Venetian Jewish Fish Balls



In spite of the many tourist traps that give Venice, and many other popular destinations, a bad rep, if you have a chance to spend some quiet days there you will appreciate how the absence of cars has crystallized this city into a different dimension, with a magical sense of time. The pedestrian way of life is not something Venetians are forced to, rather they embrace it – after all, they have access to water buses – but they prefer to leave them to the hordes of tourists. Walking to and from work does not only provide us with a built-in form of daily exercise; it makes it very likely to bump into friends unexpectedly (only 60,000 people live in Venice), which usually results into a stop at one of the city’s bàcari (wine bars) to catch up over an ombra (a “shadow”, or a small glass) of wine or a Spriss cocktail, and cicheti, the signature snacks.  Cicheti is a Venetian term used to describe a wide range of bite-size local treats, from deep-fried seafood and rice croquettes to grilled radicchio and baby artichokes from the nearby island of St. Erasmo; from boiled eggs served with anchovies, to meatballs, to the legendary bacala’ mantecato (stockfish mousse) and sarde in saor (fried sardines marinated in sweet-and-sour onions).

Among my favorite finger foods are these fish balls, which you can also keep cooking in a light tomato sauce after frying them, if you prefer to serve them as part of a meal, on top of polenta. Fish balls, like meat balls, are a staple of Jewish Italian sustainable cooking, and were traditionally made with leftover boiled or roasted fish. However, these are so good that when I don’t have any leftovers I cook some fish in order to make a batch.

Venetian Jewish Fish Balls


  • 2 pounds leftover cooked fish (white)
  • 2 medium/large eggs
  • about 4 slices white bread, crust removed
  • the fish cooking water (where the fish was cooked with celery, carrot, onion), or vegetable stock
  • 1-2 tbsps freshly minced parsley
  • 2 anchovies, salt-or oil-packed, drained and minced (optional)
  • a large pinch of nutmeg and one of cinnamon (optional; or thyme)
  • salt, pepper
  • flour to dredge
  • olive oil for frying


Soak the bread in the broth or fosh stock until soft. Drain and squeeze. Mash the fish with the bread, anchovies, season with salt and pepper, add the parsley and spices. Taste and adjust the salt if needed. Add the eggs, combine well and allow to rest in the fridge for a few minutes. If it’s still too soft you can add a tbsp of bread crumbs.

With wet hands, form little balls (about 1 to 1 /2” in diameter. Dredge them in flour and deep fry in olive oil, in a deep fryer or in a heavy pot with tall sides. To deep fry, heat at least 2" of the olive oil to frying temperature (you can test it by dropping a small piece of bread in the oil: if lots of little bubbles form around the bread, the temperature is right). Fry in small batches until golden all over, turning to cook evenly.

Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer onto a platter lined with several layers of paper towels.

Serve warm.

Serves 6

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  1. These looks fabulous! I bet I would eat that whole dish if I had the chance…

  2. I loved no cars in Venice it really does make it magical. These do look tasty too.

  3. So great that you can use leftover fish to make these! I love how you describe them as similar to a meatball. I would love to serve these with homemade tomato sauce.

    • hi Melinda if you like sauce (I like these dry, as a finger food), after frying the fish balls, transfer them back into the pot where you have started a light tomato sauce, scallion or onion-based (not garlic-based); you can also add a little chili or paprika. In this case, you could serve them on polenta or mashed potatoes.

  4. What a treat for leftovers! I have made recipes combining anchovies and cinnamon and love the combination. Next time I have some leftover fish I will remember this one. Street food at home. Nothing better!

  5. what an interesting dish! never heard of anything like them, but i’m sure my husband (who doesn’t eat leftover fish) would love them.

  6. These look good and perfectly round.

  7. You had me at “deep fry”

  8. This sound delicious. Leftover fish is always eaten grudgingly in my house so I am going to make these next time for sure.

  9. I love this idea. I’d never think of putting nutmeg or cinnamon together with fish. So interesting.

  10. Such a unique recipe! I want to taste this!

  11. Yum! I would definitely serve these with a light tomato sauce!

  12. I love that this uses leftover fish! That happens often!

  13. Great choice for the Kosher Connection!

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