Image: West African Boulettes de Poisson or Deep Fried Fish Balls with Tomato Sauce

Boulettes de Poisson

The Senegalese of West Africa particularly enjoy preparing Boulettes de Poisson with a spicy tomato sauce and a side of rice. White-flesh fish that has been skinned and the bones removed can be used, such as tilapia or cod.

To make about 24 one-inch fish balls:

  • 1/4 cup peanut or vegetable oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped onions
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
  • 1 medium-sized firm ripe tomato, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tomato past
  • 2 tablespoons ground dried shrimp
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground hot red pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

First prepare the sauce: In a heavy 8- to 10-inch skillet, heat the 1/4 cup of oil over moderate heat until a light haze forms above it. Drop in the onions and garlic and, stirring frequently, cook for about 5 minutes, until the onions are soft and translucent but not brown. Watch carefully for any signs of burning and regulate the heat accordingly.

Add the tomato, tomato paste, ground dried shrimp, ginger, red pepper, white pepper and salt and, stirring constantly, cook briskly until most of the liquid in the pan has evaporated and the sauce is thick enough to hold its shape lightly in a spoon. Remove the pan from the heat, taste for seasoning, and set aside.

  • 1 cup coarsely crumbled hard-crusted French-style bread
  • 2 pounds striped bass or red snapper fillets, skinned and cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped scallions, including the green tops
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup flour
  • Peanut or vegetable oil for deep frying
  • 2 lemons, each cut lengthwise into 6 wedges for garnish

In a deep bowl, combine the crumbled bread and 1 cup of boiling water and soak the bread for 5 minutes. Squeeze the bread completely dry and discard the water. Add the fish, parsley, scallions, garlic, white pepper and salt, and stir well. Place a cup or so of the fish mixture at a time in the jar of a blender and blend at high speed for 30 seconds. Turn off the blender, scrape down the sides of the mixture with a rubber spatula, and blend again until the ingredients become a thick, smooth paste. Transfer the paste to a clean bowl and proceed to blend the remaining fish mixture. 

To shape each fish ball, dust your hands lightly with flour and sprinkle a heavy coating of flour on a counter or tabletop. Scoop up about 2 tablespoons of the fish paste and roll it on the flat floured surface until it forms a round firm ball about 1 inch in diameter. As they are shaped, arrange the balls side by side on wax paper. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or until the balls are firm.

Preheat the oven to its lowest setting. Line a large baking sheet with a double thickness of paper towels and place it in the middle of the oven.

Pour oil into a deep fryer or large, heavy saucepan to a depth of 2 to 3 inches, and heat the oil until it reaches a temperature of 375 degrees on a deep frying thermometer.

Deep-fry the fish balls, 5 or 6 at a time, turning them frequently with a slotted spoon for about 5 minutes, or until they are a deep golden brown on all sides. As they brown, transfer them to the lined baking sheet and keep them warm in the oven while you proceed to fry the remaining fish.

To serve, arrange the boulettes de poisson attractively on a heated platter and surround them with the lemon wedges. Reheat the reserved sauce over low heat and present it separately in a small bowl or sauceboat.