How to Make Fish Paste

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Q: What do Fish Balls, Fish Cake slices, Thai Fish Cakes, Otak-Otak and Yong Tau Foo (stuffed tofu & vegetables) have in common? A: They’re all made with fish paste.

This recipe was taught to me by my brother CS Tang (minister of Cornerstone Presbyterian Community Church) back when I had my restaurant. The reason he was my go-to guy was that he had mastered the art of making Yong Tau Foo, a Tang-family favourite, and a dish I wanted to add to my menu. As with all recipes Malaysian-derived, all the quantities are “agak-agak” ie. guesstimates, so keep this in mind when experimenting.

Yong Tau Foo from my restaurant days

Yong Tau Foo from my restaurant days. Photo by Andrew Rose.

Here in Sydney our go-to fish used to be redfish fillets but they seem to be harder and harder to come by, and they’re quite expensive nowadays as well. In this video, I used a mackerel cutlet which required me to de-skin and debone before use, but it’s pretty easy to achieve with a spoon, by scraping the meat on the grain.

Quick note – I would usually use a food processor for making fish paste with but in this video, I’m using an attachment for my blender (I don’t have a food processor in my home kitchen). This attachment comes with flat blades as opposed to the vertical ones you would find in a regular blender, to (hopefully) simulate a food processor in functionality.

Click here to watch on YouTube –

Fish Paste Recipe –

1 kg fish fillets – redfish, mackerel, herring or featherback

cold water




tapioca flour or cornflour

 Method –

  1. Transfer about 2 cups of fish fillets into food processor bowl.
  2. Add 1 Tbsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, 3 Tbsp tapioca flour, 1 tsp msg & ½ cup water.
  3. Pulse, adding another ½ cup water in stages until a bouncy paste is achieved.
  4. Remove and repeat until all the fish fillets are used up. Adjust water amount as appropriate to make sure product isn’t too dense or too watery.

Hints and Tips with Fish Paste –

  • Not all fish is suitable for making fish paste with – mackerel, featherback and redfish are popular because of their “starchiness”.
  • Uses for fish paste – steamed fish balls, fried fish balls, yong tau foo (stuffed vegetables), fish cakes, otak-otak, etc.
  • Do not process the fish too long in a food processor; the heat from the blades could start to “cook” the fish making the batch unworkable.
  • Under hot and humid conditions you could use a combination of ice cubes and water to process the fish, to prevent it from “cooking”.
  • To give the fish paste some “bounce” you scoop it up and throw it back in the mixing bowl about 20 times. I find some types of fish require less “throwing” than others to achieve this bounciness.

Other points –  

  • You can find frozen fish paste in Asian fish shops or grocery stores – these are sometimes flavoured with salt and sugar, and other times unflavoured. You can adjust the flavours to taste.
  • Commercial, prepared fish paste almost invariably has a lower ratio of fish in it than the homemade variety. Likewise with commercial fish balls and fish cakes, which at worst can be pretty tasteless, hence why this is one recipe and skill worth adding to your repertoire.
  • FYI fish paste can be mixed with minced meat or minced dried shrimp in some recipes or variations of same (eg. in Hakka-style Yong Tau Foo).

I’ll be making more videos showing how to use fish paste, so to make sure you don’t miss them, subscribe to my YouTube channel by clicking HERE.

Otak-Otak made with fish paste

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