Springy, bouncy handmade fish balls are arguably the most recognisable dish of Teochew cuisine. Executive chef Chan Ka Cheong recalls his first experience making fish balls as a 22-year-old at a Teochew fish ball factory in Hong Kong. “That was where I learnt to make fish balls,” he says. “The fish balls that we made at the factory were supplied to many Teochew restaurants.”
Although great fish balls can be made with mackerel, mullet or saury fish, at Chui Huay Lim, the chef makes his fish balls from scratch using yellow eel. “Authentic Teochew fish balls should be made with yellow eel, as the flesh is whiter and sweeter. This fish renders a much more delicate end-product.”
“All the steps that go into making fish balls by hand are very important, but one of the most crucial steps is the simmering of the fish balls in hot water,” cautions the chef. To show off your handmade fish balls to best effect, it is important to cook them at a steady temperature of about 60°C to preserve their taste and texture.
Try your hand at this recipe for handmade Teochew fish balls and use the fish balls in any number of dishes. They can be deep-fried for a different texture, braised in a gravy or added to stir-fries and soups — the possibilities are endless.
Makes about 40 fish balls
600g fresh whole yellow eel
A pinch of pepper
½ tsp sesame oil
100ml iced water
1. Fillet the eel, taking care to remove the skin and small bones.
2. In a food processor, blend the fish till you reach a smooth consistency and transfer to a bowl.
3. With clean hands, scoop the fish paste from bowl and slap it back into the bowl repeatedly for about 10 minutes. This compacts the fish paste and helps render a springy texture.
4. Add ice cubes into the paste and continue kneading until the ice cubes have melted fully.
5. Add the remaining ingredients into the paste, including the ice water, and incorporate until well mixed.
6. Using a spoon, portion the fish paste into 20g pieces and shape into balls.
7. Allow the fish balls to rest and set at room temperature for 20 minutes.
8. If not using immediately, store fish balls in the refrigerator. Do not freeze.
9. To cook the fish balls, heat a pot of water until the water temperature reaches 60°C and add the fish balls. You can use a sous vide stick to regulate the water temperature and cook the fish balls till they float. If not, add hot water every 15 minutes, for three cycles, to ensure that the water temperature stays at 60°C. This will ensure that the fish balls are evenly cooked through, which takes about 45 minutes.
10. Remove fish balls from the hot water and drop in a bowl of ice water to cool.
11. Enjoy the fish balls as preferred — in a soup, deep fried, stir-fried or braised.