Fish croquettes are a popular appetizer and tea-time snack in many coastal towns. This version, popular in parts of South India and Sri Lanka, is made with firm fleshy fish like tuna or shark. Locally known as cutlets it is a delightful mix of flaked fish, spices, and herbs. These deep-fried croquettes are crispy and brown on the outside and soft and delicious on the inside. Serve these with ketchup or a dipping sauce as a snack or appetizer or use them in wraps and sandwiches for a meal.
Often my recipes take inspiration from my home state – Kerala. As with many from the region, there is one food group that I cannot live without – Seafood. Just so you know it is a valid classification for some of us! We cook seafood in many ways – wrap in banana leaves and grill, make curries, kabobs, pickles, fries, and so on. Pretty much the only thing we don’t make with seafood is deserts.
Fish or meat croquettes locally referred to as cutlets are popular appetizers. You will find these ready to fry in the freezer section of supermarkets or fresh-made, ready to eat in the local bakeries.
Ingredients for tuna cutlets
The main ingredients for fish croquettes are fish, in this case, tuna, a binder, and spices.
The croquettes today are made with canned Tuna and have the crunchy satisfying feel of fried fish without the work going into prepping the fish. But you can make these with fresh fish as well.
Want More Spicy Seafood Recipes? Try These
- Curried Salmon With Spinach
- Spicy Sardine Curry
- Sardine and Potato Curry
- Brazilian Shrimp Stew
- Instant Pot Shrimp Biryani
- Crispy Grilled Shrimp
Choosing the fish to make croquettes
In Kerala, these fish croquettes are usually made with locally available fresh flaky fish like king mackerel or shark, or swordfish. If you are starting with fresh fish, choose one that is easy to debone. Clean the fish, steam on a steaming rack, and flake the meat off the bone. Choose a fish that can stand up to flavors and spices – so something like sole may not be a good option.
To keep the spices and the flaked fish together we need a binder. Potatoes are a popular option, so are breadcrumbs and eggs. The important thing is to use just enough to hold the mix together.
I prefer fresh bread crumbs in this recipe for a couple of reasons. Breadcrumbs do not change the taste or texture and absorb any extra moisture in the mix. The other reason being convenience – I do have it in the kitchen almost all the time. Whichever binder you chose add half and start kneading, adding more as needed.
I like to keep the flavors mellow and complement with just enough spices. There is a mix of onion, garlic, ginger, and some spice powders like chili, and garam masala. Tuna is hearty enough to stand up to more spices if you like your food a bit spicier.
Making Tuna Cutlets
Making these croquettes can be summarized into three steps
- Make the tuna mix
- Shape and cover with bread crumbs
Making the mix
Saute the chopped onions, green chilies, ginger, and garlic till they soften and begin to turn golden brown. The green chilies are added for flavor and not for heat. If you were eating this in Kerala, most probably the chilies used will be similar to the Thai Chilies. Remove the seeds and ribs from the chilies and chop them fine before cooking. I like jalapenos or serranos in this recipe, but use what you prefer. Once the onion starts to turn brown on the sides, add chili powder, a pinch of turmeric, garam masala, and salt.
Lower the heat and add the flaked fish and mix well. Cook till the mix is heated through. Turn off the heat and add mashed potatoes or fresh bread crumbs and knead to a smooth dough. Once the mix feels like a soft dough, taste it and adjust the salt if needed.
It is breading time. I like to flavor the breadcrumbs lightly. Crush 1/4 teaspoon of fennel seeds into a fine powder and add to the bread crumbs with a pinch of salt. The fennel adds a touch of fragrance and sweetness to the cutlets as they fry.
Spread the flavored breadcrumbs on a platter. Break the egg into a shallow bowl and beat well with 2 tablespoons of water. Pinch off lemon-sized balls of the mix and form into the desired shape. Roll the shaped patties in the bread crumbs. Shake off the excess so that there is only a light coating left on the patties. Set these aside. Once all the patties are coated with breadcrumbs dip them in the egg wash. Shake off the excess and roll in the breadcrumbs as earlier. Gently roll the patty between the palms to get rid of excess crumbs. Set aside.
Double coating of breadcrumbs isn’t necessary, but it creates a crunchier crust.
Heat enough oil in a thick-bottomed pan to deep fry the cutlets. When the oil is almost near its smoking point (around 350°F) add a few patties to it and fry turning side to side until all sides are browned evenly. While frying keep the heat at medium to prevent the cutlets from burning. But don’t lower the heat too much as then the patties will absorb oil.
Fry till all sides of the patties turn light brown. Remove from the oil and drain onto paper towels.
For the gluten-free version replace the breadcrumbs in the mix with potatoes or a beaten egg and coat the patties in a rice flour batter.
Serving Tuna Cutlets
Serve them on their own as a snack or appetizer.
For a quick meal add a few sliced veggies and your favorite salad dressing to make wraps.
In Kerala fish croquettes are often served with a simple onion salad. Here is the recipe
Onion Salad Recipe
Thinly slice red onions and mix with a tablespoon of vinegar and a little salt. Set aside for a few minutes. Cut a tomato and scoop out seeds. Slice the tomato into strips. Repeat the same with a Jalapeno pepper or chilies of your choice. Squeeze the vinegar out of the onions and mix the veggies. Taste and adjust salt and serve.
- 2 8 oz cans Tuna
- 1/2 C Onion Finely Chopped
- 2 Tbsp Oil
- 2 Tsp Ginger Grated
- 1 Tsp Garlic Grated
- 1/2 Tsp Salt
- 1-2 Green Chili See Notes
- 1/2 Tsp Chili Powder To Taste
- 1 Pinch Turmeric
- 1 Tsp Garam Masala
- 1/4 Tsp Fennel Powder
- 1 C Boiled Potato/Fresh Bread Crumbs
- 1 C Bread Crumbs
- 1 Egg
- Oil – To fry
- 1 Onion
- 1 Tomato
- 1 – 2 Green Chilies
- 1 Tsp Lemon Juice/ Vinegar
- Salt – To taste
- Drain the Tuna and set aside. If using fresh flaked fish set aside about 2 C, packed.
- Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil in a thick bottomed pan. When hot add the finely chopped onions. Sauté till the onions are soft. Add the grated ginger and garlic along with finely chopped de-seeded chilies. Cook till the pieces begin to turn lightly brown on the edges. Lower the heat and add the dry spices.
- Add the fish to the mix and stir well. Taste and adjust salt if needed. Turn off the heat.
- Add half of the boiled potatoes or fresh bread crumbs to the fish mixture and knead using your hands or pulse everything together in a food processor a few times. Add enough of the remaining potato or breadcrumbs to make a smooth dough.
- Pinch off lime size pieces and roll into balls, press into patties, or shapes of your choice.
- Break an egg into a bowl, add 2 tbsp of water and beat well.
- Take 1 C breadcrumbs on a plate and add a pinch of salt and fennel powder to it. Mix well.
- Roll the shaped cutlets on the bread crumb mixture. Shake off the excess and set aside.
- Dip the bread crumb rolled cutlets into the egg wash and roll over the bread crumbs again. Gently rub off excess bread crumbs so there are no loose bits. Heat enough oil in a thick bottomed pan to deep fry the patties. When the oil is almost at its smoking point place a few of the cutlets and fry till both sides are lightly browned. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels.
For Onion Salad
- Slice the onion thin. Pour a splash of vinegar or lemon juice over the onions and give it a stir. Cut the tomato lengthwise and scoop out the insides. Slice it into thin strips. If using green chilies (Jalapenos are my favorite), remove the seeds and ribs and slice into thin strips. Squeeze the vinegar out of the onions and mix with tomatoes and green chilies. Sprinkle a pinch of salt on top and serve with the cutlets.
- Green Chilies are used for flavoring only. Remove the seeds and ribs to avoid excess heat.
- Fry over medium heat for even browning.
- A medium thick batter of flour and water can be used as a replacement for egg wash.
- For gluten-free version use potatoes or beaten eggs as binder (1 egg per 1 quantity of recipe) and use rice flour batter for coating.
Important: Nutrition Values are estimates. Actuals vary based on ingredients and serving size.