18 May 2012

Cha ca chien (fried fish cakes/balls)

I’ve been thinking about my blog in the back of my mind for weeks now and it feels a bit awkward to come back. I’ve been MIA for so long that it’s strange to pick up where I left. 

It was quite nice to not have the pressure of taking pictures of everything I made and to blog about it and I realized how much time I had for other things (mainly watching movies and reading books). I have a lot of respect for people who manage to blog on a frequent base and whose pictures blow me right out of the water. It takes a lot of time and effort to maintain a blog. But it’s been a lot of fun as well. I just need to find that balance again between blogging, working and spare time. 

The other day I was trying to find a recipe online for “cha ca chien” (fried fish cakes/balls) and I couldn’t find any at all. Most recipes talk about “cha ca la vong” which is a traditional fish and dill dish. Although it’s quite nice, it wasn’t really what I was looking for. In fact it didn’t even come close!

I remembered that mom used to make it with a fish known as whiting. It’s a pretty inexpensive white fish, with not a very strong flavor of its own so it’s perfect for these fish cakes/balls since it can absorb all those nice flavors I add to it.

I used:
- 3 kilo whiting with everything on it (or any white fish with firm meat)
- 2 packages of backing powder (30 gram)
- 5-6 pieces of spring onion sliced
- 4 gloves of fresh garlic finely minced
- handful of dill finely chopped
- 2 chili peppers finely cubed (optional)
- 1,5 teaspoons of salt
- fresh grounded pepper
- 2 teaspoons of garlic powder
- enough oil for frying

I know 3 kilo is quite a lot, but I bought whole fishes so I had to chop the heads off, clean and debone them and pull the skin off so I ended up with maybe 1,5 kilo, maybe 2 fish filets at most. Now I remember why mom didn’t make it that often. It took me about 2 hours to prepare the fish and luckily I asked my fish guy to give me the biggest fishes he had! 
If handling a whole fish kinda grose you out you can use fish filet also. I don’t prepare a whole fish that often so it did grose me out a bit too. But I pulled myself together and got the job done.

I seasoned the fish with some salt, pepper and garlic powder and popped the bowl in the freezer. Don’t put too much salt since the fish meat is a bit salty already. I think the fish texture will be better if you grind the fish while it’s a bit frozen (not frozen solid). Before grinding the fish in a food processor I mixed in 2 packages of backing powder. This will help to make the fish light and chewy; just the way we like it.
After all the fish is made into paste the next step is to add all the other ingredients (spring onions, dill, chili peppers and fresh garlic) and to mix it all together with your hands.
There are 2 ways of making these cakes. You can make them into small patties and fry them or make little fish balls. Since we all love the chewy fried texture we decided to make balls. Before you touch the fish make sure you grease your hands with a bit of oil so the paste won’t stick. The easiest way to form balls is to hold some paste in one hand and gently squeeze some paste out and then use a spoon to scoop it off and drop it in the hot oil.
It takes a couple of minutes to fry them till they were golden brown. They make great snacks with some sweet and sour chilly dip and they will taste wonderful with some rice noodle, fresh green herbs and fish (dipping) sauce.
We at it with plain white rice and stir fired sugar snaps.
It was a lot of work, but totally worth it since you can freeze them and heat them up in the microwave for a couple of seconds before you eat them. But they were so good they didn’t make it to the freezer!


  1. Hi Lilly,,
    Welcome back,I didn't see your post for awhile,This fish ball It's my kind of foods,but never had fried one,,,great recipe !! Thanks for sharing,hope to see your post again soon :)


  2. Oh such a yummy thing.. with chilli sauce would be just perfect! :)


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