German food in warm weather seems like an oxymoron. But the more you know about German food, the less this seems so. Yes, the Germans need not contend with the sort of apocalyptic summers you might endure in, say, Phoenix or Bakersfield, but it does get kinda-sorta hot up there, and they do have dishes for when that happens.
Fish meatballs are one of them.
Anyone who reads this site with any regularity knows how much as I love meatballs in all their forms. And I love fish balls just as much. My Laotian style fish balls are a favorite, and my Sicilian tuna meatballs are so good you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart from a properly made meatball made of pork and veal. So why not do a German one?
I got the inspiration from the always inspirational Mimi Sheraton’s The German Cookbook: A Complete Guide to Mastering Authentic German Cooking. This is not a direct adaptation from anything in her book, but if you are even remotely interested in German cooking beyond schnitzel and sauerbraten, you need this book.
The fish meatballs could not be simpler: Ground fish (of any type), mixed with egg, breadcrumbs and herbs. Poached very gently in salty water, they come out light and fluffy. The green sauce adds several layers of flavor round things out.
You should know that this is not a traditional Hessian green sauce. That sauce has crushed up hard-boiled eggs in it, or sometimes mayonnaise.
My version is lighter, and much better for the kind of hot days we get here in Sacramento. But I really like the German tradition of using lots of different herbs to make the sauce, so I kept that in my rendition.
It is a lovely, light supper. The fish is moist and almost bouncy, the sauce an equal combination of buttery goodness, tangy creaminess from the sour cream, and a rat-a-tat jolt of the various bitter-sweet-aromatic herbs as you taste each one. As a main course, I’d serve this with new potatoes or bread. But it’d be fantastic alone as a summertime appetizer.
Keep in mind that pretty much any fish will work.
The Germans do fish meatballs a lot with freshwater fish like pike, perch and the like, but I made this version with trout. I think literally any fish you can get a fillet off of will work here, down to about herring. Walleye, trout, bass, perch, striped bass, flounder, small redfish, etc — it’s pretty versatile.
So is the sauce. Feel free to mix and match herbs to your liking. Other good candidates for the sauce would be tarragon, thyme, cilantro (although not very German), radish or turnip greens, watercress, basil, borage, New Zealand spinach… you get the point.
German Fish Meatballs with Green Sauce
- 1 pound ground fish
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 6 tablespoons plain breadcrumbs
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh dill
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 1 large shallot, about 1/3 cup, minced
- 1 cup fish stock or chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons minced spinach, amaranth or lamb's quarters
- 1/4 cup chopped sorrel optional
- 1/4 cup minced parsley
- 2 tablespoons chopped dill
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic chives or regular chives
- 1 sage leaf minced
- Salt and black pepper
- 1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
- To make the meatballs, simply mix all the ingredients in a bowl and form into small meatballs, about the size of a walnut. To cook, bring a large pot of salty water to a boil and gently lower the fish balls one at a time into the water. They will sink. Turn the heat down to a bare simmer -- if you let it boil again, it can destroy your fish balls. Simmer gently until the meatballs float. Look for a total cooking time of about 10 minutes or so.
- Remove the fish balls from the hot water and set aside.
- While you are heating up the poaching water, make the green sauce. Heat the butter in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. When it's hot, add the shallot and saute until it's translucent and soft, about 3 minutes or so. Don't let them brown. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Boil hard for a few minutes until the sauce reduces by about one-third.
- Turn the heat as low as it will go and stir in all the herbs. Let them all wilt. Add salt and black pepper to taste and turn the heat off.
- When all the fish balls are ready, turn the heat back onto the sauce to warm it, and coat the fish balls with the sauce. When the sauce boils again, turn off the heat, let the bubbling subside and add the sour cream, stirring constantly. Adjust for salt and black pepper once more and serve at once.
Andrea Ruminski says
Made this with some blacktip shark tonight and all I can say is WOW!!! Never did I think I’d be throwing shark in my KitchenAid grinder and making fish meatballs. But Hank Shaw has introduced me to new and amazing way to enjoy and appreciate meat/fish of all species.
The instructions are spot on for tender fish meatballs and the most amazing sauce to grace your plate. I kind of want to experiment with different herbs/flavors but am hesitant because this dish as written was so perfect. But even as Mr Shaw admits…these recipes can be thought of as blueprints upon which you can explore.
Thanks again for another amazing recipe.
Jacque Hartwig says
Hank Shaw nailed it (again)! German whitefish meatballs from Hook, Line & Supper were outstanding! My German Grandpa & Grandma would be proud! I would seriously recommend making the meatball recipe. I just put the fish (walleye) in the food processor rather then pulling out the grinder. Was careful not to turn into “paste”. So different from how I normally cook fish and appealed to my German heritage.
Have you tried this with American shad?
Hank Shaw says
Kenny: No, but I bet it would be good!
Heide NJ says
Quite good – the green sauce is especially nice! However, we found the fish balls to be a bit bland – next time, will add a pinch of cayenne or some mustard. Not too much to overwhelm the fish though!
Having all the fish and greens cut up ahead of time speeds the process considerably.
Dee Dee says
I made this with king mack and had to sub some of the greens in the sauce for what I had, it was a huge hit! Thanks again for a fantastic recipe.
Daniel Hale says
I made this dish and absolutely love it with Salmon! I love anything German! What is this dish called in Germany?
This has been on my “too cook” list for a while. It was fantastic! If you are a fan of German flavors this is spectacular. But I think that there is a lot more to this recipe. The basic process can be used with a lot of different herbs to create a huge amount of regionally inspired dishes. As it stands, this dish is fantastic. It’s perfect for panfish, or in my case the lower (rib) portion of walleye fillets after I zipper them. Thanks Hank, another winner!
Joe Keough says
After the coldest winter on record, the carp are finally spawning! I plan to whack a few tomorrow and try this recipe out. I will also can and smoke a few of them. By the way, today was the absolute best day of the new year! 70 degrees, low humidity, brisk breeze, bluebird skies with white, fluffy clouds. It really doesn’t get any better than this! (Allow me one more exclamation point; !)
Hank Shaw says
Steven: I am sure it would – just use the white meat, not the dark “blood line.” Good use for a bony fish like that, too.
Hank thanks for the idea – would this work with carp? (plain standard regular mid-west carp – not the silver/bighead/asian carp.
Made this recipe up last night with some bass and perch we had in the freezer. Fabulously delicious! Great stuff Hank!
I have to ask: where did you find that gorgeous dish? I love the detail in the pictures around the rim! On a related note, does anyone know what that style is called so I can look it up? Thanks in advance!
Looks good, Hank!
For those who might not know, green sauces were popular all over Europe in the Middle Ages. So now they can be considered “living fossils” of sorts. Here’s a few medieval recipes.
These sound lovely! Especially with the amaranth, sorrel, and other greens. Living as I do in a hotter-than-Germany climate, I still think I’ll check them out, thanks.
Never would have thought of this!! We just defrosted all 17 trout in the freezer to can (like tuna), but I’ll save some to try meatballs! Thanks for the great idea. Maybe I’ll even make a fish meatball soup.
These look great, but the name needs some work. 🙂 Maybe in French? Boulettes de poisson allemands à la sauce verte.
Terri Betz says
Awesomeness! Never had fish balls before! It sounds great! Making these for my German guy! Thanks!
I can’t wait to try this one.