Fish ball stew

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These delicious deep-fried haddock fish balls are served with a rich, lightly spiced stew that has a base of caramelised onions. As noted in the recipe, it's worth taking your time with the onions – they can take up to an hour to truly caramelise, but the wait is worth it. Maria Bradford recommends serving this fish ball stew with some other delicious recipes from her cookbook like Checked Rice (see page 175), Coconut Rice (see page 114), boiled cassava or fonio.

This recipe is taken from Sweet Salone by Maria Bradford (Quadrille, £30) Photography: Yuki Sugiura

First published in 2023

Maria Bradford says: '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.'




Fish balls




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


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

  • oil, for deep-frying

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


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


For the stew, heat the coconut oil in a clean pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cover with a crumpled piece of 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 caramelisation that gives this stew its rich and slightly sweet taste


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


Stir and simmer for about 5 minutes, then taste the sauce and season as needed

Maria Bradford, born and raised in Freetown, Sierra Leone, is the founder of and head chef at Shwen Shwen, a catering company serving Sierra Leonean and Afro-fusion cuisine. Her debut cookbook Sweet Salone was released in 2023, and she sells her own product range online.

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