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. Myly April 1, 2020 at 5:53 am #

    I don’t have a food processor, but I do have a meat grinder and KitchenAid mixer. Do you think I’d be able to make this by grinding the fish first and then mix in mixer?

    • Trang June 28, 2021 at 3:23 pm #

      Yes, this should work if you can finely ground the fish.

  2. Carolyn July 4, 2018 at 6:55 pm #

    If I make a large batch, do you you recommend freezing the cakes BEFORE baking (then bake them the day you’ll eat them), or bake them all and freeze the leftover ones for another day (and reheat to eat)? Thank you!

    • Trang July 5, 2018 at 11:39 am #

      Hi Carolyn,
      Both methods work well. The convenient and time-saving method would be to bake the fish cakes, freeze and reheat each when ready to eat. I prefer to freeze the fish paste and then bake as needed. It tastes fresher and I also like having frozen fish cake paste ready to drop into soups, another really yummy option. Enjoy the recipe!

  3. Hanna Trinh November 2, 2017 at 12:41 pm #

    Hi Trang, what type of food processor that you are using? I am shopping for one and really need reviews.

    Thank you!

    • Trang November 4, 2017 at 10:53 am #

      Hi Hanna Trinh,
      I am using the Cuisinart DLC-2011CHBY Prep 11 Plus 11-Cup Food Processor
      It’s a fairly strong machine (625 watts) and great for multi-purpose food processing. It’s good for occasional meat grinding. If you plan to grind a lot of fish and meat, I would recommend a food processor with a stronger motor. If you need other recommendations, let me know! 🙂

  4. Vivi October 15, 2017 at 2:40 am #

    I used ling fillet and I did a quick cook test and it tastes really flaky, is there anything I can do at this point to rectify it to give it the chewy consistency

    • Trang October 18, 2017 at 10:56 am #

      Hi Vivi,
      Try adding a bit more tapioca starch. Good Luck!

  5. Yeshna July 23, 2017 at 8:49 am #

    Hello Trang,
    Can i use basa fish for the fish cakes- cha ca?

    • Trang July 24, 2017 at 10:35 am #

      Hi Yeshna,
      I use basa fish often and it works great. Enjoy the recipe!

  6. Bao January 24, 2017 at 8:55 am #

    Hi Trang,
    I made the cha ca. So far so good. But my aunt reminded me that my mom used to have dill (thi la) in cha ca. You probably heard of “Cha Ca La Vong” where the pieces of fish is served on a bed of dill and boiling oil is poured over them.
    If I want to add dill, how and when would you recommend me to add the dill?
    I would probably have to eliminate the shallot from the ingredient list, so not to have too many herbs in the cha ca. What do you think?
    Thank you.

    • Trang February 4, 2017 at 6:54 pm #

      Hi Bao,
      If you’d like to add fresh dill, coarsely chop it and add it during the last 30 seconds of pulsing. Also, you can reduce the shallot by half but don’t eliminate it entirely. It adds a nice aroma to the fish cakes. Good Luck!

  7. Jill August 26, 2016 at 10:15 am #

    Hi Chi Trang,

    If you bake the cha ca, will it still have the nice brown color? or be lighted in color?


    • Trang September 12, 2016 at 2:56 pm #

      Hi Jill, the cakes will be less brown but still have a nice golden color. Be sure to brush them with oil. Good Luck!

  8. Chea July 21, 2015 at 8:50 pm #

    Hi there,

    Your recipe looks amazing. I want to try it but the thing is I can’t find any of the fish you mentioned above. I live in North Ontario. Can any other fish like Walleye be substituted?

    • Trang July 27, 2015 at 12:37 pm #

      Hi Chea,

      Walleye is in the perch family and has a nice firm texture. It would work well in this recipe. Good Luck!

  9. BAO May 5, 2015 at 12:51 pm #

    Hi Trang,
    I am a fan of your website. Simple version of good old recipes resulting in dishes like mommy made them.
    My question for “Cha Ca” is: why do we need to freeze the fish before grinding them in food processor? Is this the same concept as making Gio Lua, the meat cannot be warmed by the grinding process otherwise Gio Lua would not be firm?
    Thank you for your reply.

    • Trang May 5, 2015 at 1:13 pm #

      Hi Bao,

      We freeze the fish to achieve the springy/chewy texture common in these cakes. Letting the fish get warm results in a mushy texture. Yes, it is similar to the techniques for making Gio Lua (Steamed Pork Roll) and Bo Vien (Beef Meatballs). I hope that helps. Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Trang Nguyen April 19, 2015 at 10:57 am #

    So beautiful Trang 😉
    Thank You 😉

    • Trang April 19, 2015 at 4:15 pm #

      Thanks so much Trang! Appreciate you stopping by 🙂

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