Thursday, November 6, 2008
A quick bowl of noodles with fish balls and fish slices. Give me a bowl of this any time, with a hot chili sauce, and I'm happy.
A couple of months ago, Chloe, a reader living in Australia, asked me how to make fish paste. I directed her to Greg & Nee, where Nee had posted a fishpaste-making recipe. Today, I wanted a simple lunch of fish balls noodles and so had Vero, my helper, make the fish paste. I never make it as good as her; her fish balls can bounce off the floor. I do not eat or buy commercial fish balls because I want to eat only what is worth eating.
I only know of 3 types of fish that can be made into springy fish paste. The best one is the spotted mackeral, my fav for making fishballs because it doesn't have many small bones so it is easy to scrape the meat off. The second fish is the 'tofu fish' . This fish has sweeter flesh but plenty of bones so it is more work to get the flesh off. The 3rd fish is the yellow tail jook chim. I think jook chim is barracuda. The problem with the jook chim is that only the ones with the yellow tail will have enough gow, a kind of protein (please help me out food scientists!) in the fish that when worked correctly will make the paste firm and springy to the bite.
Just in case you don't know, fish paste is usually made into fish balls and fish cakes and a key criteria is that the fish balls must give a good springy bite. I've told you before that Chinese eat not for taste only but also for the food's texture. You can get that good springy bite from all commercial fish balls but remember that unscrupulous fish paste makers are only concerned about their profit margin, so a lot of additives, preservatives, starch and inferior fish scrapes are thrown in, resulting in springy, spongy but tasteless and flavorless fish balls. Fish cakes are more flavorful than fish balls because they are highly spiked with msg and fried, making them more palatable.
My FIL complains that home-made fish balls are too solid. He prefers the sponginess of commercial fish balls. The reason why home-made fish paste is solid is because it is 99.9% fish meat! I once bought some fish balls and despite stuffing one up my nose, I could not detect any fish flavor AT ALL. And when the fish balls were boiled, they bloated into golf balls but once the heat was off, they shrunk. Home made fish balls never puff up like that. I have no idea what people put into factory fish balls but I suspect there's no fish. I think how they get the fish balls so springy-spongy is probably with the addition of some konyakku-like substance, or it may well be konyakku. The Japanese are well-known for making processed food and many of their foodstuff is made of konyakku which gives a good bite.
Because there's no preservatives, home-made fish paste should be consumed within 2 days of making. One way my mom took care of extra fish paste, after making stuffed tofu balls and fish balls, was shape them into patties and fry them into fish cakes. The fish cakes can be sliced and served with a chili-lime dip or use to top a bowl of noodles. Fried fish cakes can be kept for upto 4 or 5 days, or kept in the freezer but upon thawing there'll be some holes in them.
Home made fish cakes
I can cook you a 10-course meal but making good fish paste is not one of my skills. I know the method, and once in a while my fish paste turns out okay, but Vero's the expert so I'll let her show you:
1. Scrape the flesh off the fish with a metal spoon. Remove any bones.
2. Put the scraped fish onto a wooden block and chop it with the back of your Chinese cleaver until the flesh is fine.
3. In between the chopping, add salt, white pepper and some cornstarch. Make a small bowl (1/4 cup) of salted water to pat sprinkle over the fish paste as you chop. Do not add too much water or the paste will be too soft.
4. This is the most important step but I couldn't get a good picture. You gather the fish paste in your palms and slap it onto the wooden block, again and again, and in between you coat the lump of fish paste with some salted water.
5. When the fish paste is done, it will be firm and slightly springy when you press it with your finger. It can now be rolled into fish balls and shaped into fish cakes patties and fried.
note: I was at a Magicmix demonstration and they made perfect fish paste by putting everything (using ice cubes instead of water) into a food processor.