Fish heads for Rosh Hashanah? Make super-nutritious fish soup

Fish heads for Rosh Hashanah? Make super-nutritious fish soup

Fish drawing

One of the customs of the first night of Rosh Hashanah is to eat a number of foods that symbolically represent our concerns and hopes for a good judgment for the upcoming year. Among these foods is the head of a fish (or sheep) over which we say a short prayer before eating it, asking that we be the head and not the tail. So I thought that it might be helpful to have a fish soup recipe made with the heads of fish. (You can also use the rest of the skeleton but on Rosh Hashanah you really want just the head!)

If you are going to buy whole fresh fish for the holiday be sure to ask for the heads (intact, not cleaned out) for which you are paying anyway. (Learn how to buy fresh fish in Israel here.) A little while ago I had gone into the fish store and the woman ahead of me was buying several fresh fish but did not want the heads even though she was paying for them with the purchase of the entire fish. I asked for them and got about 8 heads (for free with the woman’s agreement) that I made into nourishing fish soup. (Non-fatty fish is said to be best for fish stock.) When the bones are allowed to simmer for a few hours, especially with the addition of an acidic liquid to help draw out the calcium better, the stock becomes a veritable gold mine of nutrition and a great boost to health.

In fact, fish stock is said to be the most nutritious of all the bone broths. According to a South American proverb: “Fish broth will cure anything”. Stock contains minerals and trace minerals in a form that is easily usable by the body and fish stock in particular since it also contains iodine when made from heads; iodine is necessary for proper thyroid function. The breakdown of cartilage and tendons yields nutrients like chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine, important for joint health. And when the broth cools and gels that is because of the presence of gelatin which has been acclaimed to be a most nutritious food, important for digestive health, a protein sparer (making it a good way to make a meal from just a little meat), and useful in the treatment of many ailments.

Here’s how I make the fish stock and soup:


Into an 8 quart stock pot:

  • Place at least 3-5 fish heads depending upon size (also skeleton if not for Rosh Hashanah); 2 heads if the heads are very large. I like there to be enough to more than cover the bottom of the pot.
  • Fill the pot with filtered water to about 1 – 1 ½ inches from the top.
  • Add Apple Cider Vinegar (about ½ cup) to help leach the calcium and other minerals from the bones. My family doesn’t like the vinegar taste so I either use white wine which is also acidic, or nothing.
  • Let the water come to a gentle boil and skim off the scum that forms on top.
  • After the scum is removed, lower the fire so that it just simmers, and let it cook for about 4 hours.
  • When the stock is finished, remove the heads and take off the meat from the bones. Remove the heads one at a time to work on. Once out of the soup the bones fall apart and it makes it very tedious to remove the meat. This is especially true if you are not going to remove the meat right away. Leave the fish in the stock until you are ready to remove the meat.
  • I put the meat back into the soup. Very often I have more meat than I want in the soup so I freeze some of it and put it into additional batches of soup when using up the frozen stock or to make more fish soup after the stock is finished.

Vintage drawing cooking soupSoup (one version, feel free to experiment):


  • Olive oil (Learn more about choosing olive oil here.)
  • 2 large onions
  • Sea salt
  • Parsley  (fresh or dried)
  • Oregano (fresh or dried)
  • Dill (fresh or dried)
  • Other herbs and spices according to your taste (optional)
  • 2 to 3 large tomatoes
  • 2 large zucchini
  • 2 cloves of garlic (or to taste) minced or chopped (Learn about choosing garlic here.)
  • Coconut milk/cream (optional) (Learn more about buying coconut milk/cream here.)
  • Fish meat that was removed from the bones.
  • Sea Salt

To prepare:

  • Sautee the onions in olive oil until soft and sweet. Add some sea salt to help break down the cell walls to extract water and flavor.
  • Add the herbs and spices (except for the garlic) and let cook for a few minutes until soft
  • Add tomatoes and zucchini and let cook till soft
  • Add the garlic – do not cook for more than 20 minutes or you will lose some of the garlic’s nutritive value. Or, you can add the garlic after you’ve finished cooking the soup.
  • When finished add the vegetables to the stock
  • Add about a cup of the fish meat you took off the bones to the stock as well
  • If you like you can add coconut milk. I generally use about half a can, but the amount depends on your taste (and how much room is left in the pot).
  • Add sea salt to taste
  • Take a hand blender and blend the soup. I like to make sure everything is chopped up, but you may like to leave some larger pieces as well.

Note: Any bones left in the fish meat will fall to the bottom

If you do not want to make the entire pot of stock into soup, you can freeze some of the stock, and have it at hand when you are ready to make the next batch of soup.

Have a Happy & Healthy New Year

References and resources:

Broth is Beautiful
The Secret of Fish Stock
How to Make Homemade Fish Broth or Stock (+ Video)

Related Articles:

Cognitive performance among the elderly and dietary fish intake: the Hordaland Health Study