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How to Make Fish Balls

Fish Balls Soup


How Make Fish Balls

Serves 4 | Prep Time: 30 Minutes | Cook Time: 10 Minutes


1 whole mackerel with bones and head, about 2 1/2 lbs
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground white pepper

Fish Ball Soup:

Fish bones (discard the fish head), chopped into 3 pieces
1 can chicken broth
4 cups water
1 oz Chinese seaweed (紫菜)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
White pepper and salt to taste

Fish Ball Soup Topping:

Garlic oil
Some shredded lettuce leaves
1 stalk scallion, cut into rings


Fish Ball:

1. Clean the fish and rinse with cold water, pat dry with paper towels. Filet the fish along the bones from the tail up towards the head using a very sharp knife. Repeat on the other side.

2. Get a bowl to put the fish meat. Using a spoon, scrape the fish meat off the skin of the fish filet, from the tail upwards. Scrape until all meat is off the skin. Discard the skin. Use the spoon to scrape off the fish meat off the fish bone, too.

3. Place all the fish meat on a chopping board, using a Chinese cleaver (preferably) to chop the fish meat, for about 10 minutes.

4. The fish will become slightly sticky as you chop. Add the salt and pepper and continue chopping for another 10 minutes, the fish meat will become a fish paste.

Fish Paste

5. Wet your hands with some water and and take a tablespoon of the fish paste onto your palm and shape them into fish balls.

Fish Ball Soup:

1. Get a 5-quart soup pot, put in the chicken broth, water, and fish bones. Bring to boil over high heat, and then let it boil on low to medium heat for about 20 minutes or until the soup is flavorful.

2. Remove the fish bones, turn to high heat and drop the fish balls into the Soup.

3. Add the Chinese seaweed, soy sauce, sesame oil, salt and pepper to taste. When the fish balls float to the top, turn off the heat.

4. Transfer the fish balls soup into serving bowls, add the Toppings and serve immediately.

Cook’s Notes:

1. To view the step-by-step picture, please click on the gallery on page 1.
2. You can make the garlic oil by stir-frying some minced garlic with heated oil.
3. If you like, serve it with red chilies in soy sauce.

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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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