January 16, 2020

Fried Dace Fish Ball Patties 香煎鯪魚餅

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By Published: 2020-01-16
These Fried Dace Fish Ball Patties 香煎鯪魚餅  are a delicious seafood treat originally from Shunde 順德 and now a local HK favorite, though usually served up in the form of steamed or deep fried balls.  We love the fragrant golden skin that comes with frying but, since we don't often deep fry at home, we flatten our fish paste balls so that we can just pan fry them instead.  

These tasty patties are made with the paste of the dace fish 鯪魚, much loved for its sweet, firm, flavorful meat.  The dace fish paste is used in many delicious dishes like Three Fried Stuffed Treasures 煎釀三寶 and Watercress & Fish Ball Soup 鯪魚球西洋菜湯.   The fish itself is used to make the fabulous and famous canned Fried Dace with Salted Black Bean 豆豉鯪魚.

Dace fish illustration from 'Annals of the Carnegie Museum" 1919

The dace 鯪魚 is a native to China freshwater fish also known as the mud carp.  It's a small fish, around 8" or so and prized by the southern Chinese for its very tasty sweet meat.  The only thing is, this fish is chock full of thin bones.  I don't think I've ever seen a fish with so many bones!  

Which would usually mean it's pretty inedible but our clever Chinese ancestors just chopped up the whole thing, bones and all, to make a paste which they then used to shape into balls, patties, or just to stuff vegetables with or even to stuff back into the hollowed out dace fish which they then deep fried to a golden crispy deliciousness (a classic Shunde dish!)

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You can make your own dace fish paste 鯪魚滑 by pulverizing roughly chopped fresh dace fish meat in a food processor, bones and all. Don't worry about the bones, once pulverized the bones disappear, becoming a part of the texture of the paste.

We didn't make ours though, just bought it at the local wet market where it is easily available.  Many of the fish vendors sell seasoned dace fish paste but we have found that MSG is often one of the 'seasonings' so we prefer to buy plain fish paste and flavor it ourselves.  

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The flavorings traditionally used to season the dace paste are some of the most classic in the Cantonese repertoire.  The first must have is dried shrimp 蝦乾 which imparts an intense shrimpy nutty flavor.  You can even eat them out of the packet, they're that good!  

These can be found in any Chinese grocery store.  Look for dried shrimp that look fresh and clean, are a vibrant orange color and slightly flexible to the touch as opposed those that look dried and brownish and are stiff to the touch.

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This next seasoning is in a class all its own.  The dried tangerine peel 陳皮, also known as Chen Pi, is the air dried peel of a specific orange from Xinhui 新會, Guangdong 廣東.  

The peel is soaked until softened, the bitter white pith is scraped off with a knife, and then chopped and added to the paste.  The taste of chen pi is unique, an aged slightly spicy, slightly bitter citrusy flavor that, once tasted, is never forgotten.  It can be added to both sweet and savory dishes.  

I personally think that the key to a really outstanding dace paste is the quality of your chen pi.

Chen pi can be bought packaged at your Chinese grocery store or get it straight from the fruit vendors at your local wet market.  You'll known it's time to buy when you see long stringed garlands of chen pi hang drying from the ceilings at the market stalls.  When buying check that the peels are dried properly, no mold and they should smell nice and citrusy.  

Or, better yet, do as we did and make your own chen pi at home!  It's easy peasy and you'll have enough chen pi for years!

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Spring onion

Two more seasonings to go and they are the two things that rarely get mentioned but are absolutely necessary to cook Chinese.  We need these two guys pretty much everyday!  First is the wonderful cilantro with its fresh, slightly bitter, citrusy taste.  

And then there is the spring onion.  So humble a veg and yet so powerful in taste.  A little bit sprinkled over, a couple of sprigs added to your stir fry can lift your dish to the next level.  Shoot, it can even be the main event like in one of my favorite Chinese noodle the Shanghai Spring Onion Scallion Noodles 葱油拌面...YUM!  

Once you've mixed up the fish paste with the four seasonings it's time for the secret trick to great fish balls and patties...THE THROW.  And what the heck is 'the throw' you might ask?  The throw is the technique of getting your paste to be light and airy and thus firm and bouncy when cooked.  

Scoop up the paste in one hand, aim and throw hard back into the bowl  (a big wide bowl is VERY useful in this situation.)  After throwing for a while you will see the texture of the paste transform, becoming more cohesive and shiny.  The number of throws required varies from 10 or so (for lazy ones like me) to 50 and above (for serious food folk like my 老公.)  I think it's up to your preference.

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Fermented clam sauce 蜆蚧
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A bite of patty...yum!

I hope that you can see now that these Fried Dace Fish Patties are packed to the brim with goodness.  Yummy tummy goodness in every single bite!  And it doesn't stop there my friends...cuz there's also the traditional dipping sauce (photo left) for dace patties or balls, the fermented clam sauce 蜆蚧, a pungent and feisty sauce made of small clams brined in salt, chinese wine, ginger and chen pi.  

This delicious sauce reminds me of certain cheeses - very pungent but also very, very tasty!  We buy ours at the local wet market cuz supermarkets don't seem to carry this item.  

These Fried Dace Fish Ball Patties are to serve as part of a Chinese dinner or lunch.  Or even better as snack for when you have drinks, it goes so good with a cold beer!  Or just for a regular ol' snack, these little patties go down a treat with some hot tea.  Or to go with a bowl of noodles...yumm...the possibilities of a good time with these fried dace patties are endless!!

Fried Dace Fish Ball Patties Recipe

Prep time: Cook time:



Soak the dried tangerine peel in hot water to cover.  When soft, remove and carefully use small knife to scrape off the white pith and then mince.  

Mince the dried shrimps.  Wash and dry the cilantro then chop finely.  Wash and dry the spring onions, chop finely.  

Add shrimp, chen pi, cilantro, spring onions, salt and pepper to the fish paste and mix thoroughly in a large wide bowl.  Scrape up a handful of the paste and throw with force back into the bowl.  Repeat 20-30 times until texture changes and paste is shiny.  

Wet hands slightly to prevent sticking.  Separate paste into eight equal size balls, then press down lightly on each one until a patty is formed.  

Heat large frying pan over medium heat.  When hot add 2-3 tbsp oil and add in the patties.  Fry for 2-3 mins or until golden brown.  Flip and repeat, adding more oil if necessary.  Remove from heat.  

Arrange on serving plate, garnish with cilantro leaves and serve with dipping saucer of fermented clam sauce.  Enjoy!



  1. Hi, some images not loading, sounds delish though!

    1. Thanks for catching that...I've fixed it now! ~ellen

  2. Where can I get the fermented clam sauce?

  3. Hi Bwu - you can find fermented clam sauce in HK at the local wet markets. Look for shops that sell sauces. In other areas I would look for it in the Chinese supermarkets. It can be a bit hard to find but totally worth it, it's an amazing sauce! ~ellen