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How to Make Fish Balls

How to Make Fish Balls
How to Make Fish Balls pictures (1 of 9)

I have wanted to create this post “How to make fish balls from scratch” for the longest time…but it has taken me so long to do it. The reason is simple: the fish. Living in Southern California, right off the Pacific coast, you would think that fresh fish is plentiful and bountiful and that I should be able to get any fish I like. Wrong! The fish we get here in the market are not great. In fact, they are really bad considering how close we are to the ocean.

90% of the fish we get here are frozen, and most of them do not look fresh. Let’s just put it this way, sometimes I wonder why people don’t get sick eating the fish here. They are really quite bad, red eyes, oozing blood, and just plain fishy. Once in a while you get some decent fish and that’s when I would buy them to cook. Otherwise, I usually eat steamed fish at Chinese restaurants, those alive ones and swimming in the tank. Granted, I can get pretty decent salmon and deep-sea fish here but they are not what I normally like to eat. Other than that, I eat fish at Japanese restaurant.

Fish Balls Soup

Anyway, simply put, to make fish balls from scratch, you need fresh fish so your fish balls won’t be fishy, and you need certain kind of fish to give you the best and bouncy texture. So finally, I chanced upon a big mackerel (马鲛鱼) that is great for fish balls so in this post, I will teach you the step-by-step how to make fish balls. I will warn you that it’s going to take some time but when you bite into a bouncy fish ball, you will realize that it’s worth the effort. I have included step-by-step pictures in the gallery for your reference.

I will be honest I am not the best person to ask about the fish species, so check with your local fish monger if they can recommend a good fish for fish balls. You can use mackerel (马鲛鱼), 西刀鱼 (not sure about its English name), eel (鳗鱼), etc., so please check with your fish vendors. Please take note that the kinds of fish best for fish balls are not commonly found in western countries but you never know…so good luck!

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41 COMMENTS... read them below or add one

    • I don’t think tilapia or snapper will work the best I think the fish meat is flaky and the texture will not be bouncy. If the fish meat doesn’t become sticky or “bind” together, then the texture of your fish balls will be “powdery” and not bouncy.

  1. Sandra

    Can you use other fish besides mackerel? We fish a lot and was wondering if fish local to my area could be substituted? Like croaker or rockfish?

    Love you website and recipes. Thank you!

  2. M Ng

    I couldn’t agree more with you regarding the availability of fresh fishes in California. It’s quite sad considering how close we are to the ocean. However, if you ever feel like getting up at 5am in the weekends, you can go to the docks in Newport Beach for freshly caught fishes.

  3. Amy

    My mom used pike …really fresh ones when she came to visit me in Australia.
    It was really bouncy and didn’t need too much chopping.
    I put it in the fridge after I scrape the fish meat to cool them down.
    Find that it takes a lot less chopping to get them bouncy.
    I only use salt.

  4. Violet

    My mum used to make fish balls a lot when we lived in Malaysia/ Since moving to Australia, she has been using blue grenadier, which she says is the bst she could find there. Pity I cant get this fish where i am. she has tried mackeral and said it is not nearly as good as it doesnt have the starchy texture as blue grenadier. Hope this helps

    • Elaine, thanks so much. Yes I know ikan parang and wolf herring just don’t know it’s 西刀鱼, haha. I can’t for my life recognize the shape and look of the fish. :)

  5. BK

    Thanks for the recipe. I have been wanting to make this and you have made the steps simple enough for me to try. I do have a few questions though:
    (1) Can we use a food processor to chop instead?
    (2) How do we make this ahead for weekday lunch for the kids? Do we freeze the uncooked fishballs or do we soak them in salt water in the fridge? How long can the uncooked fishball keep?

    • I have never tried food processor but I am sure the mass production fish balls all use food processor. You can just freeze the fish paste before shaping them. Please read Rebecca’s comment she has a lot of great tips to share.

  6. rebeccalee86

    Hi Bee, You did the right thing is never wash after you fillet the fish.If you wash again, the fish ball will be soft !!
    Place all the fish meat on a chopping board, using a Chinese cleaver (preferably) hold it to 30 degree and press and flatten the fish meat until smooth !! Don’t chop the fish meat, that’s why I saw your fish ball were not smooth !!
    Bee you missed a big and important step !! After make them into a smooth paste, stir some starch powder into some water and add slowly them into the fish paste. Beat it with your hand, 1 direction, it should be slightly watery. Then sprinkle salt onto the watery paste and stir and beat well, just like we beat our minced meat into a meat ball !! The fish paste will be in 1 big ball, and check is it enough salt !! Put a bowl with water, dip the spoon into the water and wet your palm to make them into smooth fish balls !!
    Bee, Never ever discard the fish head and the skin !! They are very good to make soup but please add some slices of ginger ! For better taste and milky soup, fry them with 1-2 spoon oil and fry the ginger and the fish bones, when slightly brown, pour in water and the fish skin to simmer. !! For Fish ball soup, boil them only, no need to fry them !!

    • Rebecca – thanks so much for all the wonderful tips, I will try again. I had to discard the fish head because the fish here isn’t that fresh and quite fishy. Yikes. The skin is also fishy. If I have a fresh fish like the ones we get in Penang, I would use everything.

    • joel

      Hi rebecca..i dun really get what u mean by beat it with hand , 1 do i beat it..the fish paste is sticky so im loss on how to do it..thanx for helping..

  7. Thanks for sharing the thorough recipe! To report my experiments with tilapia and flounder, both turned out very powdery with very loose texture.
    I had some of the best fish balls and calamari balls in Macau, so I really wanted to re-create them at home. However, it’s really difficult to get fresh fish here in Beijing. I tried to make the fish ball twice, first time with frozen flounder fillet and the second time with “fresh” tilapia (whole fish). I added some Shaoxing wine while making the balls, but they still taste very fishy.
    Couldn’t agree more with you that not to use flakier to make fish balls. Hoping to find a replacement for mackerel, but couldn’t so far.

  8. Md.Abdus Sattar

    Me want to know after make past or granulate the fish,How to presurve it to use long time?Is there use any presaurvative ? And also want to know how to make packet for use one year after? please inform me.

  9. Nomiya

    My kids love fish balls. Wondering to make fish balls, don’t know what kind of fish to use. Mackerel (saba) can be found in Japan very easily will make this recipe, Thanks!!!!

  10. Vladan Rodaski

    I make my fishballs by using a kitchen ware called vorwerk thermomix TM31. This kitchen ware cost around a €1000.


    Hello Bee, I do very much appreciate letting you know how much I love your website! I am from Switzerland and particularly love Asian food, nonetheless, Asian noodlesoups with homemade fishballs!
    I am really horrified to hear that you have such trouble to find good quality fish – I didn’t imagine, as you live close to the sea – I think that this is absolutely horrible for you! Here in Switzerland we luckily still find frozen fish, of good quality. I usually make my fishballs in various ways such as including shrimp, squid or monkfish… even also makerel or a mixture of various fish. Yummmy! Thank you for your mails and recipes – allways a great inspiration! Luv Esther

  12. kuya james

    Tried before Mackarel type and its taste very fishy no matter i tried to eliminate its fishy flavor. Unless naybe its canned already. 100% not recommendable from me. Better check google just i did and found many options to be sure because there’s a various situations and availabilities of having such fish to be use in making fishballs. enjoy!

  13. Jeanne

    You are so right on the fishes found at the grocery store here in Southern California, back in Singapore, fishes are fresh and they taste so good! Sigh….really miss the taste of “real” fish.
    Oh! By the way, I’ve got some basa fillet left. Can I make fish balls out of them?

  14. zarul

    TQ for the recipe. I tried with King Fish (ikan tenggiri). Much easier as less bones.
    Most of my friends use food processor for the mixing of the fish into paste.. And it produced more bouncy fish ball..not to mentioned much less time to process..
    For storing, I fried the fish balls and after they cool down, I kept them freeze. These can last months.
    Love your site. Thanks again.

  15. worthwords

    In hong kong, they use Dace (chinese mud carp). You can fish for Dace in UK rivers but i’ve never seen it on the fishmonger counter.
    I’ve used mackerel – it was a strong taste but springy if you slam it on the bench a few 10s of times.
    I wish it was easier to find the right fish.

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