Monday, 28 October 2013

Homemade Foo Chow Fish Balls 福州鱼丸

Making fish balls isn't easy. And in this day and age, few people would actually makes the effort to do so. Commercially machine made varieties are so easy to get hold of and with all the countless variation that you find in most Chinese supermarket, it's not hard to see why most people would not even entertain the idea of slaving hours over this. Even back in Singapore, most household would purchase them from local fish market while doing their daily grocery shopping. However, to be able to make springy fish balls from scratch is possibly one of the most satisfying achievement that you can have. It is also much more healthier as unlike those commercially available versions, these contains no artificial preservatives.

The main ingredient is fish paste which is first seasoned and then beaten to a sturdy, bouncy mush. This is not something that can be achieved by simply mincing and blitzing everything in the food processor alone. Think of it like making a loaf of bread if you like. As with bread making, kneading the dough by hand is a crucial step as this stretches the gluten in the dough to yield a lighter, fluffy bread. But in the case of the fish paste, what you are doing, is essentially stretching the protein strands and aerating the paste. It is this process that helps to firm up the paste and produces a lively and bouncy texture to the fish balls.

The technique deployed here for making a bouncy fish balls is a scoop-and-throw method. Be brave as the harder you throw, the bouncy the ending result will be. This is one of those times where you will need to summon all your inner anger. Just think of those horrible morning rush hour, commuter pushing and shoving you onto crowded trains; think about the number of times you've taken a day off to wait for a parcel, only to find the postman leaving a 'while you were out' card when you were clearly in the house, waiting patiently for that lovely purchase you've made online. Something along those lines, the angrier the better. This is a very therapeutic exercise.

Back in Singapore, Yellowtail Snapper (黄尾鱼) is the most common choice of fish used for making fish balls. Other good varieties are Whitefin wolf herring (ikan parang/sai tow yu/ 西刀鱼) or Spanish mackerel (ikan tengiri/kau yu/ 鲛鱼). In truth, most fish can be use to make the fish paste but not all variety will give you a bouncy 'doink' factor. This depend on the amount of Myosin protein. By 'beating' the fish paste, it aggravating these muscle strand in the fish making it bouncy. Some fish contains more of this protein than the other. Red snapper and grouper are also good substitute I find, but it's all a matter of trial and errors. However, I wouldn't use any expensive fish as this is meant to be a peasant dish, so leave those luxurious fishes alone and use this opportunity to try out those cheaper options such as pollack, coley etc. On this occasion, all I can get hold of is coley and it makes rather good and successful bouncy fish balls.

Ingredients (makes about 24-28 balls)

400g firm white fish fillet  (I used coley but feel free to experiment)
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp egg white
120ml ice cold water (keep this in the fridge until needed)
2 tbsp potato starch
1 tbsp tapioca starch

For the filling:
100g minced pork
1/2 tsp light soy sauce
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/4 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp potato starch

To serve:
Homemade chicken stock


Start by making the fish paste. Using a ceramic spoon (one of those Chinese soup spoon), scrap along the skin to remove the flesh off the skin. Do not use a metal spoon as it will tear the skin and instead of getting clean white flesh, you'll get bits of skins. Pick through the flesh to make sure there are no bones.

Combine the fish flesh, salt and egg white in a food processor and pulse until finely minced. Add a tablespoon of ice cold water and continue to process the paste using a medium speed or pulse function. Stop when the paste looks smooth and has come together. Scrape the paste into a clean bowl.

Mix the potato and tapioca starch with the remaining ice cold water and pour this over the fish paste. Knead to combine thoroughly.

Wet your hands under a cold tap. With a wet hand, scoop up the fish paste and then throw it back into the bowl to compact it. You will need to used a bit of strength for this. Repeat this about 40 times or so, until the paste feels dense and smooth. 

Cover with clingfilm and chill in the fridge for an hour.

For the filling, combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. 

Fill a deep dish with tepid water and add a large pinch of salt. Stir to dissolve and set aside. This is where you will rest the formed fish balls.

To form the fish balls. First roll the filling into small balls, about the size of a small grape, and set aside. 

Wet your hands to stop the paste from sticking, then place a large spoonful of fish paste into your hands and roll into a  ball. Make a deep dent in the ball with your thumb and insert a meatball into the dent. Pinch the fish paste to enclose the filling and seal. Roll to reform into a ball and drop the finished fish ball into the prepared salted water. Repeat until all fish paste and filling are used up.

Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Turn down the heat to a gentle simmer, add the fish balls and cooked for 8-10 minutes. When the fish balls are ready and cooked through, they will float to the surface. Scoop out the balls, drain and serves immediately in some hot homemade stock.  

Try adding them to Hokkien Prawn noodles , Chicken Macaroni Soup or  Teochew Dry Mixed/Tossed Noodles With Minced Pork (Bak Chor Mee)


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