RECIPE: Make Chinese shark fin soup

When I was a boy, I loved eating shark fin soup at Chinese banquets in New York City. Restaurants can’t serve this Cantonese delicacy anymore because shark fin possession has been outlawed. Anyways, I found this recipe in an old cookbook.

You’ll need some shark fin from your local poacher, or use a gelatinous noodle instead. Even back in the days, my mom said restaurants were ripping customers off by feeding them phony fins. Somehow, she could tell the difference between expensive endangered animal and cheap cellophane noodle.


2 pounds of dry shark fins
Pieces of dry garlic
2 pieces of ginger root
2 tablespoonfuls of lard
Primary soup (上湯)
1 cup of chicken starch
3 eggs
Chinese ham, diced
Cornstarch, salt
Parsley to garnish
(Optional) 1 tablespoonful red vinegar

Shark fin soup

(Instruction is mostly verbatim from “The Chinese Cook Book,” by Shiu Wong Chan of New York, 1917. Pages 101-102.)

Steep fins and tails in boiling water for ½ hour. Scrape skin off with a knife. Boil fins and tails for 1 hour or until they fall to pieces. Remove every piece of meat, skin and bone. Only what is left, a fin soft yellow in color, is kept. This is dried and sold from two to three dollars a pound as shark fins.

(a) Buy dry shark fins from Chinese grocery store. Soak in cold water for 3 hours.

(b) Boil fins with several pieces of dry garlic and 2 pieces of ginger root. Change water several times when boiling.

(c) Put into pan. Add 2 tablespoonfuls of lard, and more than twice the amount of primary soup to cover. Boil slowly for ½ hour. Drain off the liquid and throw it away.

(d) Put into another pan with 6 pints of primary soup. Boil.

(e) Change again into third pan of primary soup. Add gravy (1 cup of chicken starch, whites of 3 eggs, diced Chinese ham and a little cornstarch and salt). Use 1 tablespoonful red vinegar to improve taste. Garnish with parsley. Serve hot.

My notes

The strings of shark cartilage should float like fine, transparent noodles. As condiments, you can mix in a little red vinegar with shredded ginger.

You can read “The Chinese Cook Book” at the Internet Archive. This excellent website has a collection of historical cookbooks.

If shark fin soup doesn’t whet your appetite, try turtle soup. I posted a recipe from the same cookbook. Or you can read about how I was forced to drink snake gallbladder soup.


  1. Randall MAYO

    Exactly what do you mean by primary soup?

  2. gg

    Shark Fin Soup was on my wedding menu,
    likewise, in my youth enjoyed it at many 9 course dinners.
    I have dried fins waiting to be prepared for my ethically correct offsprings,,

    Now, I have to peruse with care and soul, recipes, including yours to prepare my Song tong without Cornflour thickening,
    a dried abalone shall be used for Umami and well as tired Scallops

    • Gary Pang

      I love dried abalone! My mother makes congee with abalone. It gives the congee so much flavor!

  3. Rachel B.

    I’m new to oriental recipes, so please forgive my ignorance. What exactly is chicken starch?

  4. Rob

    I run a shark fin business, don’t worry we don’t poach shark nor even have a boat.
    All we do is purchase gummy shark fins that would have been thrown out and process them. They are a sustainable shark and the fin is great quality.

    It is a shame that poachers have given the product such a bad image, when really it’s another part of an animal that is already caught for food. It is also good for you, made up of mostly collagen.

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