No matter what kind of fish you use here, this recipe will knock your socks off — it’s loaded with delicious Southeast Asian flavors, from lemongrass to garlic, cilantro, green onions and just a touch of fish sauce. But, this is an ideal recipe for freshwater fish, which are often bland-tasting to my mind.
I’ve made this recipe with perch, catfish, largemouth bass and bluegill. But it would be fine with any white fish. You need fresh ingredients here to make the fish cakes pop; thankfully good supermarkets are selling lemongrass nowadays. If you cannot find lemongrass, use lime zest.
There is no substitute for fish sauce, and if you plan on making Southeast Asian food you need to buy it. But if you want to make this recipe and have no intention of making other Asian dishes, you can sub in Worcestershire sauce. It will not be the same, but it’s still good.
Serves these fish balls as a great party appetizer (the recipe can be doubled or tripled). You can make them, fry them, let them cool on a wire rack ahead of time. You then refry them at party time — this is a lot easier than dealing with the mess of making the balls on the spot.
Serves 4 as a main course, 6 to 8 as an appetizer
- 1 to 1 1/2 pounds white fish, such as largemouth bass, catfish or bluegill
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce or Worcestershire
- 3 small hot chiles, minced (you can use less if you want)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons minced lemongrass or lime zest
- 4 minced garlic cloves
- 3 chopped green onions
- 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons rice flour (you can use regular flour, too), plus more for dusting
- Oil for frying
- Lime wedges to serve
- Chop the fish and put in a food processor. Beat the egg and put it into the processor. Put everything else into the food processor and buzz into a paste. You want it pretty smooth, but not totally pureed. The reason you chop all these ingredients before putting into a food processor is because if you don’t some things will be a pulp by the time others will be broken down enough to use in the fish ball.
- Put about 1 cup of rice flour into a bowl.
- Get your oil hot over medium-high heat in a deep-fryer or a high-sided pot. Don’t fill the pot more than halfway full. What kind of oil? I use canola or peanut oil. You can reuse this oil a half-dozen times if you strain it through cheesecloth after you’ve finished and let the oil cool. Once the oil is approaching 350°F, start making your fish balls. Grab enough of the mixture to make a fish ball about the size of a ping pong ball and dust it in the rice flour.
- Fry the fish balls a few at a time so the oil temperature doesn’t drop too much. Cook at least 5 minutes, and up to eight — you’re looking for golden brown. Drain the fish balls on a wire rack set over a paper towel. Serve with lime wedges and a cold beer.