Fish Cakes and Fish Balls

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves

    4 to 6

    As an Appetizer

Appears in

Fish cakes are made of boneless fish that is blended with aromatics, shaped into patties, and fried. It’s an easy process, especially with a food processor rather than the traditional mortar and pestle. Fish cakes can be served as an appetizer, or else sliced and dressed for a salad (Fish Cake Salad with Shaved Cabbage). The paste can also be shaped into small round fish balls, which once boiled are perfect as appetizers or as an addition to noodle soups.

To serve cakes or balls as an appetizer, set out on tender lettuce leaves and drizzle with Tart-Sweet Chile-Garlic Sauce.


  • About ½ pound tilapia or other white fish fillets, rinsed and coarsely chopped
  • About 2 tablespoons minced shallots
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger
  • Scant ½ teaspoon salt
  • Peanut oil for shallow-frying


Combine the fish, shallots, garlic, ginger, and salt in a food processor and process to a smooth, even paste.

Put a lightly oiled large plate on your work surface.

For Fish Cakes

Scoop up a scant 1 tablespoon fish paste at a time, shape it into a smooth ball between your palms, flatten it to a disk about 1½ inches in diameter, and set on the plate. You should have 15 to 18 patties.

For Fish Balls

scoop up a generous 1 teaspoon of the paste, roll it lightly between moist palms to shape a ball, and set on the plate; repeat with the remaining paste.

To Fry Fish Cakes

Heat a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Pour in about ¼ inch of peanut oil. When the oil is hot, slide in the patties one by one. Cook in batches; stop adding them when the pan gets crowded. Cook until the underside is golden, 3 to 4 minutes, using a spatula to prevent the cakes from sticking to the pan. Turn them over and cook until golden on the underside. Hold a spider or sieve ready in your other hand as you use the spatula to lift out each disk, and place it in the sieve or spider, letting excess oil drain off, then transfer to a plate to cool and firm up. Repeat with the remaining fish cakes.

To Cook Fish Balls

Drop the balls into a pot of boiling broth or water. Once cooked through, in 2 to 3 minutes, they can be used in noodle dishes or frozen for later use.