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?
Cooking is processing
Cooking, even home cooking is processing, no question about it. Pure, unprocessed food is a raw, unpeeled carrot. Washing and peeling it is already processing to a certain extent.
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.
Classic examples: cooked tomatoes are rich in the powerful antioxidant lycopene; grains would not be tasty or even digestible if we hadn't learned how to hull, mill and cook them; and potatoes are actually mildly poisonous raw.
Meatballs mean no waste
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. Why mince and fishball it?
Fish balls made from offcuts
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.
Save them; label a freezer bag (nothing worse than a freezer mystery bag) and gradually add to the kitty.
After some time you’ll have quite a sizeable bag of fish cuts in the freezer. Now it will be easy to make a pie, 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.
How to make 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.
How to cook fish balls
My favourite method is a tiny bit of a fuss admittedly, but it gives the best results. If you lightly fry the fish balls in a skillet first, then roast them in the oven just to let them cook through to the centre, you'll get the nice crisp coating and no raw fish in the middle.
Of course, if time is pressing or you need to avoid frying fishy smells in the kitchen (I completely sympathise), simply bake the fish balls for about 15 minutes.