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.

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.

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)


shavedicesundays said...

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.

Selba said...

Oh.. so that's how to make fish paste.. thanks for sharing :)

Anonymous said...

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.

Angie's Recipes said...

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

Food For Tots said...

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)

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

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!

Anonymous said...

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ICook4Fun said...

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 :)

noobcook said...

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

Dora said...

Wow! It's real hard work! And u have made it so nice and smooth. :)

tigerfish said...

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

Anonymous said...

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!

Food For Tots said...

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.

Food For Tots said...

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.

Coby said...

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

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

Bits said...

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

Food For Tots said...

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. ;)

Anonymous said...

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.

Anonymous said...

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.

Food For Tots said...

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. ;)

Kong-Kay said...

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

Food For Tots said...

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

Tastes of Home said...

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! :)

Food For Tots said...

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

Piggy said...

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. :-)

Food For Tots said...

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

Anonymous said...

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!

Food For Tots said...

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. ;)

Anonymous said...

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!!!

Food For Tots said...

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.

Anonymous said...


can i omit the salt?

Food For Tots said...

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!