An Exercise in Frustration: Fishballs

So yesterday I was preparing fishballs for a Chinese recipe post at Noodles and Rice, and I thought, this is easy, I’ll just use egg substitute for the egg white required and that will be that. Nope! The fishballs came apart as it was being cooked in the water, and so I kept adding other stuff to the fish mixture (more cornstarch, some oil, etc.) and though I could form the balls quite easily in my moist hands, they still kept on falling apart once they touched the cooking liquid. I tried to recall the various quenelle-type recipes I’ve made. A quenelle is just a fancy French name for forcemeat, which is basically ground up stuff (fish, meat, etc.) held together by some sort of binder (bread crumbs, egg, flour, etc.) and seasoned, then formed into patties, balls, egg-shaped ovals, etc. and cooked gently in a poaching liquid. I couldn’t go back to Julia Child’s recipe which requires eggs and cream. Even the bolinhos which was a hit last month is now out of the question — that one worked because the balls were fried, so it didn’t matter that they were a bit scraggly in places, not the result I’m looking for here. And most Chinese recipes for fishballs call for some egg or egg white to hold it together anyway. I thought I had finally come up with a brilliant solution when I decided to steam the fishballs instead, as you can see in the picture. But still no dice — when the fishballs cooked they still fell apart easily, and my hope for a firm but tender consistency, the hallmark of a great quenelle, crumbled along with the fish. With everyone hungry and waiting to eat, my solution was to open a can of salmon and saute it with some garlic, onions, and tomatoes (the basic Filipino “gisa/guisa”, similar to a Spanish sofrito or Portuguese refogado). The kids had chicken soup and rice. (sigh) Experimentation was put off for another day. Next time I’ll try this one Japanese recipe that doesn’t call for eggs or flour. I’ll post the recipe if I meet with success.

Do you have any ideas for making quenelles/fishballs without eggs, flour or dairy? If you do, I hope you’ll share.
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6 comments

  1. lynda says:

    Just google “meatballs ala don” and you’ll be presented with your ultimate fixit for your fishball dilemna.The product is called “ACCORD”. Hope this info will help.

    Love reading your blogs!

  2. stef says:

    Uhm, Lynda, thanks, but I can’t really use that recipe. My family members are allergic to wheat and eggs. That’s why I’ve been on the hunt for a wheatless, eggless, dairyless fishball. If you have any other suggestions, I’d welcome it. Thanks!

  3. lynda says:

    Stef,sorry I didn’t explain myself properly when I commented yesterday.What I wanted to say was you can use Accord which is a blend of special phosphates which bind and emulsify ground meats .It’s suitable for making sausages,meatloaves and can be used for either seafood or meats.According to the packet of accord I have at home the phosphates listed are : Sodium polyphosphate (E451i)85%
    and Potassium Phosphate (E452ii)15%. I guess if your family are not allergic to these phosphates, you can make your fishballs eggless,wheatless and dairyless.

    Here’s another alternative;
    I remember a chinese chef on t.v. throwing compressed handfuls of ground seasoned meat repeatedly against the bowl to extract air and this agitation improves the structure and binds the meat or fish.I hope these suggestions will help.

  4. lynda says:

    Just found a recipe for fish balls from Stephanie Alexander’s “The Çook’s Companion” cookbook.There were no measurements. Here it is; fish scraps (skinned)garlic,basil leaves,chilli paste,fish sauce,coconut milk,fresh ginger,soy sauce,rice wine,and green onions.
    Procedure;puree fish scraps in a food processor.Add flavourings and blend to a smooth paste.
    Dip a teaspoon into hot water and scoop out a fish ball.Continue until all fishballs are formed.
    Shallow-fry or deep-fry fishballs in hot oil,or poach them in fish broth,or steam them.

    For middle eastern flavour use parsley,ground coriander and cumin,paprika and lemon juice instead of Asian flavourings.

    I feel using a food processor will help the ingredients bind together. Good luck!

  5. stef says:

    hi lynda, you are so incredibly helpful! thank you so much!!! i’m not sure about the accord — we are trying to stay away from food additives, though i’ve only found conflicting information about these particular phosphates. i also recall a julia child technique of adding scallops or shrimp to the mix because the flesh of these helps to bind the other, looser components. i will certainly try your suggestion from stephanie alexander, that sounds really promising! and yes, the food processor is my savior here. i’m afraid i don’t have the patience to shred or chop by hand, especially when experimenting with the unknown LOL. thank you again!

  6. Page says:

    It is the gelatinous content of shrimp that helps bind quenelles. So perhaps gelatin would help your fish balls. (:

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