My sister in law made me my first bowl of fish ball soup. Ever since, I have been in search of a good bowl of this soup.
Recently my niece in Singapore posted a picture of this yummy soup on Facebook. She helped translate some of the spices for the soup base. I made up my mind I had to try and make this the only way for it to taste good. From scratch.
Many years ago, I purchased frozen fish balls from a market in Halifax. I tried making the soup with them… big mistake. I try to avoid imported fish products since that experience. Fish just does not travel well.
This time, I am making them myself.
Mackerel is a popular choice in fish ball recipes. But I couldn’t get fresh mackerel.
I decided haddock will make a fine substitute. It has a mild taste (my preference), it can be flaked into a fine texture, and it’s light- not oily. This will help make for bouncy fish balls. What I mean by that is a good fish ball needs to be springy/bouncy when you bite into it.
You will need a food processor to make the fish balls.
You will also need some Asian greens to go into your soup. I found Choy Sum at the Asian market. This was the Tian Phat Asian grocery in Halifax. The customer service was a bit lacking but this place is packed to the rafters with (mostly Chinese) food and housewares. They also had some nice Japanese tableware and prices were reasonable.
Sorry, back to topic…If you don’t have access to an Asian market you may be able to find a similar green called Broccolini at a regular grocery store. It’s a hybrid of the choy sum. Kai-Lan is basically the same. If you can’t get either, you could substitute baby spinach. Whatever you chose, it should be slightly bitter.
The noodles I used are made from the starch of mung beans. They go by different names like cellophane noodles, glass noodles, or mung bean noodles. Not to be confused with rice vermicelli which is also popular in Asian soups.
The noodles come in multi-bundle packs. I used 3 bundles.
As for how to make those springy fish balls, I stumbled upon this lady’s blog post on how to achieve perfectly bouncy balls. I ask you take a look at her detailed post, because as a native Singaporean, she knows exactly how the old Aunties do it. It’s also an interesting and entertaining read. As she explains a ‘smack down’ method of getting the fish paste to bounce, she says, “60 slaps later, you will be rewarded with fish paste that quivers seductively when poked”. That was funny and reason enough to try making them.
Another blogger instructed only 40 slaps onto the board…if that makes you feel less intimidated. It didn’t work for me either. Thankfully I found out I didn’t need to be so brutal on my fish to get it to quiver. This is how your fish paste will look…
Fish ball Ingredients:
500 grams fish fillets (haddock or mackeral, yellowtail, etc)
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
2 tsp rice flour
50 ml cold water (to add bit by bit during processing)
Carefully remove any bones or skin. Chop then place fish in food processor (or blender if you don’t have one) and pulse, adding water a bit at a time, until smooth (but not too wet). I processed mine in batches, otherwise I would have had a huge ball of paste jamming up my food processor.
Here is where I took a HUGE short cut. The blogger stated she slaps her minced fish down 60 times (!!!!) on a counter to get it to the ‘wobbly’ paste consistency required. Well, I noticed my processed fish had reached that point without having to do it the old fashioned way. Halleluiah!
If you want to do it the old fashioned way, here is how it’s done: Plunk your finely minced fish into a bowl. Taking a handful at a time, slapping the paste down onto a cutting board several times (40-60 or somewhere in between). It will start to come together visibly (should wobble a bit). And you will most definitely have a headache, smell for days, and acquire sore arms!
Once your paste is wobbly, whichever method you used, place your quivering paste back in bowl and refrigerate for an hour.
While fish paste is chilling, prepare the soup ingredients.
1 litre chicken stock
1 litre water
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 slice ginger (thumb tip size)
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 spring onion, thinly sliced (for garnish)
1 chili pepper, thinly sliced (half for soup, half for garnish)
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp white pepper
(Muslin tied bouquet garni: 1 inch chunk of cinnamon stick, 1 star anise, ½ tsp fennel seeds, 3 crushed cardamom)
1 cup choy sum, sliced in 1 inch strips
3 small bundles of mung bean noodles (glass noodles)
Wash and chop greens (leaves only). Set aside.
Grind shallot, half chili, garlic, ginger, and a few drops water into a paste. Set aside close to the soup pot.
Slice spring onion, coriander, and half remaining chili for garnish. Place in serving dishes, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside.
Prepare bouquet garni and dry spices. Set aside close to the pot.
Just before taking out the fish paste: Prepare mung bean noodles (aka glass noodles) as per package instruction, rinse with cold water, cover, and set aside. Or, if you have a cooking partner, they can prepare noodles while you prepare the balls.
Take out fish paste from fridge, and roll them into balls (1 inch or slightly bigger), quickly setting them in shallow pan or large container. Wet the bottom of the pan with a bit of water to prevent sticking (without letting the balls soak in water- just enough water to wet the bottom). You should get approximately 20 fish balls from the mix. Set aside.
In large pot, over medium heat, heat sesame oil and briefly fry ginger-chili-garlic-shallot paste, just until fragrant. Pour in the chicken stock, water, and soy sauce. Drop in the bouquet garni. Raise heat to high and bring to boil. Let boil for 10 minutes. Then turn off the pot, let cool slightly. Remove bouquet garni from pot and discard.
** This next step is optional: To get my broth fairly clear and free of floaty shallot or chili bits, I poured it through a fine mesh strainer into a second pot. It just makes the broth prettier and it will prevent any chili bits from irritating my kids throats. If you skip straining the broth, you did not need to turn the soup off.**
While at a boil, add fish balls. Reduce heat to simmer for 5 minutes. They should float to the surface when cooked. Now add the greens. Cook for 4-5 more minutes. Add the glass noodles during the last minute of cooking.
Ladle into bowls and serve with optional condiments.
Not gonna lie…there is a lot of work to this soup. But the cooking portion of this recipe is quick. I may not make this often, but I will make it time and again. The aroma and taste reminded so much of being in Singapore!
And yes, my fish balls achieved bounce. I hope it wasn’t just beginner’s luck!