Turmeric Fish Balls With Peanut Sauce & So Many Herbs

July 13, 2021
4 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland Prop Stylist: Ali Slagle Food Stylist: Pearl Jones
  • Prep time 25 hours
  • Cook time 45 minutes
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

These bright and herby meatballs are loosely inspired by the Vietnamese classic Chả Cá lã Vọng, a seared or grilled freshwater fish dish seasoned with vibrant turmeric, dill, and fish paste. They’re also a great way to stretch a pound of fish. Start with tender cod, then call in fiery Thai chiles and bright turmeric, ginger, and dill. (Not into cod? This recipe works great with shrimp, halibut, tilapia, and any other lean white fish.) They’re perfect with a rich peanut dressing, fresh herbs, and crisp vegetables, all wrapped in chewy rice paper. If you’re too lazy to build wraps or don’t have any rice paper, it makes just as delicious a salad all tossed together. The mixture of crackers and milk is called panade, and it helps the meatballs stay tender and moist. And we keep things interesting with a combination of cooked (shallot, scallion) and raw (ginger, cilantro) aromatics for layers of flavors. Everything is well mixed until springy and sticky, then allowed to rest before cooking until deeply browned.

Also try my Lamb Meatballs With Tahini Sauce & Red Onion Saladand learn more about how to make juicy, flavorful meatballs with any minced meat here, so you can take meatballs off-script.
Sohla El-Waylly

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Turmeric Fish Balls With Peanut Sauce & So Many Herbs
  • Fish balls
  • 1 cup (2 ounces) oyster crackers
  • 1/2 cup cup whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 5 garlic cloves, smashed, peeled, and finely chopped
  • 1 small shallot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced (both white and green parts)
  • 1 (1-pound) boneless, skinless cod or other flaky white fish fillet
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 (2-inch) piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 medium red or green Thai bird chile, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup (lightly packed) roughly chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems
  • 1/2 cup (lightly packed) roughly chopped dill leaves and tender stems
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Neutral oil, such as safflower or grapeseed, for frying
  • Peanut sauce
  • 1/4 cup full-fat coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened, chunky peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons (or more) fresh lime juice (from about 1 lime)
  • 1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 medium red or green Thai bird chile, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and finely grated
  • 1/4 teaspoon (or more) granulated sugar
  • 1 pinch (or more) kosher salt
  • Fixings
  • 10 to 12 rice paper wrappers
  • 1 head butter lettuce, leaves separated, washed, and dried
  • 3 small Persian cucumbers, cut into 3- to 4-inch matchsticks
  • 2 medium limes, cut into wedges
  • 1/2 cup (lightly packed) cilantro leaves and tender stems
  • 1/2 cup (lightly packed) dill leaves and tender stems
  1. Make the fish balls: In a large bowl, crush the oyster crackers with your fingers into coarse pieces, ranging in size from large cornflakes to panko-sized bits. Add the milk and mix with your hands until moistened and incorporated, but still lumpy. Let rest for 5 minutes.
  2. In a large sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Cook the garlic, shallot, and scallions, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, until tender, translucent, and fragrant. Scrape into the bowl with the oyster cracker mixture.
  3. Pat the cod fillet dry. Using a sharp knife, finely chop the cod until it resembles ground meat. Do not aim for a smooth purée or even a uniform chop—just no pieces larger than a quarter inch.
  4. To the oyster cracker mixture, add the cod, egg, ginger, chile, cilantro, dill, fish sauce, turmeric, and salt. Using your hands, knead together for 3 to 5 minutes, until well combined, slightly sticky, and springy. (Alternatively, mix the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed until well combined and springy, about 1 minute.) Wrap and chill in the refrigerator for ideally 24 hours (if you’re in a rush, you can shorten that to 3 hours; if you want to plan ahead, you can refrigerate for up to 3 days).
  5. Portion the cod mixture with a #16 disher or a 1/4-cup measure (you should get about 14). Wet your hands, then roll the portions between your palms to form smooth balls.
  6. Into a large sauté pan, pour enough oil to come 1/4 inch up the sides of the pan. Heat over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Sear the meatballs on one side for 3 to 4 minutes, until deeply golden brown. Continue to sear, turning the meatballs as needed to brown on all sides, 12 to 15 minutes total, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a meatball registers at least 155°F (it’s okay if they are cooked to a higher temperature), or look white and opaque in the center when split in half. Transfer to a paper towel–lined plate and let rest for 5 minutes.
  7. While the meatballs cook and rest, prepare the peanut sauce: In a medium bowl, whisk the milk, peanut butter, lime juice, tamari, fish sauce, chile garlic, sugar, and salt. Taste and adjust the lime juice, sugar, and/or salt as needed.
  8. To serve, arrange the meatballs on a platter alongside the wrappers, lettuce cucumbers, limes, cilantro, dill, and peanut sauce, plus a shallow bowl or pie plate filled with warm water. Allow diners to dip the wrappers into the water to hydrate and make their own summer rolls.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • brucevilanch
  • Rosalind Paaswell
    Rosalind Paaswell
  • Kimberly Young
    Kimberly Young
  • fortgreenie
Sohla El-Waylly is a Food52 Resident, sharing new riffable recipes every month that'll help you get creative in the kitchen. Watch her cook on YouTube in her new series, Off-Script With Sohla. Before she started developing fun recipes for home cooks, she worked as a chef in N.Y.C. and L.A., briefly owning a restaurant in Brooklyn with her husband and fellow chef, Ham El-Waylly. She lives in the East Village with Ham, their two dogs, and cat. Find out what else she's up to on Instagram @sohlae

10 Reviews

brucevilanch June 26, 2023
Turned out perfect
fortgreenie November 6, 2021
I have a question, I'm trying to stay on a keto diet -- do you think these could be made with mayonnaise to replace the crackers and milk?
Rosalind P. August 8, 2021
Oyster crackers? Not in my pantry, ever. Surely there is a workable option or two? And no one I know keeps them. One said he had a couple of those cellophane packets from a long ago restaurant order. I'll try something and post the results.
kjanew September 6, 2021
I saw her make these on her YouTube show and she says you can use any kind of crackers, she just thought it was fun to stick with the seafood theme.
Rosalind P. November 6, 2021
Very helpful. Thanks. Two things: I should have used my common sense to figure that out and perhaps she might have mentioned it anyway, for dummies like me.
Rosalind P. November 6, 2021
And one other thing: recipe calls for whole milk in the fishballs. Any milk works. if you are worried about the fat missing if you use skim or low-fat, add a dab of mayo. Works beautifully.
charlenesilver July 30, 2021
This is an amazing recipe. I didn’t have oyster crackers so went off script a little bit. Used crackers I had in the pantry. Even though it was sitting for 24hrs the end mixture was fairly wet. First trial frying of the meatball broke apart. Added some panko and it completely did the trick! Will be making this again :)
Kimberly Y. July 13, 2021
These took some effort, but as Sohla said in her video - well worth the effort. Even my fish adverse husband ate these up. Super tasty!
Jessamin July 5, 2021
These herby fish balls are incredible and I will definitely be making them often. I only had about 5 hours to let the fix mixture rest and, although I'll plan for a longer rest next time, they were so good that I can't believe the shorter rest time mattered that much? Super crispy and flavorful meatball. I made the peanut sauce as well (so good!) and also went with the previous reviewer's suggestion of a simple nuoc cham and was happy to have two dipping sauce for variety. 10/10 will make many more times.
EmiBee June 10, 2021
A bit more work than classic Chả Cá lã Vọng, but the flavors are dead on. Makes a really delicious crispy meatball. Definitely plan ahead to let the fishball mix rest and I would recommend the stand mixer option if you have it. For a simpler sauce, I went with nuoc cham instead of the peanut and would 100% recommend.