A Fish Ball Throwdown

Let’s face it. Little gray balls of fish won’t win any beauty pageants, but dip one in a spicy chili sauce and you’ll find that you want another. And another after that.

Ever wonder what it’s like to be inside the Element Seafood warehouse? We were lucky enough to host oyster farmers/writer Tamar Haspel and Kevin Flaherty a few weeks ago for a fishball making lesson, and you can read about the day in the WaPo! Tamar and Kevin have a small oyster farm in Cape Cod (you may have seen them in our previous installments about Barnstable Oyster), and Tamar had asked us to teach her how to make Chinese fish balls. After some experimentation between different types of fish and mixing methods, we came up with a recipe that gives great results for home cooks without too much fuss. You can check out the recipe (and be a fly on the wall of our kitchen) here.

The following is our recipe for traditional Chiuchow-style (潮州) white fish balls. They are larger in size than the average fish ball, and should be made primarily with fish. They should have an elastic, bouncy texture and a distinctly fishy taste (in a good way!). This type of fish ball is boiled, not fried, resulting in a white appearance.

Spanish mackerel is the recommended fish, however you can substitute kingfish, walleye, yellow pike, white perch and whiting.

White Chinese Fish Balls

Yield: 40-45 1.5-inch fish balls

2 lbs fish meat (from 1 large Spanish mackerel)
0.5 oz salt
0.8 oz sugar
3 oz egg whites (from about 2 jumbo eggs)
1 oz cornstarch
0.14 oz white pepper
0.2 oz sesame oil
0.5 oz fish sauce
4 oz water

Fillet the Spanish mackerel, remove visible belly fat and rinse off blood thoroughly under cold water. Place in a colander and cover, let dry overnight in fridge.

Using a spoon, scrape off the meat from the fillets. Be careful to avoid the bones and don’t use the dark meat at the center of the fillets near the blood lines. Discard the skin or save it for fish stock.

Optional: For a smoother texture, put the fish through a meat grinder on a fine die.

Otherwise, place the fish in a stand mixer bowl with the remaining ingredients. Using the paddle attachment, on the lowest setting, mix the ingredients for 2 minutes, or until thoroughly mixed. Then increase to the next highest speed (2) and mix for another 2 minutes. The fish paste should begin sticking to the sides of the bowl. Increase the speed one more level (4) and mix for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, ready a large pot of water at a low boil, and a small bowl of water on the side. When the paste is ready, using bare hands (no gloves), squeeze the paste into a ball by pushing it between your thumb and index finger on one hand. With the other hand, use a spoon to cut the ball, scraping against the back of your hand. Gently drop the ball into the simmering pot of water. To prevent the paste from sticking to the spoon, periodically wet the spoon in the small bowl of water. Repeat with the remaining fish paste. The balls are ready after a few minutes of cooking, when they are floating. Remove them from the pot using a slotted spoon or skimmer.

Serve with soy sauce and chili oil.