fishball

Long live fish balls! But where’s the fish?  

ADMCF Dining, Health, Overfishing

Hong Kongers love fish balls for the aroma of fresh fish and their springy texture. These little balls go down well as a quick bite, in a hot pot or a noodle soup! In 2012, the local media Apple Daily reported that Hong Kong consumed a whopping 375 million of fish balls each day [1].

Commercial fish balls are widely available both at retails and restaurants. What are fish balls made out of? Traditionally, fish balls were made of fish once widely available in Hong Kong waters, for example, golden thread-fin bream, lizardfish or conger eel, to create the unique taste, elasticity and tenderness of the fish ball. However, overfishing depleted the local marine resources, as a result, golden thread-fin bream, and lizardfish have become much harder to find, according to some fishermen and fish balls manufacturers, they said “these were cheap fish because of their abundant supply in the past, nowadays they are much harder to find and much smaller even if they are available in the market”. Golden thread-fin bream, once a popular fish served at household dinner tables had become a vulnerable species on the IUCN red list [2], nowadays Hong Kong people are paying much more for this fish and they are usually juveniles as its population declines. A local fishery assessment in 1998 had also found one of Hong Kong’s commercially valuable lizardfish species (Saurida tumbil) overexploited in local waters[3].

How about the fish ball recipe nowadays? Some fish balls manufacturers keep no secret of what they use to produce these balls that is why consumers can easily learn that ingredients such as chemicals enhancers, pork or even lard are used in the production! However, one key fact that some manufacturers do not disclose is usually about the fish. Hong Kong does not currently have any regulation to impose accurate labelling of retailed fish to species level, so instead of listing out the species, origin and catch method that will help consumers make the right choice, the manufacturers replace them with just two words – ‘fish meat’, and this is very likely small fish that was caught as an unwanted byproduct of little or no economic value, and usually too young to breed.

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The demand for fish is driven by our need for protein or simply because it tastes good. Now that this demand is the main driver of overfishing, giving fish very little or no time to replenish for future supply. Fish balls might become a fond memory of Hong Kong people, let alone the many marine species that are facing extinction, unless we eat less fish and start to look for a more sustainable option. But look no further, Chef David Chan from restaurant Gitone and seafood supplier Fish Monk joined Choose Right Today in addressing the issue of overfishing and how both businesses and consumers can choose right by doing just a little. Chef David introduced a sustainable fish ball recipe at a blind tasting workshop organized by Foodie in March.  You will be surprised how easy it is to make your own sustainable fish balls! Check out the recipe below.

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Part 1: Chinese-style fish balls

Makes: 40 fish balls

Ingredients:

1kg frozen Pangasius fillets from Fish Monk

  • 2 egg whites
  • 200mL ice water
  • sprinkle of black pepper
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp chicken powder
  • 2 tbsp cornflour

Method:

  1. Defrost and wash fish fillets.
  2. Place fillets in a food processor and blend until the mixture has the consistency of a paste.
  3. Place the blended mixture into a large bowl. Add the egg whites, ice water, pepper, salt and chicken powder. Mix together with your hands until fully combined into a paste.
  4. In a small bowl, add a little water to the cornflour – just enough for the mixture to turn into liquid form. Add this cornflour mixture to the fish paste and knead with your hands until well-combined.
  5. Shape the paste into balls using your hands.
  6. Set aside the raw fish balls.

Part 2: Fish balls with flat rice noodles and soup

Serves: 1 (adjust the recipe according to party size and appetite)

Ingredients:

  • 45 fish balls (as prepared above)
  • 1 bowl flat rice noodles
  • 2–3L water
  • few slices ginger
  • 3–5 pieces dried scallop (conpoy, 元貝) from Japanese or Chinese scallop farms*
  • salt, to taste
  • fried garlic (optional)
  • chopped shallot (optional)

Method:

  1. To make the soup, boil the dried scallop and ginger in about 1L water and leave the mixture to simmer for 1 hour. Add salt to taste, then set aside.
  2. Bring a pot of water to the boil, put in the fish balls and lower to medium heat. Let the balls simmer for about 6 min, or until they turn from pink to opaque and float to the top.
  3. Cook the rice noodles separately in another pot of boiling water.
  4. Put the cooked noodles into a bowl, together with the fish balls, and pour over the soup.
  5. Serve the dish with fried garlic and chopped shallot.

*Editor’s note: although the classic soup recipe uses dried shrimp, we recommend dried scallop as an alternative because shrimp are usually, if not always, caught by destructive fishing methods (i.e., bottom trawling) that negatively impact marine ecosystems. Shrimp can be farmed, but most shrimp farms are poorly managed; the addition of antibiotics and chemicals to shrimp ponds also pollutes the surrounding environment. So choose scallops from Japanese or Chinese scallop farms for a healthy and yummy soup – or go with chicken broth or vegetables alone!

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[1] http://hk.apple.nextmedia.com/news/art/20020808/2761154

[2] http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/154900/0

[3] (ERM, 1998)