Chinese Hot Pot is a meal that consists of a burner at your table, over which a hot pot (hence the name) of broth sits. A bunch of various meats and vegetables are brought out for you to cook in this broth as you wish. One item that is always present at the place I've experienced Hot Pot at is fish balls.
There are several fish paste shapes, flavors and forms, but my favorite are fish balls that are filled with a flavorful pork. When it was suggested these be my next Year of The Balls attempt, I hesitated. Fish paste? Can I make that? After some research, I found this recipe, which calmed me down. Very simple. Although I must admit, the act of putting raw fish into a food processor brought to mind the Bassomatic...
These were easy balls to make, even though they look complicated. I made the pork in a slow-cooker a day ahead, and also made the fish paste a day ahead. Forming the balls is quick because the fish paste is not sticky. And they cook in mere minutes! These were really good. My Chinese "consultant" commented that they were not as chewy as ones he is used to (you can by frozen fish balls at Asian grocery stores). This is true, and I believe it's because I used easily accessible cornstarch in place of the recommended arrowroot starch. The texture is not bad at all, though... in fact, the cornstarch fish balls might have a more Western-palate-friendly (fluffier) texture than traditional (gummier) fish balls.
Fish PasteAdapted from Red Cook recipe-1 lb. white fish (pollock, cod, or similar)-1/2 cup corn starch (the original recipe recommends arrowroot starch for a chewier consistency)-2 egg whites-3 ice cubes-2 teaspoon salt-1/2 teaspoon white pepperCut the fish into small cubes. Place all the ingredients except the ice cubes into your food processor. Pulse to get started, then puree until smooth. Add ice cubes and continue to process until the ice is completely Incorporated. Paste will be thick and elastic. Refrigerate for about 1 hour before forming into balls.Sweet Asian pork-1 lb. country pork ribs with bone-thumb-sized knob of ginger, roughly sliced (no need to peel)-4 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled-1 shallot, roughly chopped-1 lime cut into wedges-1/2 cup soy sauce-2 teaspoons fish sauce-1/2 teaspoon sesame oil-1 Tablespoon Chinese Five spice (or sub 1 teaspoon each ginger, coriander, white pepper, black pepper, cinnamon, cayenne pepper)-1 cup waterPlace everything in a slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours. Remove meat from bone and chop finely. There will be extra once you make the balls, but it's pretty hard to make a slow-cooked pork recipe with less than a pound of meat. Use leftover meat in fresh springrolls or on salads.To make pork-filled fish balls:Grab about 2 teaspoons worth of fish paste (paste is not very sticky, but if you ned to, wet your hands to make it easier to work with), and form into a disc. Make a slight indention in the middle and add a slight pinch (like a 1/2 teaspoon) of pork. Pinch the sides of the paste up over the pork and gently roll into a ball. Repeat until you are out of fish paste (as stated in pork recipe above, there will be leftover pork. you can substitute chinese sausage if you want). Cook balls in boiling salted water for 3-5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and serve in soup with chicken stock, noodles, shredded cabbage, green onions, etc. You can also serve over rice with fresh vegetables.
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