3 Chinese Herbs & Fishball recipe

Fishball is a food familiar to every Singaporean, its in Laksa, Ba Chor Mee, Char Kway Teow you name it… In primary school, I remember fondly eating fishballs in diluted soy sauce as a lunchtime snack. Now that I frequent the wet market more for my personal groceries (usually at Ghim Moh Wet Market or “GM Market”) I will always pick up some fishcakes or fish paste stuffed vegetables from the ‘Ghim Moh Traditional Handmade Fishball’ stall, not to be confused with the, also, very popular Thye Hong Handmade fishballs. The former stall is situated in the wet market section of GM Market, whilst the latter is found in the hawker centre area. The fishballs and cakes from both stalls taste very different too.

Fishball making appears to be a very daunting task, at least it was to me, because every Chinese new year, my mum will bring back stories from the market to the hotpot table telling everyone how the fishball maker’s hands went pale from beating and rolling the fish meat into balls. Its undoubtedly a labour of love making fishballs the traditional way – which involves buying the freshest batam or yellowtail fish, skinning / deboning it (or “qi rou” / meaning lift the meat from the bone in Chinese), using a chopper or two to pound the meat into a pulp, beating it down onto a wooden board 45 – 60 times until the meat becomes bouncy, adding seasoning, using your hands to squeeze out floating balls of meat into icy water..

However, fishballs being one of my all time favourite snack, I decided it was time to learn my mum’s recipe. She usually uses a mix of squid, prawn and fish in her fishball recipe but I had it tweaked to suit what I had in the fridge today / harvested from the backyard. And also, you may be pleased to know that with the aid of modern technology (ie. a blender, maybe even a paddle mixer) your handmade fishballs will be ready within the hour.

There are lots of fishball recipes around, and all of them use pretty much the same few ingredients. So in this brief write-up I’ll focus on the technique of fishball hitting which makes or breaks your fishballs. If you’re a home gardener like myself, then you may want to consider adding your herbs or spices into your fish paste. Thankfully, I managed to harvest some extremely fresh birds eye chilli, spring onion and Chinese coriander from my garden for use in today’s recipe.

Raw ingredients – you’ll need:

  • 2 cups of minced batam or yellowtail fin fish, you can use any other white fish flesh like naw he, pollock, etc;
  • 2/3 cup of prawn meat, get the wild caught local sea prawns also known as orh hei (black prawns) which have crunchy and sweet meat that is used for ngoh Hiang / kueh pie tee stuffing too. Theres a brilliant write-up on prawns from wet markets here;
  • 1/3 cup of cold water;
  • 1 teaspoon salt;
  • 2 tablespoon of tapioca flour;
  • *Optional: 1/2 teaspoon Hong Kong prawn paste, 2 tablespoons fish sauce (replace salt with this), 3 bulbs of spring onion leaves chopped finely, Chinese coriander leaves chopped finely, 3 birds eye chilli with the seeds removed chopped finely.

Method:

  • Blend the seafood meats together, adding the icy cold water as needed to ease the meat through the blender. This usually takes about 15 minutes. Ensure that the meats form into a paste like texture that is smooth, ideally there would be no muscle tissue visible. A tip for this segment is to use a big blender instead of a small “palm sized” blending unit, for smaller units you will need to feed the meat into the machine slowly and in smaller portions for an even blend;
  • Once meat is blended, add salt and the tapioca flour;
  • Then in a wide bowl, use a large spoon (rice cooker spoon or a soup spoon works) to stir the paste. At first, it will seem like the mixture is never going to get bouncy, but don’t give up. You will need to stir the paste at least 45-60 rounds (around the bowl) before you start seeing the right texture forming. You will know its ready when the meat paste starts to stretch alittle as you stir it, sheets of paste should be able to form and what you’ll notice is that the paste becomes shinier and more gelatinous looking. The meat looks more formed and coagulated together, rather than rough and patchy when it comes straight out of the blender. This stirring and mixing takes 20 minutes;
  • There you have it, your fishball paste! If you want to add herbs to your fishballs, simply chop the herbs or spices finely, then use your hands to squeeze out any excess water from the herbs and then mix them into the paste.
  • To make fishballs, prepare a bowl of ice water, then grab a palm full of fish paste, cup your four fingers (except your thumb) over the paste gently as if you are creating a small cylindrical well for the paste with your fingers. Then use your thumb to brush over the fish paste for an even surface, and slowly apply pressure with your four cupped fingers to squeeze out the paste. With your thumb, cut away the paste as it forms into a ball and let it drop into the ice water bowl. Heres a video of how to do it by sgpnoodles.

The fishballs I made with this recipe were good to taste and slightly chewy, but I felt they were not airy enough nor did they have the bounce factor of most manufactured fishballs. Whilst they did float after being cooked in soup, I am told that good fishballs float when they are raw and put in icy cold water. That is a standard I hope to eventually reach.

Nonetheless it was a fun experience and I hope you try this recipe in your own home!

Always, J.

Weird & Wonderful Workshops

Workshops are done alittle differently here at WWEdibles.

This post will take readers through what to expect at these carefully curated events, with a link to register interest at the end of this post.

Background

2 years after WWEdibles’s founding in 2016, I started offering edible flower workshops upon request of my regular customers who largely came from culinary backgrounds. Their primary interest was in trialing the organically grown small-batch produce for use in their cooking or, to take back the idea of establishing edible flower / herb gardens in their own restaurants.

As such, since its inception, Weird & Wonderful Workshops have always been deeply rooted in the connection between plants, food and people.

Edible flower workshop set-up

With the edible flower workshops remaining at the core of what WWEdibles provides (being a classic workshop), it has also started to branch out into other niche areas such as; growing Traditional Chinese Medicines (TCM), asian herb gardens, container gardening for fruiting asian edibles as well as kueh-making workshops.

What to expect – workshop topics and themes

The workshops are tailored to suit the realities of gardening in Singapore and WWEdibles only promotes the growing of plants which thrive in the heat and humidity here. They are also culturally relevant, being heavily influenced by Singapore’s history and diverse demographics.

Full credits to Singaporean Artist Lee Xin Li

Topics

As founder, I also wanted my life experiences and milestones to be reflected through the workshop topics offered. That’s seen through the focus on edible flowers and asian herbs / fruiting vegetables which form the core of what I love to grow / supply, as well as the TCM workshop which was inspired by the TCM garden that I set up at the SMU Grow Garden in 2017.

The hugely popular kueh-making workshop is an ode to my maternal grandmother and her colourful stories and experiences making and selling kuehs at Pulau Ubin (an offshoot island near Singapore). The recipes and techniques I use in the kueh workshops are from her, with some slight modifications (I don’t use Chinese porcelain bowls to measure the flour and use natural dyes for the kueh skins).

A small wooden hut in Pulau ubin, similar to the one lived in by my mother and her family in the 80ies

Hand-carved wooden kueh moulds from Penang, as well as the freshest ingredients are used in the kuehs (for example, the filling for the Ang Ku Kueh are made fresh from ground mung beans and pressed coconut milk / sweet potato is used in the kueh skins). This is so that participants can experience the original taste of these heritage treats, and take home with them our family’s time-honoured recipes to keep them alive.

Themes

In terms of overarching themes which influence the style and location of the workshops, WWEdibles is always looking to support other smaller independent businesses or talented individuals.

For example, wwedibles collaborated with Frank and ZhiXian of House of Plants (a greenhouse growing and supplying ornamental plants at Punggol) for a dedicated workshop space where we could host guests. Many of you who came for the workshops at House of Plants were in awe of the beautiful plants offered at the location, its rustic red-brick charm and the warmth of the couple offering drinks for guests to enjoy under the shade of passionfruit vines.

Inside House of Plants

The workshops have since moved to be conducted in a quaint black-and-white heritage house in Chip Bee Gardens, which is conveniently located near other famous restaurants and cafes at Holland Village. As the workshops are conducted in the early mornings at 9am, participants get to witness the soft morning light pass through the large fig tree outside the house and the cool morning breeze at the porch.

The workshop spaces are styled to encourage a sense of wellness and to provide an escape from the hustle and bustle of big-city living.

Ahead of the workshop, fertilisers and pesticides from local companies such as MOFPF, BioZapp (supplied by Simon Loh), Bioflora, etc are tested and the results shared with participants.

Another key feature of the workshops is the serving of light refreshments to guests, together with an option of cafe latte or artisanal tea. The refreshments are sourced from home-bakers or cooks who live near the workshop location and these treats are often made in small batches specially for the workshops.

The coffee beans are bought directly from local coffee roasters (such as Yahava or Nylon Coffee) and the tea leaves are also selected from environmentally conscious producers (such as Camellia Tea Bar).

Ultimately, the workshops are aimed at supporting Singapore’s growing community of creatives and makers. WWEdibles also believes in fair transparent pricing and does not take a commission from the bakes or food offered at the workshops.

If you would like to work with WWEdibles for future events, please drop gardenerd.sg@gmail.com an email.

Content

Finally, the workshops are all hands-on with a keen focus on learning-by-doing.

After registration, which is done through payment of the workshop fees, a follow-up email will be sent containing the workshop outline together with the details (location, date, time etc).

Briefly, in the edible flowers workshop, samples of edible flowers are given, together with a talk through the different kinds of edible flowers and a practical session of potting your own flowering plants for taking home.

A similar outline is followed for the asian herbs and fruiting edibles workshops which largely involve learning about different soil and nutrient sources, hands-on mixing of soil and pest management strategies. For the plant-focused workshops, participants should expect to bring home new plants to practice what they’ve learnt during the session.

All materials are provided for our plant-related workshops.

On the other hand, the kueh workshops are focused on the practical skills and techniques of making the various components of the kuehs. From understanding the type of coconut milk used (first press or second press?) or the variety of sweet potatoes (Indonesian honey or purple sweet potato or Japanese?), participants will gain some practical street-knowledge on the making of this traditional treat. An attractive feature of this workshop, is of course, that participants will get to take home steaming hot hand-made kuehs that smell of fragrant coconuts and banana leaf.

Our kueh workshops involve lots of effort and time to prepare from soaking the mung beans a day before to boiling them down and cutting / oiling the banana leafs for the kuehs.

Register

If you’d like to register for the upcoming workshops for the month of Feb – May 2021, please do so through this link: https://forms.gle/p9ByG56ebQL7J8ez8

Kindly note that in compliance with government regulations, workshops are strictly limited to a maximum of 7 pax.

Thank you!

J