food 4 tots

How to make “smooth & springy” fish paste


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.

fish paste, homemade, kid, toddler, food for tots
– 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.

fish paste, homemade, kid, toddler, food for tots
– 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.

fish paste, homemade, kid, toddler, food for tots
– Use a spoon to scrape the flesh (include those flesh on the bones).

fish paste, homemade, kid, toddler, food for tots
– This is the flesh from scrapping.

fish paste, homemade, kid, toddler, food for tots
– Prepare 1 tsp salt

fish paste, homemade, kid, toddler, food for tots
– Sprinkle 2/3 tsp salt and dash of white pepper powder on the flesh

fish paste, homemade, kid, toddler, food for tots
– Add water to the remaining 1/3 tsp salt

fish paste, homemade, kid, toddler, food for tots
– 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.

fish paste, homemade, kid, toddler, food for tots
– 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.

fish paste, homemade, kid, toddler, food for tots
– 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.

fish paste, homemade, kid, toddler, food for tots
– 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.

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

fish paste, homemade, kid, toddler, food for tots
– 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.

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

fish paste, homemade, kid, toddler, food for tots
– Boil water and cook 2 tsbp fish paste to test the taste.


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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  1. tuti says:

    Hi I am very interested at this fishball. I tried, but it turned out to be hard and not springy. I did not chopped it quite well. Maybe I should knead more? What kind of food processor r u using? May I know why the commercialised fishball are so white? The one that i made is not so white.
    Is different type of fish create softer fishball? how about yellow tail fish compared to tenggiri? thanks a lot.

    • food-4tots says:

      Tuti: Maybe you didn’t chop it long enough or the water is too little. You can take a small portion to cook and test out the texture. I didn’t use any food processor to make these fish balls. I just used a normal chopper. I’m not sure what makes the commercialized fish balls so white. I haven’t tried out yellow tail fish so I can’t comment about it. 😉

    • Lenny says:

      First of all, thank you for posting this recipe. The secret to white fish ball…I guess is using white fish. I used tilapia and the cooked fish balls were surprisingly white. My problem though is that they were not springy and glossy as shown in your picture. I used 3 ice cubes for a 250g fish. I bought fresh fish fillet, cleaned, and froze them. Then I tossed them in the food processor. I was told that we must keep the fish cold at all time. What do you think, is there any difference between iced water and tap water? Now that I found your recipe, I will try again 🙂 Btw, do you mix in one direction? Thank you.

      • food-4tots says:

        Lenny: In your next attempt, try either mackerel or sai toh (西刀鱼,wolf herring). Do not freeze your fish. Use it on the same day to make the fish paste. Due to our current hot weather, best to use iced water. There is no mixing required. Only chopping, kneading and throwing the paste if you use my manual method. Hope it helps! 😉

  2. tuti says:

    Thanks for the reply, you know today I tried again, this time I chopped and even blender it to make it smooth, then throw it for sometime. Everything look perfect but it taste like tofu. I do not know what is wrong. hahah…

    • food-4tots says:

      Tuti: Did you add too much water and too little salt and pepper during the process? Did they turn out springy?

    • Parry Sim says:

      Use a hand blender to chopped up yr fish paste smooth and fast first. Add only ice water. Use fresh Fish not frozen. 70% to qty of fish meat. 1kg of fish 600-700ml ice water. Take the fish paste out and stir in one direction with your hand, Stir and scoop and throw in into the big container. Better if you hear the popping sound, slap hard and it will be springy. Most important at this stage do not add salt yet. Do it for about half hour or when u feel that the fish paste is getting thicker, just a little. Now u add the salt, i use 2 table spoon for 1KG of fish meat. Now you immediately see the reaction after adding salt, it starts to thicken very much and develop the body. kip stirring and scoping and whacking only in one direction. I do it for about half hour. After that put it into a tipper ware and keep it in the chill room overnight. You can cut it into square immediately or make into balls and boil them. They will be very springy. Otherwise you can also soak them in ice water and keep for a day or 2. I normally just don’t soak them. Let me know if you get springy fish ball with success.

  3. Lili says:

    Thanks! Now i know how to make fish paste 🙂

    Can i use cornflour? any different with corcstarch?


  4. sarah says:

    hello, thanx for the recipe..will sure try it 🙂 just not sure what ‘throwing’ means?? hehe…is it literally throwing the paste on to the chopping board as in ‘baling’?? how many times do we need to do this??

    • food-4tots says:

      Sarah: You’re welcome! Yes, baling. At least 10-15 times. If you’re unsure, do a test to check the texture. Take a small piece of the paste and cook it. Happy trying! 😉

  5. Geraldine says:

    Just want to drop a note to THANK YOU for this recipe — it’s such a KEEPER!!! We live in Shanghai and it’s almost impossible to get fish paste. Happened to find Spanish Mackerel the other day and tried it out with the food processor — it was success at first try! I used pulse mode and drizzled in water slowly as it processed; drizzled cornstarch near the end. Both chop and throw process were completed in minutes. Texture was surprisingly springy and the colour was white when cooked. Thank you again! No need to crave 酿豆腐 anymore, yay!

  6. Lk, I’m going to try this! Thanks for the step by step 🙂

  7. Colleen says:

    Do your fish balls end up tasty… fishy? I know that sounds dumb, but I work in a newly opened shabu restaurnat, and we’ve been trying for weeks to make house fish balls, but all our customer reviews keep saying either too fishy or just right. It’s really confusing. We also use spanish mackeral. I think, according to my boss, the problem is that most people are use to the frozen kind so when they actually get fresh ones they’re not use to them actually tasting like… well… fish. So far we’ve tried working on a wooden cutting board to help absorb fish oils and adding lemon juice. Nothing is working. None of us cooks in the kitchen are Asian or have any prior experience with fish balls.

    • food-4tots says:

      Colleen: I agree with your boss. If you have not grown up eating fish balls made from spanish mackeral, you may find them fishy. You can try using wolf herring (if available) to make the fish balls. One way to cover the fishy smell is to add some chopped fresh chillies and spring onion. In Hong Kong, dried mandarin orange peel is added. Hope this helps to solve your problem.

  8. agnes sim says:

    wow…good job! 😉

  9. May Chan says:

    Can you please show what your husband’s coffee presser look like? I would like to learn to make fish paste. Thank you

  10. Amy Ho says:

    Thank you for the recipe. The fish paste turned out really bouncy, just the right texture.

    Instead of the coffee presser, I used my meat mallet and just “stabbed” the fish paste.

  11. Tammie says:

    Thank you for the recipe. May I know if cornstarch can be omitted as I am trying to do a carb free recipe? thanks!

  12. Elizabeth says:

    Is it necessary to add the cornstarch? If we cannot eat anything starchy or carbohydrate, what can we do to replace it? Or can we omit it entirely? Thanks!

  13. Shereen says:

    When I defrost the fish paste, it became a block. I can’t make anything out of it bcos I just couldn’t scoop it up. It just looks like a GIANT block of fish cake .

    • food-4tots says:

      Shereen: You can put the fish paste inside a sealed plastic bag, spread it thinly and freeze. This way, you will be able to cut out the frozen portion according to your desire.

  14. audrey says:

    Hi, can u show how to freeze the fish paste and how long can we store it in the freezer? Tq!

    • food-4tots says:

      Audrey: I usually freeze the paste in a small container or air-tight freezer bag. Spread the paste into a thin layer so that it can be removed easily. You can freeze them for a week or two. Hope it helps. 🙂

  15. Vivian says:

    600g mackarel. Is that the whole fish or just the fish meat?


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