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.
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.
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:
- When the fish has been blitzed into a paste and kneaded, put the fish paste into a freezer bag and into the freezer.
- When you want to cook the fish cakes, take it out of the freezer and let it completely thaw out. Do not microwave!
- Mold the fish cake mixture into patties and then fry.
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 and exploding. It will also keep the inside nice, smooth and consistent.
- This recipe is also a good one for fish balls to put in soups.
- Any fish cake above 3 cm thickness may struggle to fully cook without burning the outer layer.
Other Fried Recipes
- Vietnamese Spring Rolls – Cha Gio
- Vegan Spring Rolls
- Prawn and Sweet Potato Cakes – Banh Tom
- Fried Bread Stick – Dau Chao Quay
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!
Vietnamese Fish Cakes – Cha Ca Thi La
- 900 gm boneless fish fillets, cubed
- 1/2 cup potato starch
- 2 spring onions, finely chopped
- 10 gm dill, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 3 tbsp canola oil
- 3 tbsp ice water
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- ½ tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp sugar
- pepper to taste
- Prep all your ingredients. Clean your fish fillets and remove any bones.
- Get a large freezer bag (or zip lock bag) and add 1 tsp of oil. Spread the oil evenly inside the bag and leave aside until needed.
- Cut the fish into small cubes. Coat the fish with the potato starch in a mixing bowl.
- Add the seasoning ingredients to the fish. Mix well.
- Divide the the fish into 2 -3 equal portions (depending on the size of your food processor). Do the same with the dill and spring onions but keep them separate from the fish.
- In a food processor, blitz each fish portion for roughly 30 seconds. Check the fish for consistency. If there are still chunks, continue to blitz until smooth.
- Add one portion of the dill / spring onions mix and blitz for another 10 seconds.
- Scoop the fish cake mixture out and place it into the freezer bag. Repeat until all the fish is done.
- Push out as much air as you can from the freezer bag and then tie it up. Put the fish bag in another freezer bag.
- Knead the fish cake mixture, for 5 minutes. Then drop the fish bag 10 times from a height to push out any air bubbles.
- Put the fish cake mixture in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
- Once chilled, take the fish cakes out of the fridge. Put some oil on your hands and mold fish paste into 5 cm long x 2 cm thick round patties or into balls.
- In a pot on medium heat, deep fry each patty for roughly 4 minutes on each side or until golden. If making fish balls, roughly 3 minutes in total.
- Once done, take the fish cakes / balls out and check for doneness. If cooked, let them rest on a kitchen towels . If not, cook them until done.