Vietnamese Fish Cakes with Dill – Cha Ca Thi La

These Vietnamese fish cakes are wonderfully crispy and golden on the outside while being smooth and springy on the inside. Made with classic Vietnamese flavours, these fish cakes will make a great accompaniment to soups, sandwiches or a hot bowl of jasmine rice!

My mother’s fish cake recipe is something that has made her quite popular with her friends. This made it a real struggle to get this recipe for you guys. I had to make the point that if anything ever happened to her… then all these fantastic recipes she has in her head will be lost forever! A little dramatic, I know, but you guys don’t know my mother.

Vietnamese Fish Cakes

Unlike its famous counterpart tod mun pla (Thai fish cakes), the Vietnamese version is not usually eaten by itself. You will usually find it on rice, with noodles, in soups or sandwiched between two slices of bread. This is because the Vietnamese version is much milder than the Thai version, which makes it a great accompaniment to many other dishes.

Cha Ca 4.1

Fish Cake Aesthetics!

A good Vietnamese fish cake should be smooth and have a springy texture to it. The traditional recipes also have a few aesthetic rules – the outside layer should be completely golden and the inside part has to be uniformly white. This means adding ingredients like white pepper instead of black, and using only the white part of the spring onions.

However, as you can see from the pictures, my recipe is all about showing off ingredients. I love seeing bits of colour throughout the cake, it keeps things interesting and it’s a visual reminder of the delicious flavour combination in each cake.

Cha Ca 2.1

Types of Fish to Use

My mother and I have tried many different types of fish when testing out this recipe, but there has only been a few that have worked. My top picks are Nile Perch, Spanish Mackerel and Talapia. These fish have white firm flesh which is absolutely essential. Most other fish tend to be too flakey which gives the fish cake an undesirable mash potato texture.

Freezing the Fish Cakes

This fish cakes freeze very well. All you need to do is the following:

  1. When the fish has been blitzed into a paste and kneaded, put the fish paste into a freezer bag and into the freezer.
  2. When you want to cook the fish cakes, take it out of the freezer and let it completely thaw out. Do not microwave!
  3. Mold the fish cake mixture into patties and then fry.
Cha Ca 3.1

My Tips for Success

  • It is very important to blitz the fish into a paste first before adding the dill. This will stop the cake from going green.
  • Kneading the fish cakes is really important. Getting rid of large air pockets out of the fish cakes will stop it falling apart. It will also keep the inside nice and smooth.
  • This recipe is also a good one for fish balls to put in soups.

Other Fried Recipes

If you are prone to being lazy like me, you could save yourself the trouble and buy packaged fish cakes from your local Asian groceries… but honestly these are worth making yourself. It’s really not that hard, and you’ll have peace of mind knowing what exactly has gone in it. Besides, as Mum would assure you, they are a surefire way to win a few friends!

– Scruff


Vietnamese Fish Cakes - Cha Ca Thi La

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Course: Rice dish or accompaniment for soups, noodles and sandwiches

Author: Scruff

Recipe: Mum

Ingredients

  • 900 gm / 2 lb of boneless fish fillets (Nile perch, Tilapia or Spanish mackerel)
  • 1/2 cup of potato starch
  • 3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 10 gm of dill, finely chopped
  • 2 trimmed spring onions, chopped

Seasoning

  • 2 tbsp (30 ml) of fish sauce
  • 3 tbsp / (45 ml) of canola oil
  • 3 tbsp / (45 ml) of ice water
  • 1/2 a tsp of baking powder
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 2 tsp of sugar
  • cracked pepper
  • 1 birds eye chilli, finely chopped (optional)

Directions

  1. Rinse the fish fillets under cold water and remove any bones.
  2. Cut the fish into cubes and combine with the potato starch in a mixing bowl.
  3. Add the seasoning ingredients to the fish and mix thoroughly.
  4. Divide the fish cake mixture into 3 portions.
  5. In a food processor, blitz each portion for 20 seconds.
  6. Once one portion has been blitzed, add the dill, garlic and shallot to the mixture and blitz for another 10 seconds. (Note 1)
  7. Repeat this process for each portion until all the fish is a fine paste. (Note 2)
  8. Add a few drops of oil into a freezer bag and evenly spread it inside the bag.
  9. Add the fish cake mixture into the bag. Push the air out and then tie the bag up.
  10. Put the bag with the fish cake mixture into another freezer bag. Push out as much air as you can and tie it up.
  11. Gently knead the fish cake mixture while it is in the freezer bags for 5 mins with your hands. (Note 3)
  12. Drop the mixture about 10 times from a height of an arm length.
  13. Put the fish cake mixture in the fridge for 30 mins to chill.
  14. After 30 minutes, put some oil on your hands and mold 5 cm length by 2 cm thick round fish patties or any shape you desire. (Note 4)
  15. In a pan, shallow fry each patty on medium for about 3-4 mins on each side or until golden. Then drain on kitchen towels or a cooling rack.

Cooking Notes

  1. Do not add the dill and the spring onions while initially blitzing the fish. This is because the dill and spring onion will all be minced and turn your fish cakes green.
  2. Keep the fish cake mixture as cold as possible. This will ensure the fish cakes develops and maintains the springy / firm texture.
  3. The reason for kneading the mixture is to remove large air bubbles in the fish cake mixture.
  4. The fish cakes will rise and gain volume while shallow frying so do not make them too thick. Any fish cake above 3 cm thickness may struggle to fully cook without burning the outer layer.

8 thoughts on “Vietnamese Fish Cakes with Dill – Cha Ca Thi La

  1. This looks absolutely delicious especially coming from your mum. Will definitely try it one day. Thanks for the recipe.

    1. Hi Mary! Yes. Once you have made the fish into a paste, you can store it in the freezer until needed. I am not sure how long it lasts, but I have had mine for 6 months and they were completly fine. Thanks for leaving a comment!

  2. Hi, for steps 11-12, do u mean to use the same fish cake mixture in the freezer bag to knead for 5mins and drop it fr 10times fr a height?
    Sorry not very clear on this. Tks

    1. Hi! Sorry, I fixed it to make it clearer. So yes, knead the fish cake mixture while its in the freezer bags. Thanks for the comment!

Leave a Reply