Jun 24, 2013


Moloka'i Bonefish (O'io)
Hallelujah Hou Fishing with Captain Clay
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A friend asked me the other day how to make fish balls. He said that someone had given him an Hawaiian bonefish (O'io), probably caught while fishing on the inner reef flats here on Moloka'i. I told him that fish balls are eaten around the world, and their are many ways to prepare them, from Jewish gefilte fish, to Spanish fish ball tapas, to Chinese white fish ball noodle soup, to French quenelles simmered in a flavorful sauce. The variety of recipes are endless, probably because people have found that it is a delicious way to serve a lot of people for very little money.

Fish balls can be made with almost any fish depending on what you like or what is available. The most common seems to be fish balls made from some sort of white fish like cod, halibut, sole, flounder, or in Hawaii, bonefish, but they can also be made with shrimp, salmon, Spanish mackerel, sardines, cuttlefish, etc. Generally the fish meat is blended in a food processor with egg, then bread crumbs, potatoes, rice or flour are added with herbs and seasoning, then rolled into small balls. They are then usually fried, boiled in soup or stew, or steamed.

Fish balls can be fried and served as an appetizer, steamed and put into a soup or stew, put between Hawaiian sweet bread and eaten out-of-hand with a little sweet-hot sauce, skewered on a bamboo stick, or sauteed and put into a salad. I find that when I buy fish, I usually buy more than I need. I cook the fish for a main course, then use the leftovers to make fish balls, or fish cakes for another meal. Here are some international fish ball recipes to consider the next time you are looking for a different and delicious way to feed yourself or your family without breaking the bank.

Salmon and Black Sesame Onigiri
(Japanese rice ball sushi)
Salmon and Black Sesame Onigiri
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This is a beautiful little recipe using smoked salmon, however leftover fresh cooked salmon works also. I like to use brown short-grain rice to make onigiri. It is a little less sticky than white rice and forms a looser ball. Another version is instead of mixing the salmon into the rice, you can stuff it in the middle of the rice ball: loosely form a ball of rice, press a hollow in the middle, stuff the filling into the hollow, and squeeze the rice to form the onigiri. 

4 ounces thinly-sliced smoked salmon
3 cups cooked short-grain rice, hot, or brown rice
2 tablespoons toasted black sesame seeds, or use furikake seasoning
1/4 teaspoon salt or less, if needed
1 sheet toasted nori, cut in 4 strips

Heat a well-seasoned cast iron skillet or nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Lay the salmon slices in the pan and cook until opaque and lightly browned, 15 to 30 seconds per side. Flake fish with a fork and mix with the rice and sesame seeds. Taste the mixture and add salt if needed.

Place a bowl of water nearby and use it moisten your hands frequently while forming the onigiri, so the rice doesn't stick to them. Place one quarter of the rice mixture (about 3/4 cup) in your hands and squeeze together firmly. Rotate and squeeze until it forms a circular cake that holds together securely. Wrap a strip of nori around the middle. Repeat with remaining rice mixture.

Serve immediately or wrap in plastic wrap to eat later. Most people recommend not refrigerating onigiri because it ruins the texture of the rice, but I find a 30-second warming in the microwave revives a refrigerated onigiri just fine. Makes 4 rice balls, serves 2.

Thai Fish Ball Salad
1 1/4 pounds (500g) white fish fillets (white fish), skin & bones removed, chopped
1 1/2 cups fresh coriander leaves
1/2 bunch snake beans (long beans, or green beans), trimmed, sliced
2 kaffir lime leaves, finely chopped (If you can't find kaffir lime leaves, substitute with 1 tablespoon of lime zest)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoons red curry paste
1/4 cup (60ml) sweet chilli sauce
2 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
1/4 cup (60ml) peanut oil
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 cup fresh mint leaves
1/2 Japanese cucumber, halved lengthways, seeds removed, sliced
1/4 red onion, finely sliced
1 cup (100g) snow peas, halved lengthways

Place the fish in a food processor and process for 1-2 minutes or until a paste forms. Chop 1/2 cup of the coriander leaves. Combine the chopped coriander, snake beans, lime leaves or zest, egg, curry paste, 1 tablespoon of sweet chilli sauce and 1 1/2 tablespoons of fish sauce in a bowl with the fish paste.

Use wetted hands to roll tablespoonfuls of the mixture into balls. Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. In batches, cook the balls, turning, for 5-7 minutes or until golden. Drain on paper towel.

Whisk the lime juice and remaining sweet chilli and fish sauce. Combine mint, cucumber, red onion, snow peas and remaining coriander leaves in a bowl. Scatter over the balls and serve drizzled with the dressing. Makes 4 servings.

Tunisian Fish Balls in Tomato Sauce
Tunisia is a small country located in northern Africa on the Mediterranean coast. This country is very close to Italy, hence the tomato sauce. This is a delicious recipe.

2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (or use more parsley instead)
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon harissa (north African hot chili paste, or substitute Sriracha hot chili sauce)
1 1/2 pounds cod, or other white fish
1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs
1 egg
canola olive oil for frying

Ingredients for the sauce:
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
14 ounces canned crushed tomatoes
1 1/2 cups water or clam broth
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper, to taste
chopped parsley for garnish

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Fill a small bowl with cold water and set aside.

To the bowl of a food processor, add the parsley, cilantro, onion, garlic, cumin, salt and harissa. Pulse 10 times until the onion and garlic are minced and everything is well combined. Break the fish into chunks, and add to the processor. Pulse 10 more times or until the fish is minced.

Transfer mixture to a large bowl, and stir in the bread crumbs and egg. Knead with your fingers until the mixture is smooth.

Break off a small piece of the mixture and fry it in a tiny bit of olive oil in a nonstick frying pan. Taste for seasoning, and adjust with salt and pepper if necessary.

Keeping your hands moistened with cold water, form the fish paste into balls approximately one inch in diameter. Set the balls on the baking sheet. Refrigerate until ready to cook.

To make the sauce: Warm the olive oil in a tagine base or Dutch oven. Add the garlic, crushed tomatoes, water or broth, and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer and add the fish balls to the sauce. Cover the pan, and cook for 15-20 minutes, turning the fish balls gently in the sauce midway through, until the fish is just cooked through. Garnish with chopped parsley, and serve hot with couscous. Makes 6 servings.

Chinese Fish Ball Noodle Soup
This recipe is popular in Hawaii using bonefish (O'io, see photo above). The fish is so bony that it is usually put in the refrigerator for several days to allow the meat to separate from the bone, then cut open and using a spoon, the meat is scraped out of the fish. It is then mashed, seasoned and boiled in soup or stew, or coated with egg and Panko and fried, Ono!

6 cups water
2 scallions, minced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
about 1/2 pound fish heads and/or bones
3/4 teaspoon salt or to taste

1 teaspoon rice vinegar

4 ounces of bean thread/cellophane noodles

1 pound boneless, white-fleshed skinless fish fillets
1/2 teaspoon minced ginger
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon roasted sesame oil

1/4 cup chopped coriander leaves (cilantro)

Place 6 cups of water in a medium pot, add the scallions, ginger, and fish heads and bones, and bring to a vigorous boil. Add the salt, partially cover, and cook at a strong boil for 20 minutes. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for another half hour or so.

Strain the fish broth through a fine-mesh sieve and discard the solids. You should have between 3 and 4 cups broth. Add water if necessary to bring it up to 4 cups. Pour the broth back into the pot, add the vinegar, and taste for salt. Adjust the seasoning if you wish.

Meanwhile, place the bean threads in a bowl and add hot water to cover. Let soak for 15 to 20 minutes, then drain. Use scissors to cut them into shorter lengths if you wish. Set aside.

Chop fish fillets, then pulse in a food processor 2 or 3 times. Place in a medium bowl, add the minced ginger, cornstarch, and salt, and use your fingers or a fork to mix and blend well. Add water a little bit at a time until you are able to form a ball without the mixture crumbling apart. The amount of water really depends on the type of fish you use, so add the water slowly until you get the consistency you can work with.

Lightly oil a plate. Wet both of your hands with water and scoop up about 1 tablespoon of the mixture and try to press it into a ball between your moistened palms. Set the ball on the plate. It will be a little bumpy, but don’t worry. Repeat with the remaining fish mixture. You will have about 30-35 balls. Set aside, refrigerated until ready to cook.

About 10 minutes before serving the soup, bring the broth to a rapid boil. Add the soaked bean threads and the fish balls and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat slightly and cook at a strong simmer for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the fish balls are cooked through; use a slotted spoon to turn the balls over so all sides are exposed to the hot broth. They will turn white and expand a little as they cook

Remove from the heat, add the sesame oil, and serve immediately. You can also individually serve this by allotting about 5 to 6 fish balls to each, as well as noodles, and broth, and top each with chopped coriander leaves. Makes 4 servings.

Swedish Fried Fish Balls  (Fiskibollur)
with Sweet Dill Mustard Sauce
Ingredients for fish balls:
1 pound cod or other white fish, skinned and boned
3 potatoes
2 tablespoons flour
1 egg
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
olive oil and a knob of butter for frying
lemon wedges

Ingredients for sweet dill mustard sauce:
6 tablespoons sweet honey mustard
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
2 teaspoons sugar
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons plain or white wine vinegar
2/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh dill

To make the sauce, mix together the mustards, sugar, salt, and vinegar. Slowly whisk in 2/3 cup canola oil until well incorporated into a smooth sauce. Stir in chopped dill. Chill until ready to serve. Will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks. Makes 1 1/2 cups of sauce.

To make the fish balls, peel and cut potatoes into large chunks, boil in salted water till fork tender, mash with a fork. Steam fish for 5 minutes, flake with a fork. Saute garlic with a little bit of olive oil for a minute. In a bowl combine potatoes, fish, garlic, flour, egg, dill, parsley, salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Form small balls, and roll in breadcrumbs. Heat olive oil and butter in a small frying pan, brown 3 or 4 at a time, drain on paper towels and salt them. Drizzle with olive oil and serve on a bed of lettuce with lemon wedges. Makes about 18.

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