Crispy, round, flavorful, fried snacks frequently eaten at festive gatherings….think of these little fish cakes as Thai latkes. Thai fried fish cakes are everywhere in Thailand, sold from street vendors and market stalls all over the coasts. Furthermore, fish cakes and fish balls are consumed throughout Asia as a snack, as a tasty side dish, or in dishes where they are used as a flavoring.
What Exactly Is A Fish Cake?
I suppose the closest American equivalent would be Maryland crab cakes, except they don’t have any breading or batter to distract from the briny seafood flavor. Fish cakes, patties, balls, etc. are a combination of ground fish, some starch, egg whites, and flavorings. Commercial products typically contain preservatives or stabilizers as well. The result is a bouncy, chewy ball of seafood goodness. Sounds amazing, right?
Thai fish cakes are a delicious celebration of the sea infused with aromatic Thai flavors. These cakes are usually deep fried, but my streamlined version achieves the same crispy goodness by panfrying, which is a lot less messy and allows you to call them “lightly fried” with a straight face. Flavored with kaffir lime leaves and red curry paste, and served with a sweet and tart dipping sauce, these fish cakes are jam packed with intensity and eating these is as close as I’m going to get to a Thai beach vacation this year.
Let’s Get Cooking!
First Make the Dipping Sauce:
The sauce for Thai Fish Cakes is addictive, and super easy to make. The tamarind pulp adds a sweet-sour note, and the rice wine vinegar brings a mild tanginess. The sauce can be made a day or two ahead (just keep the cucumbers separate until you’re ready to serve), making this an ideal holiday party dish. To make it, first slice the cucumber into thin pieces, then cut the slices into matchsticks, and finally cut across the cucumber sticks to create a fine dice.
Then finely mince the garlic, herbs, chilis, and shallots. Put the cucumbers, chilis, shallots, and chopped herbs into a bowl.
Next heat the tamarind pulp, sugar, rice wine vinegar, cornstarch, water, salt, minced garlic, and pepper in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Cook while stirring until the sauce thickens. Take it off the heat and allow the dipping sauce to come to room temperature. Stir in the shallot and cucumbers, and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve the fish cakes. This sauce is pleasantly sweet and sour, but it’s not nearly as sweet as the bottled sauces commonly served with fish cakes. Feel free to adjust the sugar by adding more to suit your taste.
And Now For the Cakes:
The first thing I do is whisk the egg whites into soft, foamy peaks and set aside. This will give the cakes a nice chewy but airy texture. You can either do this by hand or with a mixer.
Then I thinly slice the green beans, and mix it with the minced garlic, salt, and sugar and set that aside as well.
Now it’s time to move on to the fish, the star of the show! I prefer a really mild, flaky white fish for these cakes. Inexpensive tilapia fillets work well here, as does snapper, which is what I used. More assertive or oily fishes like tuna or swordfish are not a good choice. First, slice the fish into strips and then cut the strips into large cubes.
Second, remove the stems from the kaffir lime leaves and chiffonade them, which is just a fancy way of saying roll up the leaves like a cigar and then slice them into thin ribbons. Then, in order to get the kaffir lime leaves very fine, I take my knife through it a couple of times to ensure extra small pieces.
Skip Tradition On This One
Traditionally, the fish and seasonings are pounded by hand to make a smooth paste, but a food processor makes very quick work of it. Just add the fish chunks first and process until the fish is minced. I chose to leave the skin on because I like the chewy texture it adds. If you aren’t a fan of fish skin, feel free to use skinless filets, or remove it. (Make sure your fish has had the scales removed if you are leaving the skin on! No one is going to want to eat it otherwise.) Once the fish is finely minced, add in the rice flour, curry paste, and kaffir limes and process until it is a thick, smooth paste.
Shape the Cakes:
At this point, you will add the fish paste to the sliced green beans, and thoroughly mix. Finally, you want to gently fold in the egg whites.
To portion the mixture, use an ice cream scoop to measure out about 1/4 cup for each ball, and then shape them into a patty. (I find ice cream scoops to be the best, and least messy way, to portion out sticky batters and doughs. With this technique, each patty is the same size, and cooks for the same time.) Lay the fish cakes on a large plate or tray as you shape them. You can cover them and keep in the fridge for a couple hours until you are ready to fry.
Finally, heat half of your oil. When it is shimmering and hot, gently lay about half your fish cakes down, careful not to overcrowd the pan. Fry for 3 minutes, and then flip and fry the other side for 2 minutes. They should be brown and crispy! Repeat with the remaining oil and fish cakes, and then serve piping hot with the dipping sauce! Close your eyes and pretend you are relaxing on a gorgeous beach in Thailand.
I can’t wait for you to try my Thai Fried Fish Cakes! I know you are going to love their authentic flavor. Try pairing them with Ginger Saketinis for a fun, celebratory dinner or cocktail party. If you make them, we want to hear all about it. Leave a comment, tag us @funkyasiankitchen on Instagram- show us the goods!Print
For Fish Cakes:
- 2 large egg whites
- 2 cloves large garlic, minced
- 6 green beans, sliced thin
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 6 kaffir lime leaves, hard stem on back removed
- 1 lb tilapia, snapper, or other mild white fish cut into large chunks (do not use tuna, swordfish, or flounder)
- 2 tablespoons canned red curry paste or use homemade
- 1 tablespoon rice flour or cornstarch
- 8 tablespoons oil for cooking
- 2 tablespoon tamarind pulp
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- ¼ cup water
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ⅛ freshly ground black pepper
- 3 serrano chilies finely minced (optional)
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large or 2 small shallots, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
- ¼ European cucumber
Make Fish Cakes:
- Beat the egg whites in a bowl with a whisk until foamy-like a soft peak meringue. In another large bowl combine the greens beans, garlic, salt, and sugar.
- Roll the leaves of the kaffir lime tightly like a cigarette and slice across as thinly as possible.
- In a food processor, process the fish until it is coarsely chopped. Then add the rice flour, curry paste, and kaffir lime leaves and continue processing for 30 seconds to 1 minute until it is a smooth thick paste. Add it to the bowl of green beans. Mix everything together and then gently fold in the egg whites. (Mix 1/2 of the egg whites into the fish mixture first to lighten the base. Then add the rest of the egg whites, gently folding them into the mixture, keeping as much of the air as possible.)
Portion, Shape, and Fry:
- Portion the patties using either an ice cream scoop or a large spoon-about ¼ cup. Using your hands, shape the patties, dipping your hands lightly in water to keep the fish from sticking to your hands. Place the fish patties on a large plate or tray. (The mixture can be a little sticky, so you can first line your tray with plastic wrap to keep your paties from sticking to the tray.)
- Heat 4 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
- Gently place 6-8 patties into the pan and cook for 3 mins. Flip them and cook for another 2 mins. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate to drain off oil. Cook off the remaining patties the same way adding more oil as needed.
- Serve hot with dipping sauce.
For the Dipping Sauce:
- In a small saucepan combine tamarind pulp, sugar, rice wine vinegar, cornstarch, water, minced garlic, salt, and pepper.
- Stir the mixture and set the pot on medium high heat and continue to stir until the mixture thickens 1-2 mins.
- Let the sauce cool to room temperature.
- While you are waiting for the sauce to cool down, slice the cucumber. Then stack the slices and cut it again into thin strips. Finally stack the cucumber strips and cut across them to create a fine dice. Put the diced cucumbers into a bowl.
- Add the serrano chilis, chopped shallots, and cilantro to the bowl of cucumbers.
- Pour the cooled sauce over the chopped veggies and stir to combine. Refrigerate until ready to serve fish cakes. Taste the sauce before serving and adjust seasoning as needed.
*The sauce can be made ahead and stored for a couple days in the fridge. Prep and keep the cucumbers separate until you are closer to serving. Cucumbers give off a lot of water and will make your sauce diluted if added in too early.
*This sauce is tart-sweet. Add a teaspoon or more sugar as desired.