It took me a long time to realise that I quite enjoy eating fish. When I was younger it was pretty much the first thing I’d rule out on a restaurant menu. Not because I hated it, rather i just didn’t like it. There were always better options to be had and fish rarely stood out as being a top choice. There were a few exceptions. Battered Cod from the local Fish & Chip shop. Prawn Cocktail at Christmas. But little else excited me – least of all what was sold back then as Fish Cakes.
As a child of the 80s my first experience of fish cakes was not good. You know the ones I mean. Those discs of fish-flavoured, green-flecked potato mush covered in radioactive-orange breadcrumbs. Rarely crispy and barely thicker than a cork coaster they were cheap but certainly not cheerful. Although part of me hopes they’re no longer allowed to be sold for human consumption I think you can still get them. If you know where to look.
The only thing worse (to my mind at least) were the retro-futuristic, boil-in-the-bag blocks of Cod in Parsley Sauce. Which would inevitably be served with tinned potatoes to ensure that there was next to no colour on the plate. The smell of one of those being cooked is indescribably bad. Anyway, I digress…
Despite the fact that those awful orange hockey pucks exist it didn’t put me off of fish cakes for life. Indeed they somehow hold a hint of nostalgic happiness in my heart, as awful as it is to admit that. They’re comforting and can have a great textural contrast, which is hard to beat. But they don’t have to be a place to bulk out cheap fish with a lot of even cheaper potato.
If you use big pieces of good quality fish and let it be the star you still get the hit of nostalgia. But when you cut through the crispy outer shell you get more colour and texture. The light, creamy mash is still there but it’s holding little jewels of pink salmon and pearlescent haddock. It’s still like a little hug on a plate, without the need to wear sunglasses or hold your nose as you eat!
Chunky Fish Cakes
- 250 g Fish cut into large chunks, see note
- 100 g Smoked Fish cut into large chunks, see note
- 100 ml Milk
- 250 g Floury Potatoes i.e. Maris Piper
- ½ tsp Onion Granules
- 1 tbsp Fresh Parsley chopped
- 2 tbsp Plain Flour
- 1 large Free-Range Egg beated
- 50 g Panko Breadcrumbs
- Put the fish into a shallow pan (deep frying pans work well for this) and add the milk. Cover, bring to the boil, then lower the heat - simmer for a few minutes until the fish is just cooked through. Lift the fish out when it's cooked and place on a plate to cool. Keep the milk to one side for later.
- Meanwhile peel the potatoes and cut them into medium sized chunks. Put them into a pan, cover with cold water then bring to the boil. Simmer until they're tender all the way through but not quite falling apart.
- When the potatoes are cooked through drain off the water and mash the potatoes in the pan, adding a splash of the milk used for poaching the fish. You can also sneak in a bit of seasoning at this stage - just don't overdo it, especially if you're using smoked fish. Stir in the chopped parsley and onion granules. Allow to cool for 10 minutes or so.
- Add the cooked fish to the potatoes and mix gently using your hands. Try and keep the fish chunky and make sure you don't over-mix it and end up with a purée.
- Sprinkle the flour over a chopping board or clean work surface. Put the beaten egg into a shallow dish and the Panko into a second dish alongside.
- Divide the fish and potato mixture into four equal portions, then shape into fish cakes on the floured board. Once you're happy with the shape dip gently into the beaten egg, ensuring all sides are coated. Then repeat in the breadcrumbs, pressing lightly where needed to ensure that they adhere well to the surface. Pop into the fridge once shaped for 30 minutes just to save them falling apart when you cook them.
- When ready to cook, heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a pan over a medium-high heat. Drop in a couple of dry breadcrumbs into the hot oil to test it's at cooking temperature - it will sizzle when you're good to go. Lower the fishcakes gently into the pan and cook for around 5 minutes on each side until crispy and golden.
- Serve with the side of your choice and a wedge of lemon - I usually like a simple salad or a steamed green vegetable with a dollop of mayonnaise, but it's really up to you.