Fish ball stew

Fish ball stew

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  • 6–8
  • Easy
  • 1 hour

" I’m frequently fascinated by how resourceful we Sierra Leoneans are. When I was a child, I loved eating fish balls. Cooking fish balls was actually part of my mother’s strategy to make ends meet. Women in Sierra Leone are very resourceful, and when things are tight and a household is under stress, they employ certain strategies to mitigate the situation. This may be the consumption of less-expensive ingredients and dishes. My mother’s fish balls made a little go a long way, using inexpensive fish, onions, herbs, peanut butter and spices.

Coping strategies like this are often employed by families in Sierra Leone. The memories and techniques have stayed with me, and I have re-created my mum’s dish here." – Maria Bradford


  • For the fish balls:
  • 500 g haddock fillet or any firm white fish, cut into chunks
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 Scotch bonnet chilli, chopped
  • 1⁄2 thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 4 T 4 sugar free, no-salt smooth peanut butter (use one made without palm oil)
  • 1 fish or chicken stock cube (use one without MSG), crumbled
  • oil, for deep frying
  • salt, to taste
  • For the stew:
  • 120 ml cold-pressed coconut oil
  • 2 large onions (about 500 g ), finely chopped
  • 2–3 t Salone Fire Chilli Sauce (or chilli sauce of your choice), or to taste
  • 200 g fresh tomatoes, chopped
  • 1–2 t tomato purée
  • 1 thyme sprig
  • 1 bay leaf
  • coconut rice, boiled cassava or fonio, to serve

Cooking Instructions

1. For the fish balls, put all the ingredients, except the oil, in a food processor and pulse until the mixture is finely minced.

2. Take a walnut-size piece of the mixture and form it into a ball. Using a slotted spoon, drop it carefully into the hot oil and cook until golden brown. Remove using a slotted spoon, leave to cool, then taste for seasoning. Add salt as needed to the fish ball mixture and mix well. Using a teaspoon, form the mixture into walnut-size balls. Put the balls on a tray ready to fry.

3. Heat the oil in a large, deep, heavy-based pan no more than half full. Test it’s hot enough by dropping a piece of onion into the oil. If it sizzles, rises to the surface and browns in 30–40 seconds, then the oil is ready.

4. Carefully fry the balls in batches, ensuring each batch is cooked through and brown (cut one open from each batch to test). Remove from the oil using a slotted spoon and set aside.

5. For the stew, heat the coconut oil in a clean pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cover with a crumpled piece if damp baking paper, ensuring it sits right on the surface of the onions. Cook over gentle heat, checking from time to time, until the onions are well softened and turning golden brown. This process can take up to 1 hour and cannot be rushed as it is the gentle cooking of the onions and the caramelization that gives this stew its rich and slightly sweet taste.

6. When the onions are cooked, add the Salone Fire Chilli Sauce, chopped tomatoes, tomato purée (paste), thyme and bay leaf. Cook, stirring, for 1–2 minutes then add the fried fish balls. It’s very important that no liquid is added to the stew.

7. Stir and simmer for about 5 minutes, then taste the sauce and season as needed. Serve with Coconut rice, boiled cassava or fonio.

This is an extract from "Sweet Salone: Recipes from the Heart of Sierra Leone" by Maria Bradford. Published by Hardie Grant and distributed by Jonathan Ball Publishers. Design and location photography by Dav E Brown. Recipe photography by Yuki Sugiura.

Maria Bradford Recipe by: Maria Bradford
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Maria Bradford grew up in Freetown, and started helping her mother prepare meals from about nine years of age. Inspired by her heritage, Maria prepares traditional African dishes and high-end Afro-fusion cuisine. Maria studied at Leith’s School of Food and Wine and founded Maria Bradford Kitchen in 2017, which became known as Shwen Shwen. Her catering is in high demand for corporate events and private dining throughout the UK and Africa. Maria lives in the south of England with her husband and two children.

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