Fish Cakes (Cha Ca)

Golden Fried Fish Cakes - So Easy to Make! | recipe from runawayrice.comIf you’re not a big fish fan because of the ‘fishy’ taste or smell, these fish cakes are the perfect compromise.  The fish is lightly seasoned, processed into a smooth paste and can then be fried, steamed or baked.  You will love how amazing these cakes taste with their unique, springy texture.  The best part is they are made from scratch and that means no fillers or preservatives like the store-bought counterparts.  Learn this easy recipe and you’ll never buy the stuff from the store again.  Enjoy!

Notes on the recipe, tips and tricks

Tilapia or mackerel are great fish to use in this recipe.  Tilapia is more convenient to buy.  If you don’t mind cleaning mackerel, this fish is perfect for this recipe.  Stay away from catfish or swai.  These types of fish yield really soft and mushy cakes.  Rock cod is also a good fish to use.

The tilapia fillets can be fresh or frozen and then thawed.  Slightly frozen fillets work best and will reduce the chill time.

The trick to getting the slightly chewy and springy texture is to not let the fish get warm or to room temperature.  The fish needs to be cold at all times prior to cooking.  This means keeping the fish chilled during the trip home from the grocery store and keeping it in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.  Do not let the fish sit on the counter.  Do not rinse it with warm water.

Chilling times may vary depending on your freezer and how much food you have in it.  Try to place the fish on a separate shelf so there’s plenty of cool air circulating around it.  Using a metal pan or bowl also helps to chill it faster.  The 1 1/2-2 hours chilling time is for completely thawed fish.  Reduce the time if your fish is partially frozen.

When pulsing, if the fish starts to get warm, put the entire prep bowl in the freezer and chill for 10 minutes.  Depending on your food processor, it may take 5 minutes or more to pulse the fish into a smooth paste.  Keep at it and avoid the temptation to just let it process continuously as this will overwork the fish and make the cakes mushy.

When shaping the cakes, press the paste firmly to remove any large air pockets.  A few small bubbles in the cakes are normal.

The fish paste can be frozen for up to 3 months and used as needed.

The fish cakes can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.  Freeze any remaining by wrapping the cakes individually in plastic wrap and then placing them in a re-sealable plastic bag.  The fish cakes or balls can be frozen for up to 3 months.

Watch the video below for instructions.


1 lb tilapia fillets
1 shallot, diced
2 tsp fish sauce
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp tapioca starch
1 Tbsp vegetable oil


Rinse the fillets with cold water and then pat dry with paper towels.  Cut the fillets into small pieces and put into a bowl.  Add the diced shallots and fish sauce and combine thoroughly.  Transfer the fish onto a baking pan or large plate.  Spread the fish out making a flat and even layer.  Place the pan into the freezer and chill for 1 1/2-2 hours.

Transfer the fish into a food processor.  Add the ground white pepper, baking powder, tapioca starch and vegetable oil.  Pulse for a few seconds at a time.  After every 20 pulses, scrape down the sides of the prep bowl.  Continue pulsing until the fish is a smooth paste.

Brush vegetable oil onto a 12 X 12-inch piece of plastic wrap.  Scoop out 1/4 of the fish paste onto the plastic wrap.  Using the plastic wrap to cover your hands, press the paste firmly together while shaping it into a ball.  Flatten the ball to make a small patty.  Continue until all 4 cakes are made.  Wrap the cakes in the plastic wrap and place back into the pan.  Chill the cakes in the freezer for 20 minutes.

Deep Frying
Heat vegetable oil over Medium High heat until it reaches 350 degrees F and then reduce the heat to Low.  Drop in the fish cakes and deep fry for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.  Flip the cakes occasionally so they brown evenly.   Remove from the oil and place on top of paper towels to blot the excess oil.

Steam the fish patties on Medium heat for 10-12 minutes.
Steam the fish balls on Medium heat for 6-7 minutes.

Brush the cakes with vegetable oil and place on a lined or non-stick baking pan.  Bake the fish cakes at 400 degrees F for 25 minutes.  Flip the cakes about half-way through so they brown evenly.
Bake the fish balls for about 12-15 minutes.

The fish paste can be dropped by the spoonful into broth or water.  Add your choice of vegetables and seasonings for a delicious soup.

Yields: 4 fish cakes approximately 4 oz each or 1 dozen fish balls

Healthy and light Steamed Fish Balls with Dipping Sauce | recipe from

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23 Responses to Fish Cakes (Cha Ca)

  1. Ylan Dao Tate March 12, 2022 at 12:06 pm #

    I use Cat Fish Nuggets in this recipe. The nuggets are firm and fatty which is perfect for Chả Cá!”,

  2. Tam August 6, 2020 at 11:29 am #

    If the fish past has been frozen. Do you need to thaw prior to freezing or can drop straight into hot oil?

    • Trang June 28, 2021 at 2:04 pm #

      You can fry it frozen, no need to thaw. Good Luck!

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