Fish balls are a December treat

Skewerless wahoo kabobs go great with veggies and can be served with light bread or blue corn tortilla chips. (Photo by Jerry Dilsaver)

A perfect dish to serve at holiday gatherings as appetizer or main course

The recipe selected for December for many years has been something special for the holidays, usually a nice alternative to the usual dishes for holiday gatherings, and something easy to prepare that those who especially enjoy it can have it again for snacks during college football bowl games. This recipe follows that trend and can be made very quickly. It also lends itself to being jump-started with a variety of peppers or spices to please those with more robust appetites.           

Wahoo fishing off the coast of the Carolinas hits its annual peak in the fall. (Photo by Jerry Dilsaver)

For years, I have been amazed at how quickly we complete our trip around the sun and the Christmas season draws near. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case this year.

Since March, 2020 has dragged along at a pace comparable to molasses running uphill during a blizzard. I know we’re wanting 2020 to end as quickly as possible, and the end is finally near. This is a simple recipe that can be made in small batches for small gatherings and is something to appreciate while waiting for 2021 to arrive.  

It’s although a healthy recipe

This recipe is also healthy. The primary parts are fish and rice. I prefer to use grilled fish, and that keeps you outside a little more and is even healthier. It also works well with baked or broiled fish and even with fried fish as long as it isn’t overcooked. This relies on the fish’s moisture to work with the moisture in the rice to hold the mixture together. You can use leftover fish and rice, but you’ll have to warm them or add a little something to make them moist so they’ll bind. 

After a December day afloat or in the field, it’s nice to spend time with friends and family, and this is a good snack for it. My wife likes it as a meal and jokingly calls it sushi balls.    

This was first made with king mackerel after a particularly productive trip, but make it with your favorite fish or the one you have the most of. Use some of the options and your favorite dipping sauces to tune it for your family and friends. They are what really matters and I believe you’ll all enjoy this.

This is simple to make, can be made with leftovers and works for a variety of occasions. Sometimes it takes folks a few bites to warm up to it, but there is rarely any left on the plate. If you’re a fish eater, you should enjoy this.

Fish balls


  • 1 cup flaked cooked fish
  • 2 cups cooked rice
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup crushed tortilla chips
  • Coarse ground black pepper (to taste) 
  • Your favorite dipping sauce(s)

Options: More fish, different spice rub for fish, brown rice, flavored tortilla chips, grated cheese, Liquid Smoke, extra pepper, chopped onion, garlic, red pepper, ground chipotle or jalapeno peppers, chopped jalapeno peppers and more.


Cook some fish or use previously cooked fish and flake a cup full.  I used grilled king mackerel for this batch. I rubbed the grilled king mackerel lightly with Lite Italian dressing and sprinkled it with coarse-ground black pepper and Cavender’s All Purpose Greek Seasoning, then cooked it a few minutes on each side until barely done. Be careful not to overcook the fish. 

Combine a cup of fish and two cups of rice in a bowl and mix well. Add the sesame seeds, pepper to taste and any of the optional ingredients you choose and mix again. Crush tortilla chips in a bowl. Crush to small chunks and crumbs, not to powder.

Form a ball of the fish and rice mixture between an inch and 11/2 inches and roll it in the crushed tortilla chips, then place in a container that can be refrigerated. Repeat until all the fish and rice mixture is rolled into balls. I try to store the balls on a single level, but if you need to stack them, separate the levels with a piece of wax paper.

Eat fish balls right away, or refrigerate first

The fish balls can be eaten immediately, but will be soft. Refrigerating them stiffens them up and makes them easier to handle. Serve the balls on a dish, with several of your favorite dipping sauces.

This is a great hors d’oeuvre or snack. It is versatile and can be made mild — like this recipe — or spiced up by adding spicy fish or one or several of the optional ingredients. It is excellent for family gatherings, parties, tailgating or watching sports in a hunting/fishing lodge, man cave or the den. My two favorite dipping sauces are Asian Sweet Chili Sauce and a ranch dressing/sriracha sauce mixture. My wife prefers the milder taste of a little soy or teriyaki sauce. We also like to have a bowl of tortilla chips with it.

This is a simple, quick and easy recipe. It came about many years ago as a way to use leftover fish and has stood the test of time. We like it enough we now cook fish for it and add a couple of extra fillets for meals. The only disagreement we have ever had about it is that I want to make it spicy, and my wife likes it mild. She likes to call it sushi balls and only dips it in soy sauce, while I want some wasabi, too. 

Spice it up for a twist

This recipe is the basics and suited for her and others with mild palates. The only option we used was lime-flavored tortilla chips instead of plain. It’s a step in the right direction, but not enough for me. For those of you who enjoy a little spice in your food, one or more of the things listed as options should bring it up to snuff.  

The key to getting this to bind is having moist fish and freshly cooked rice. If you use leftover fish and/or rice, warm it slowly in the oven or microwave it on a low power. You’re just trying to warm it, not cook it any more. I mix it with my hands, and if it isn’t sticking to my fingers, it needs a little something to help bind it. I prefer it without anything extra, but a drizzle of oil or a touch of mayonnaise will help the fish and rice bind.

Yes, I mix this with my hands. It’s a whole lot like mixing meatloaf. I don’t have a food processor, so I mix it until my fingers begin cramping. When you add the pepper and sesame seeds — and anything you choose from the options list — spread them around rather than pouring them into the bowl in a single blob. It will help them get mixed thoroughly. Don’t tell anyone you licked your fingers when taking them out, and wash your hands before proceeding.

Fish balls make a good year-round snack but are great during the holidays

I like to prepare this a little in advance and put it in the refrigerator for a few hours to cool. I don’t know it enhances the flavor, but it makes the balls firm and easier to handle. Put them on your plate with a serving fork, but they’re more fun and better to eat with your fingers.

This basic recipe is good as it stands, but welcomes other ingredients to make the flavor bolder. I don’t use any salt, as there is salt in the Cavender’s. You can add salt to make it sharper, more pepper or red pepper to make it spicier, cook the fish in blackened seasoning to make it spicier, add some crushed garlic to keep vampires away, a little liquid smoke to add a smoked taste, some cheese if you like cheese, or whatever you would like to do. We make it throughout the year, whenever there is enough fish left over, but it is still requested for Christmas and New Years parties, Christmas Eve snacks, football game snacks and more. Not only is this simple to make, it’s pretty tasty too.

Add a few dipping sauces from mild to wild for serving to a mixed group. My favorites are Asian Chili Sauce and one I make by mixing sriracha sauce and ranch dressing. The sriracha/ranch sauce can be varied in itself by using more or less sriracha sauce. When it’s pink, it’s milder and the redder it gets, the warmer it gets. I have one friend that squirts sriracha sauce directly on them and another that likes seafood cocktail sauce. My wife prefers milder flavor and likes soy and teriyaki sauce. Heck, the balls can be eaten plain too. It should taste good with whatever is your favorite fish sauce. Enjoy!

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About Jerry Dilsaver 1120 Articles
Jerry Dilsaver of Oak Island, N.C., a full-time freelance writer, is a columnist for Carolina Sportsman. He is a former SKA National Champion and USAA Angler of the Year.

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