Squid and tilapia fish balls cooked two ways
Eating humble pie
Sigh. There are some times, and at my bloody age, when I really should know better…
For a few weeks now, I’ve been obsessing about making fish balls. In Southeast Asia, we have fish balls with noodles, dry or in soup, fish balls fried (on a stick as snack food), basically fish balls almost every day and night. You also get sotong balls (squid balls) cooked in more or less the same way.
I have to say that it’s probably not something most Westerners would choose to eat because, when cooked, the fish balls are ‘bouncy’. Don’t mistake this for rubbery-ness; they’re just bouncy, squeaky when you bite into them. Okay, I’m probably not describing them in the most appetising way but there’s really no other way to explain what the texture of fish balls are like other than to call them bouncy. But they are extremely yummy, at least to most Chinese people anyway.
BTW, you can find fish balls in any Chinese or Asian grocery store and they’re really cheap, less than £2 for a packet of about 10-12.
I spent some time scouring the internet for recipes and found this awesome one from Rose’s kitchen but being the meddler that I am, I wanted to make them with different flavours. So without further ado, I sent dear husband off to the fishmonger while I rubbed my hands in glee at the thought of a new experiment to try in the kitchen.
Now, how can I log the list of disasters to follow? Hmmm…
1) There wasn’t any fresh calamari so dear husband came back with some whole but frozen little calamari. Now, my dad taught me how to gut a fish when I was about 7 but if there’s one thing I really detest doing, it is cleaning squid. If you’re squeamish, stop reading now because the only way I can describe it is that it’s like squeezing cold snot out of a wet, slippery, deflated balloon. Gross! Anyway, moan over, job done, pat on the back and all that, I move onto the fish…
2) Dear Mr fishmonger, the next time husband asks you to prepare the fish, could you please scale the bloody thing before it’s filleted?
I tried using my thumbs to prise the flesh off the fish skin first (mind the f*&!king bones!) before common sense took hold and I managed to scrape the meat off using a butter knife. Ladies, let me tell you this, flecks of fish scales stuck in long black hair the day before your wedding anniversary is truly not a good look!
In fairness (because I’m prone to exaggeration), those were the only disasters this morning because everything else turned out more or less as it should have. I say more or less because I’m really pleased with the taste but I didn’t achieve the texture, the bloody all-important bounce!
I have no one else to blame but myself – after the hassle of preparing the fish and squid – I got a bit bored and skipped a step in the moulding of the fish balls which is definitely critical in creating that bounce.
I still have to call these fish balls because they have the desired shape and a lovely taste but in reality, the texture is much more a fish cake.
I guess that’s not a bad thing because it might appeal to Western palates a little more – my husband really loved eating these so I’m happy about that at least.
If you’d like to try making an authentic version of fish balls, I think it’s best you follow Rose’s recipe; or learn from my mistakes and a) buy cleaned, filleted, de-scaled, skin free fish; and b), don’t cut corners on the fish ball making process.
As for me, I’m going with option c) buying them ready made from the grocery store for now until I’m up to the challenge again.
Lots of love
Squid and tilapia fish balls (makes 20 bite sized fish balls)
175 grams fresh calamari
150 gram of tilapia (just the flesh)
1 tablespoon finely chopped spring onions
1 teaspoon of fresh lime juice
A good pinch of salt
A good pinch of white pepper
A good pinch of chilli powder (I was trying out the one I bought in Paris from the South of France)
1 teaspoon cornflour
1 tablespoon water
In a bowl, mix your cornflour, water, salt, pepper, lime juice and chilli powder together.
Use a food processor to blitz the squid and fish and then gradually pour in your cornflour/spice mixture.
You’ll end up with a fishy paste, which you should transfer to a bowl and then your spring onions.
Now this is the step I skipped – I should have spent the next few minutes using my hands to really mush the fish paste together – but I didn’t…
Wet your hands with some water (and oil if you want but I didn’t), you’re meant to squeeze the fish mixture through your thumb and index finger to create a little ball. I just used a teaspoon and my hands to roll roughly shaped fish ball (it worked out to about 1 tablespoon of fish mixture for each fish ball).
Drop these into a bowl of salted water and leave them for 30 minutes.
Boil up a pot of stock (I just made a broth using 2 tamarind stock cubes to 1.5 litres of water) and drop your fish balls into the stock (turn the heat right down to low). Your fish balls will start to float when they’re cooked. Once they started floating, I turned the heat back to high to bring the broth up to the boil just for a minute.
I also fished some out when they were cooked and shallow fried these in a teeny bit of oil. They taste fantastic when they’re deep fried but I’m trying to be healthier and lose weight so I stuck to shallow frying them just to brown them up a bit.
I made a dipping sauce with ingredients I had but you can eat these dipped in whatever you like – soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce, ketchup, mayo – your choice!
Juice of ½ a fresh lime
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon water
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon of mango chutney
½ teaspoon of chopped spring onions
½ teaspoon or coriander/parsley
1 red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped