food 4 tots

How to make “smooth & springy” fish paste

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Fish paste can be used in different cooking methods. Eg, boiling (fish ball or yu wat 鱼滑), steaming (with beancurd 老少平安, otak-otak), stuffing (yong tau fu 酿豆腐), pan-frying or deep-frying (patties, fish cakes).

My mother-in-law is an expert in making fish paste. She learnt the techniques by watching her neighbour doing it since she was a child. I enjoyed eating those dishes she made using homemade fish paste but never put an effort to learn the techniques. When I started my own cooking, I missed her homemade fish paste a lot because those commercial fish paste (in term of taste and texture) is nothing up to her standard. I tried to make it on my own but it was a failure. During her current visit, I had asked her to demonstrate the techniques in making “smooth & springy” fish paste.

STEPS-BY-STEPS ON MAKING “SMOOTH & SPRINGY” FISH PASTE:
homemade fish paste
– We used spanish mackerel fish (ikan tenggiri or kau yu, 鲛鱼). For beginner, try to get a small size fish (approx 600g) as it is easy to handle. Choose one with some dots on the skin.

homemade fish paste
– Remove head and all the internal organs. Clean the fish and pat dry. Slice both side of the fish. Retain the fish bone to make fish stock in future.

homemade fish paste
– Use a spoon to scrape the flesh (include those flesh on the bones).

homemade fish paste
– This is the flesh from scrapping.

homemade fish paste
– Prepare 1 tsp salt

homemade fish paste
– Sprinkle 2/3 tsp salt and dash of white pepper powder on the flesh

homemade fish paste
– Add water to the remaining 1/3 tsp salt

homemade fish paste
– Use the back of the knife to chop the flesh evenly. If you notice any fish bones, remove it from the flesh. Otherwise don’t blame me if anyone gets choked by the bones.

homemade fish paste
– Add the salted water during the chopping process. A little bit at a time. You will find that the flesh will become sticky and make the chopping getting harder. Continue to add the salted water as and when required.

homemade fish paste
– At this stage, my mother-in-law was tired and I took over. I used my hubby’s “coffee presser” to do the chopping. You can either continue using the knife or a hand grinder.

homemade fish paste
– When the fish paste is evenly chopped, wet your hands, make a ball and start “throwing” the whole fish paste. HA HA! Time to “de-stress”. But make sure you throw it right back to the target (chopping board) and not elsewhere. “Throwing” is the most critical part in achiving a “springy” fish paste. Do pay more attention! Don’t laugh.

homemade fish paste
– Can you see “all the hidden stress”? (Just joking). Add 1 tbsp cornstarch and some water into the paste and knead until well combined.

homemade fish paste
– If you wet your hands and apply a layer of water on the paste, you will see that the texture is shiny, moisture, soft………… “the more you practice , the more you will know” – Advise from my mother-in-law.

homemade fish paste
– Divide the paste into a few portions (according to your personal preference), keep it in a container and store it in the freezer.

homemade fish paste
– Boil water and cook 2 tsbp fish paste to test the taste.

homemade-fish-paste

Ingredients:
600g spanish mackerel (kau yu)
1 tsp salt
Dash of white pepper powder
1 tbsp constarch
water (iced or tap water) for mixing the paste

Other useful tips to note:
-Make sure the chopping board is not used for ginger before hand.
-It is better to chop the fish paste on the floor with some newspaper underneath.
-Add enough water to reach the consistency and softness you want. Fresh fish needs more water.

If you like fish paste, try these recipes:
pan-fried patties
stuffed taufu poks (beancurd puffs)
steamed egg rolls with fish paste (1)
steamed egg rolls with fish paste (2)
steamed mashed beancurd and fish paste (1)
steamed mashed beancurd and fish paste (2)

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96 Comments

  1. shavedicesundays says:

    Awesome post! I will refer my readers who don’t have access to market fish paste to your post. I agree fresh is definitely better but you know us people with kids take shortcuts.

  2. Selba says:

    Oh.. so that’s how to make fish paste.. thanks for sharing 🙂

  3. Marc @ NoRecipes says:

    Hi I just found your blog. Great step by step photos! I’ve always wondered how to make fish paste properly, but usually just end up going and buying it. I might have to try making it myself sometime.

  4. Angie says:

    This is really cool! Can I use the frozen fish fillets to do that?

  5. Food For Tots says:

    Hi shavedicesundays,
    Tks for your compliment. It is my pleasure to share with others. I truly understand ur situation. Like u, I did take shortcut in some situations too and it makes us smarter right? Hehehe…!

    Hi selba,
    Give it a try. It is quite easy.

    Hi marc@norecipes,
    Tks for dropping by. U have a nice blog with gourgeous photos! Give it a try! It is fun!

    Hi angie,
    Tks for your comments. I am not sure about the end results because we used fresh fish over here. You can give it a try and let me know, ok? FYI the common ones used for fish paste are 蕃薯鱼,西刀鱼 (wolf herring),鲛鱼。(source:http://www.malaysianfood.net/glossaryI.htm)

  6. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) says:

    I love the throwing part — I can see where that would make the fish paste more airy, and also make you happy while you are preparing it!

  7. Anonymous says:

    recommend a blog for you, hope you like it:
    http://www.wretch.cc/blog/happykitchen

    Yenny

  8. ICook4Fun says:

    My mom used to made the fish paste that way too but I never attempt to try it as we can get the frozen fish paste here. Maybe if I can find the fish at Chinatown I might try it 🙂

  9. noobcook says:

    wah excellent! I’m too lazy to attempt this, so much work man … but really looks so good. I can only eat your photos hehe … the other day when I was making minced pork ball, I was ‘throwing’ too, inspired after watching martin yan, haha

  10. Dora says:

    Wow! It’s real hard work! And u have made it so nice and smooth. 🙂

  11. tigerfish says:

    So much work! Need to have time, patience and of course experience to do this. I don’t even have the skills to de-bone the fish! :O

  12. Coby says:

    I love to see the ‘real’ way to do things, though I admit, I immediately start wondering ‘can I use my food processor?’ and thinking ‘I’ll have my fishmonger fillet the fish for me’. How long does the fish keep in the freezer? I would assume as it’s been ‘worked’ so hard it would be best to use it within a couple of weeks?

    Great post!

  13. Food For Tots says:

    Hi lydia,
    Tks for dropping by. On that day, my MIL was the one demonstrating the “throwing” part and I was busy taking photos. But I still felt very happy to get homemade fish paste from her. Hehehe!;)

    Hi yenny,
    Tks for your recommendations. I will check it out later. R u a fan of this blog?

    Hi icook4fun,
    Is it easy to eat this kind of fresh fish over your place?

    Hi noobcook,
    It is not really that tough though. I would say “practice makes perfect”. Give it a try with a small fish.

  14. Food For Tots says:

    Hi dora,
    That's the hard work from my MIL. I am sure that your Chef will be happy to make one for you. 😉

    Hi tigerfish,
    Sorry if I had confused everyone with so many photos. Actually the whole process takes about 20 mins (using 600g fish). Based on my personal experience, kau yu can be easily deboned by using a sharp knife.

    Hi coby,
    I think you can use food processor to certain extend bcos it is diff to control the amount of salted water to be added in. Water should be added bit by bit during the chopping to create a smooth paste. U must do the throwing manually to make the fish paste springy.
    I was advised to fillet the fish at home becos it is more hygiene. U can ask the fishmonger to just chop away the head & tail, remove the internal organ for u. It is best to make the fish paste as early as possible (within 1 day) becos of its freshness. I would suggest that you use it within 1-2 weeks bcos there is no presevative added. Even if u buy from the market, they will advise u to consume it within 3-4 days after keeping in the freezer. Hope it helps. If u have any question, feel free to do drop me an email.

  15. Coby says:

    Thank you:) That’s some more great tips:)

    For a novice, which is the best recipe you think fish paste is used for?

  16. Bits of Life 'n' Taste says:

    Hi Chef! This is really tedious! Great steps to follow. Thanks!

  17. Food For Tots says:

    Hi coby,
    It depends on which “role” u like it to play. For “leading cast”, try fish ball (yu wat), fish cakes, egg roll with fish paste. For “supporting cast”, try stuffed beancurd puff, steamed mash beancurd with fish paste. Hope it helps. 😉

  18. mycookinghut says:

    A good post!! My mom makes her fish paste too.. exactly the same method.. but I can’t find spanish mackerel…. 🙁 So don’t what’s the alternative. As you mentioned, wolf herring… I need to find out this.

  19. Anonymous says:

    This is tedious. Another fast and less messy way is to 1) mix it in a food processor and use the pause button to blend the meat. This takes less than 2 minutes.
    2) put the meat in a plastic bag and knead it like u are kneading the bread. Add seasoning, mix well and it will be springy and nice.

  20. Food For Tots says:

    Hi bits of life n taste,
    Once u have masterred the skills, it can be done easily (without sweat);)

    Hi mycooking huts,
    Tks for dropping by and your compliment.

    Hi anonymous,
    Tks for your sharing. Using plastic bag is new to me. 😉

  21. Kong-Kay says:

    did hubby complain of the fishy after taste in his coffee the morning after?

  22. Food For Tots says:

    Hi Kong-kay,
    I always use it as my cooking tool bcos I do not have a hand grinder. So far no complaint. 😉

  23. Tastes of Home says:

    fish paste is just so versatile right! my dad likes to make his own too but I have yet to try it! hehe. Your post has definitely inspired me to do so! 🙂

  24. Food For Tots says:

    Hi taste of home,
    Give it a try. I am sure u will like it. 😉

  25. Piggy says:

    Thanks for showing how to make fish paste!! I can’t find it in where I am now and I’ve been looking for the recipe actually. You’ve just made my day. 🙂

  26. Food For Tots says:

    Hi piggy,
    Hope you will enjoy making it esp the throwing part. 😉

  27. Ai Peng says:

    Thanks a million! I found your blog and I have tried it out yesterday. My son loves fish ball and I always wonder how to make it.
    I use ‘tou fu yu’ and all of us are satisfied with the result 🙂
    By the way, the chopping part really tiring!

  28. Food For Tots says:

    Hi ai peng,
    Tks for dropping by. Practice makes perfect! I am sure it is worth the effort if your family (esp ur son) enjoy your fish paste so much. 😉

  29. Anonymous says:

    I used frozen basa fillets to do this because it was what I had. It actually didn’t take really long to scrape the meat off, mince and to throw it. By the way, scraping off the meat is necessary as fish also has ‘tendony’ parts. I found that when i boiled it, it wasn’t as springy and flavorful as I had hoped (is there a secret method!?!), but, when i pan fried it, it turned out and tasted awesome. Do you think that adding 1/2 a tsp of gan sui will improve the texture (like the one you get at the wonton houses) or that I need to improve my technique? Thanks, it was a hit with my family!!!

  30. Food For Tots says:

    Hi Anonymous,
    Normally we only stick to a few types which are considered to be suitable for making fish paste(eg.蕃薯鱼,西刀鱼 (wolf herring),鲛鱼。(source:http://www.malaysianfood.net/glossaryI.htm). From my own google search, the common methods for basa fillet are only bake, broil, fry and sauté. Nothing was mentioned about making fish paste. So I guess it is not suitable to produce the expected results for fish paste as compared to those types I mentioned earlier. I personally don’t have any secret techniques others than those stated in my posting. I don’t flavour the idea of “kan sui” when cooking for toddlers. Maybe u can put more emphasis on the throwing part and add a little bit more of constarch. For better flavour, try to get fresh fish instead of frozen fish. Just my 2 cents. Hope it helps. I am so glad to know that it was a hit in your family.

  31. Anonymous says:

    hi,

    can i omit the salt?

  32. Food For Tots says:

    Anonymous: Any particular reason why u need to omit salt? Will you use salt in cooking your fish paste dish later? If yes, then it is better to add it during the making process to enhance the flavour of the paste. I guess another reason is to use salt as a natural preservative. I personally have not tried it before. Maybe you can experiment it and share with me later. Hehehe!

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  35. amy says:

    awesome! i looove fishballs and i have always wanted to make my own:)

  36. […] the Southeast Asia region. Food-4-Tots had a wonderful step by step instructions on how to make home made fish paste.Click image to zoom inWhen I saw “Sun Enterprise” brand Featherback Fish Paste at the frozen […]

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  38. baobabs says:

    ahhh!!! so this is the secret technique and recipe. My mother used to make otak otak but she said it was so much work she didn’t want to do it anymore and I never grasp how to get the texture and consistency perfect. I didn’t know we could do the same with fishballs.

  39. Kong says:

    Great recipes + pictures

    Can you tell me, after tasting and need to add salt, how do I go about it?

    Add salt water and knead it again? Any advice?

    Thanks

    • food-4tots says:

      Kong: Thanks for your compliments!! Yes, you’re right. You need to knead it again. It’s better to use salted water (dilute the salt with a teaspoon of cold water) rather than sprinkle the salt directly on the fish paste. Be careful not to add too much water on your 2nd kneading. Otherwise, the fish paste will not be springy anymore. Hope it helps! 😉

  40. Kelly says:

    This is a great one. I m making my own fish paste as well during weekend cos my hubby n kids like to eat. I also learn from my mother in law on the methods of making. Thanks for sharing recipes on using fish paste. As I normally only go for stuffing only. I will give the egg roll a try on this weekend. Thanks.

  41. […] This method is my own proprietary method which is very different from other traditional method of chopping fish meat using the back of a cleaver. If you’re interested to know the traditional method, here is a site I found, showing you exactly how to make springy yong tau foo fish paste. […]

  42. lilian says:

    how much water do i add? is 4 tbsp enough? also read somewhere that stirring the seasonings in one direction and adding iced cold water helps in further improving the springiness of the fish paste. Advice please.

    • food-4tots says:

      Lilian: It depends on the quality of fish you bought. You can start with 2 tbsp of water and slowly add little bit by little bit based on the consistency you want to achieve. My method doesn’t require stirring. But after you have made the paste and want to add other seasonings (such as this recipe: http://food-4tots.com/2008/06/25/steamed-mashed-beancurd-and-fish-paste-2/), then you need to stir to combine well the ingredients. Yes, iced cold water is another key to improve the springiness of the fish paste. This is already stated in my post. Hope it helps. 😉

  43. Nanzee says:

    Thanks for sharing…you habe posted this long time ago but still useful, i rarely cook because my food is being catered everyday but this post of yours made me interested to try. I bought a food processor to help me ease the task.
    Thanks and more power!

  44. Pat says:

    Thanks for sharing your fish paste recipe. I’ve been wanting to try it out as commercially prepared fish paste and fish balls all have msg. Pat

  45. Mel says:

    Hi, thanks for sharing. I tried but my paste seems soft. What could be the problem and how can I salvage it?

    • food-4tots says:

      Mel: It’s my pleasure to share! There are a few reasons why you may encounter this problem such as hot weather, quality of the fish and too much water. So sorry, I don’t have a perfect solution for you. But, you can ‘camouflage’ the softness by cooking the fish paste with mashed tofu. Another way is to make it into fish cake and pan-fry it. Hope it helps!

  46. scott says:

    just recently I was in South Korea….had a street food call Hot Bar, was wondering if your fish receipe would work for this food on a stick?

    cheers scott

    • food-4tots says:

      Scott: I haven’t grilled my fish paste on a stick before but had tried pan-frying it as fish cake. It sounds feasible to me. You may give it try and share your feedback with me. 😉

  47. Singapore Man in West Africa Guinee says:

    whoever put this recipe in the blog.. you have my fullest blessing…. I will get some fish this weekend, whack the fish balls and shock the locals! May all the deities bless the contributor!

  48. Sofia says:

    Hi, I was sharing with my neighbor about making fish paste, told her i am using tenggiri fish She told me to use wan zhi fish as it is softer, tenggiri is hard. Would u be able to help me, what is wan zhi in English?

  49. Lynn says:

    I love home made stuff, especially this fish paste. May I know how much time do I need from start to end?

    • food-4tots says:

      Lynn: If this is your first trial, be prepared to spare 30 minutes for making them. The smaller the fish, the faster you can do it. Have fun!! 🙂

  50. Annie says:

    Thank you so much for your wonderful picture fish paste recipe which is perfect for my uncle who wants to make some while I’m here in Palmerston North, New Zealand. I’m sure he will use that again.

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