Cuisine Fiend

parmesan fish balls

Mon, 11 May, 2020


Why is it meatballs and not fishballs? Fishcakes but never meatcakes? I’m always intrigued by names of things, foods especially. Do ‘fishballs’ sound faintly rude, or is it just me?

parmesan fish balls

Cooking is processing, no question about it. Pure, unprocessed food is a raw, unpeeled carrot. Washing and peeling it is processing to a certain extent already. I do think we overuse the word ‘processed’ invariably meaning ‘overprocessed’ or ‘industrially produced’. Proponents of raw diets will disagree but mostly cooking improves food, both taste-and healthwise. Tomatoes and lycopene, grains and digestibility, potatoes being mildly poisonous raw.

Meatballs make a lot of sense: inferior cuts of meat that would otherwise be tough however long you’d cook them for are minced, ergo: pre-chewed, and reconstituted (I’m aware that the language here is not exactly appetising but stay with me). But fish doesn’t have gristle or tendons and however scummy and cheap the fishcakes may be, they don’t contain bones.

mixed fish balls with parmesan

So basically they mince perfectly good fish fillets only to mould them back into shape, no other reason but because they can? Not quite – at least it’s not what I do. I and I guess the restaurants, food factories and fishmongers too use offcuts. Those pointless bits of haddock that are just surplus to the fish and chips requirements or an odd tail end of a salmon side: not enough for a portion but a sin to throw out.

After a while you’ll have quite a sizeable bag of fish cuts in the freezer. Make a pie, of course, or go towards processing those pieces into fish balls, fish cakes, fish burgers, fish bites. The huge advantage of such products over a fillet is the flavouring – you can amp the herbs and spices as a whole fillet could never take.

fish balls

This recipe is nicked from Tom Kerridge’s fish burgers but as above, I thought to give balls a chance. I used Parmesan as gluing agent knowing from experience that chunky fishcakes won’t come together and pulped ones are baby food. The cheese taste isn’t oppressive and dipping the balls in extra Parmesan makes them sear golden and crisp.

parmesan fish balls

Servings: makes 8-9 fish ballsTime: 45 minutes


  • 350g (12 oz.) skinless haddock fillet or other white fish
  • 100g (3 oz.) salmon fillet, skinless
  • 1 tbsp. sea salt flakes
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 2 tsp capers in brine, drained and roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp. chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp English mustard powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 30g (2 tbsp.) grated Parmesan
  • 1 tbsp. groundnut oil, for frying


1. Sprinkle the white fish with salt and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes, to drain moisture. Rinse and pat dry with kitchen towels.

2. Blitz the fish in a food processor briefly so it’s still chunky not pulped. Transfer to a bowl, add the garlic, capers, parsley, mustard powder, soda and half the Parmesan. Mix well until smooth.

minced fish

3. Shape balls (about 50g each) and roll each lightly in the remaining Parmesan. Chill for at least 1 hour so they firm up.

shaping fishballs

4. Preheat the oven to 160C/300F/gas 3 with.

5. Heat the oil in a frying pan over high heat and fry the fish balls turning them round on all sides until golden and the fish looks opaque. Transfer them to a baking tray and bake in the oven for 10 minutes so the centre gets cooked.

frying fishballs

6. Serve immediately, with lemon and mayo.

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