into florets, blanched)
Some ginger shreds
400 ml pig bone superior stock
3 tbsps fragrant oil (refer to method below)
1 tbsp rice wine
Some salt
For thickening:
1 tbsp tapioca flour
2 tbsps water
1. Heat up 2 tbsps fragrant oil. Pour in stock, bring it to a boil. Add in salt, adjust taste. Add in fish bladders and ginger shreds, mix well and cook over high heat for 5 minutes. Scoop up the fish bladders onto a plate.
2. Surround the fish bladders with prawns and broccoli. Place scallops on top.
3. Reheat stock of no.(1). Add in thickening, 1 tbsp fragrant oil and 1 tbsp rice wine, mix well. Pour it over no.(2).

To prepare fragrant oil:
Heat up enough oil in wok over low heat, put in chopped shallots or garlic, fry till it is golden in colour. Sieve residue, the remaining oil is the fragrant oil.

To parboil food in oil:
Heat up some oil in a wok over low heat. Place food in to partial cook or fully cooked it. Scoop up and drain off excess oil. Food prepared using this method is smoother and fresh flavours retained.

(3) Hot & Spicy Dried Fish Bladders

200g dried fish bladders (soaked, cut into small pieces)
2 slices fresh pineapple (cut into cubes)
2 onions (cut into cubes)
2 red chillies (cut into cubes)
1 capsicum (cut into cubes)
2 tomatoes (cut into cubes)
Some ginger shreds
1 tbsp chilli sauce
2 tbsps tomato ketchup
1 tsp vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp sugar
3 tbsps water
1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine/ Hua Diao
1. Heat up some oil, fry pineapples and onions over high heat till fragrant. Add in seasoning (except Hua Diao), bring it to a boil.
2. Add in red chillies, capsicums, tomatoes, ginger shreds and dried fish bladders. Stir well over high heat till cooked.
3. Sprinkle Hua Diao to enhance the aroma. Dish up and serve.

Relishing Dried Fish Bladders Salad

200g dried fish bladders (soaked, cut into small pieces)
1 ripe mango (shredded)
Some deep-fried cashew nuts
Pickled vegetables: (marinated overnight)
100g carrots (cut into strips)
100g white radish (cut into strips)
50g young ginger (cut into thin slices)
150ml vinegar
200g sugar
100ml water
2 tbsps Thai chilli sauce
2 tbsps tangerine oil (available at Chinese herbal shops)
6 local limes/ limau kasturi (extract juice)
1/2 tbsp sugar
1. Blanch fish bladders. Remove and leave aside to cool. Squeeze off excess water.
2. Strain pickled vegetables.
3. Mix well fish bladders, pickled vegetables, mango shreds, cashew nuts and seasoning. This is a nice appetizing dish.

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