When I was younger, and to an extent still today, I would always choose fishcakes over battered fish. My main issue with deep fried fish was that the skin was incredibly slimy – which is gross. Why would I choose to have slimy fish when I could have delicious fishcakes? The main problem with commercial fish cakes is that they are basically all potato. It’s cheap to add to the mix and when it’s combined with flavour enhancers it is very difficult to know how much actual fish there is in the cake. When you make them for yourself, you know – in this case the fishcakes are about 30% fish and 70% potato, egg, onion and bread.
The history of fishcakes dates back 4000 years. A Chinese folk tale tells of a fisherman who fed his homemade fishcakes to Emperor Shun’s wives which cheered them up and returned their waning appetites to normal. According to the story, Shun was so pleased by this that he requested the fisherman teach others how to make the fishcakes and thus the fishcake became a popular dish in China. In both China and Japan surimi (a paste made from fish or meat) was used to make fishcakes and fish balls. It was often made using the fish that couldn’t be sold either whole or as fillets and so would have gone to waste otherwise.
Fishcakes are an excellent way of using up left over mashed potato. You might even go as far as to make a double portion of mash for your shepherd’s pie and use the excess the next day for a fishcake dinner. If you choose to use tinned fish (I would avoid tuna but tinned salmon is absolutely fine) this dish becomes ultra-fast to make. Just drain the fish, mix it into the potato with onion, seasoning and an egg and you are good to go. There is no rule saying you have to spend time coating the fishcakes in breadcrumbs – it’s mainly convention – but it is the best way to get a crunchy exterior.
The recipe below is a very basic one. Like with all food, there are hundreds of recipes giving tips and tricks for how to make the same dish but sometimes it is nice to have a good base case from which you can work upwards. As you will notice, I do not season the mashed potato. Some people will add milk and butter – if you are using left over mash from a previous meal, this is likely to be in there – and that is fine. The fishcakes will be a little bit softer but they will still work just as well. I used cod for these but any white fish will do – including smoked fish (though probably not kippers). You could even use salmon if you fancy being decadent. Additional ingredients like chives and leeks are common in fishcakes too and I have even seen Asian spiced ones which included ginger, chilli, turmeric and coriander. These really are perfect to use for experimenting with flavours.
For this recipe, I have assumed that you are starting with nothing prepared or precooked however if you are starting with premade mash or using tinned fish, the prep time will be drastically decreased. Enjoy the recipe and I hope you will discover just how simple these can be.
Time: 2 hours
Cost per portion: around £1.30
300g fish (I would use cod or haddock, perhaps even salmon if I was feeling decadent)
1 medium onion/ 6 spring onions
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 clove garlic (minced)
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper
Panko breadcrumbs/medium matzah meal
Oil for frying
Cut the potatoes into small pieces and place in a pan of cold water on the stove. Add about a teaspoon of salt to the pan
Heat until the water starts to boil and let simmer for ten minutes until the potato is cooked – you should be able to insert a skewer into the pieces with very little resistance.
Drain the potato into a colander and leave to cool for five minutes. Do not remove the potato from the colander as more water will leave the potatoes as steam which will help prevent the fishcakes being soggy.
Mash the potatoes. If you have a Mouli or a potato ricer, this will give you the best result but a hand masher will work too.
Leave the potatoes to cool. I like to do this in a large bowl and spread the mash up the sides as this increases the surface area so the mash will cool much faster.
While the potatoes are cooking, place the fish into a frying pan and fill with water until it just covers the fish You could also add herbs (bay leaves for example) to the water to give a bit of extra flavour.
Cover the frying pan and bring the water to a simmer. Leave for about five minutes until the fish is cooked (there should be no translucent areas).
Remove the fish from the water and leave to cool for twenty minutes or so.
Finely chop the onions and place them in a large bowl.
Add the cooled mash, nutmeg, garlic, salt, at least five grinds of pepper and the egg.
Use your hands or a fork to gently flake the cooked fish. It should come off the skin when you do this. If you find any small bones, just remove them now.
Add the fish to the other ingredients and gently mix together. I prefer to do this by hand – it’s a little bit messy but it prevents the fish getting pulverised so there will still be small flakes in the finished product.
Pour around 50g plain flour into a wide bowl for coating the fishcakes.
Divide the batter into ten portions and shape them (by hand) into patties.
After shaping each one, place it in the flour and make sure it is evenly coated before placing it onto a board.
Once all ten have been shaped and floured, place them in the fridge for 20 minutes to firm up.
In a bowl, crack and beat an egg with a fork until it is no longer gelatinous. In a separate, wide bowl, measure out about 100g breadcrumbs/matzah meal. You can add seasonings to this coating too but be careful, spices are likely to burn in the oil if you add them here so it is safest to stick to a little salt and pepper.
Keeping one hand wet and one hand dry, take the fishcakes one at a time and lightly coat in the egg and then the breadcrumbs.
Place them back on the board after each coating. If any little bits of fishcake fall off, keep these for testing that the oil is the right temperature.
Add vegetable oil to a frying pan until it around 1cm deep.
Heat this until a small piece of fishcake dropped in starts to bubble.
Fry the fishcakes a few at a time until the base is golden, flip them and repeat with the other side. Keep flipping until the fishcakes are a deep brown colour (but not burnt).
The fishcakes can be frozen both pre and post cooking, if you want to do it before you cook them, shape and flour the fishcakes before placing them in the freezer on the board. After they have gone solid, you can place them all into a bag together but if you do that too early, they fishcakes will deform and stick together.
Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for miniature cakes, perfect for afternoon tea.