Those Sticky Fish Balls

By Tris Marlis - Friday, Jan 03, 2014

Fish ball was first created as a cheap, filling and yet filling snack for the people. The Teochews in China were masters of this game. It is a favourite throughout Asia. Fish balls, which are generally white, pale cream or grey in colour, are prepared in various ways depending on the fish used. In Singapore, we have fish ball noodles – springy and fragrantly fishy fish balls served with mee pok and potent chilli sauce. Or, fried until the skin is wrinkly and sold in skewers, like how Old Chang Kee does.
Skewered fish balls are a common snack in Singapore (file photo: Makansutra).

Not all types of fish are suitable to be made into fish balls. In Singapore, wolf herring, mackerel and yellowtail are the common fishes used, whereas in western countries such as Scandinavia, cod and haddock are the fish of choice. Very rarely will you see fish balls made with salmon or tuna, for a few reasons.


Firstly, fish like salmon and tuna are too expensive… Hence, freshwater fishes that are inexpensive are more commonly used. Fish balls are also very highly processed – it is mixed with flour, seasoning and has to undergo massive pounding and folding to achieve that springy texture. The old school homemade fish balls uses only some salt. For fish like salmon and tuna, you want to devour it at its natural form, like sashimi or quick seared.
Fish ball making is labour intensive even with the use of machines (file photo: Makansutra).

Secondly, a fish’s gel forming abilities determines its suitability as a fish ball base. According to a research by Journal of Biological Sciences, high fat content in the muscle weakens the gel forming ability, as it weakens the muscle. Fish like salmon is known to have high content of omega-3 and considered a fatty fish.


It is also important to make fish balls only with fresh fishes. The International Journal of Agriculture and Biology says good quality gel can only be formed at certain pH, ideally ranging from 6.0 to 8.0. Temperature also affects the texture and moisture content of the fish, when frozen, the fish’s character will become unsuitable for making fish balls. Hence, it is best to source fish that live around your habitat.


When making fish balls, salt is a very important ingredient as it improves gel formation. It is also important to pound the fish to obtain the ideal consistency and texture, it should be bouncy, not too firm and not too runny.


Our favourite fish balls are the handmade ones – round with slightly irregular edges, springy and not chewy, slighty fishy but fragrant. What are yours?
We like our fish balls bouncy and softly springy (file photo: Makansutra).