Fashion and Fishcakes

There was a time not so very long ago when fishcakes were ubiquitous on menus across all the land.  From gastropub to chain restaurant, hell, even in fast food joints- you couldn’t move for the dainty little fried rounds.   And of all of those, the Thai version, laced with chillies and coriander, was by far the most popular. 

But fishcakes have have fallen out of favour and all but disappeared from any establishment now.  Gone, like smock tops, out of fashion to be replaced by scallops and black pudding, rillettes and toast or ham hock and split peas. 

I was a fan of smock tops- they were both practical and comfortable. I’ve always liked fishcakes too, especially if the home-made kind accompanied by a crunchy, lime-dressed salad.  They are tasty, filling and cheap to make as you can bulk out the fish with spuds and greenery.  So, I say to you, forget fashion- make fishcakes. 

Thai Fishcakes
serves 2 with leftovers

You will need:

250g salmon fillets (about 2 small ones)
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 red chili, chopped
couple of cm fresh ginger, grated
handful fresh coriander, chopped
2 small egg
salt, pepper
vegetable oil
juice and zest of 1 lime
lime and coriander to serve


1.  Heat the oven to 190 degrees centigrade.  Drizzle the salmon with the lime juice and season with salt and pepper.  Wrap in tin foil and place in the oven for about 20 minutes- the exact time will depend on the thickness of your fillets, so keep an eye on them.  Too long in the oven will make for some pretty dry fishcakes.

2.  Meanwhile,  put a large pan of salted water on to boil.  Drop in your spuds and leave to simmer until soft and completely cooked through.

3.  Place the fish sauce, chili, ginger, coriander and lime zest in a large bowl.  Add one of the eggs and mix well.

4.  Once the salmon is cooked, open up the foil parcels and leave to cool slightly- you don’t want the heat from the fish cooking the egg.

5.  Drain the spuds and roughly mash them with a fork- it doesn’t matter if there are a few chunks left.  Leave to cool for a bit as well.

6.  Flake the salmon into the bowl and then add the mashed spuds.  Season generously with salt and pepper and mix to combine all the ingredients.

7.  You should have enough for 6 small cakes- dived the mixture up and roll into balls, flattening slightly.

8.  Crack the remaining egg in a bowl and whisk with a fork and brush over and under the fishcakes.  Heat some oil in a non-stick frying pan and then carefully drop the cakes into the pan, lowering the heat.  They may well be a bit sticky, but they will come together in the end.  Do three at a time and keep an eye on them, moving them about the pan so they don’t stick to the bottom.  Flip after about five minutes and cook on the other side until golden brown.

9.  Serve with scattered coriander, lime wedges and a crunchy salad.  I made mine with radishes, spinach, carrots, spring onion and a dressing made from lime juice, sugar, chopped chili, fish sauce and sesame oil. 

Oh I do love to be beside the seaside…

I gave Toby a trip to Brighton for his birthday to buy a hat on the seafront (so he doesn’t have to tie a hanky on his head this summer).  But so far we’ve been too busy to go, which is just as well because the weather has been absolutely dismal.  So while we wait for things to brighten up, we’ll have to make do with this token, culinary trip to the beach- scampi and chips with tartare sauce and samphire.   
Why bother to make something you could just go down to your local and have for Sunday lunch?  Well for one, this will taste much better and it’s also very satisfying to make from scratch.  I felt quite pleased with myself, I must say.  As always with deep frying, do be very careful- hot oil and busy kitchens don’t mix.
A note or two on the ingredients-  I used shop-bought breadcrumbs for my scampi, but it would be even better with the homemade variety.  Just use a stale loaf if you have one to hand.  
Samphire is gradually becoming a bit more readily available- I found mine at the fish counter in Waitrose.   Samphire grows on coasts and has a slight seaweed feeling about it, I like to think of it as sea asparagus.  It tastes fantastic and goes really well with fish. 
If you don’t like gherkins or capers, you can omit them and replace them with some crushed garlic for something a bit more aioli- like. 

Scampi and Chips with Tartare Sauce and Samphire 

 Serves 4

You will need: 

For the scampi:
600g medium-sized potatoes (unpeeled), cut into chunky chips
3 tbsp olive oil
25-30 extra large, peeled prawn tails
30g plain flour
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 large free-range egg
75g breadcrumbs
Sunflower or vegetable oil for deep frying
250g Samphire
Lemon wedges to serve

     For the tartare sauce:
    1 large free-range egg yolk
    ½ tsp  mustard powder
    Juice of 1 lemon
    150ml olive oil
    1 tbsp capers, chopped
    1 tbsp gherkins, chopped
    1 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped
    1 large shallot, finely chopped


    1. Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C.  Put the chips in a large pan of salted water and bring to boil. Allow to simmer for 5 minutes.

    2.  Meanwhile, pour the olive oil into a large tray and place in the oven to heat up. Drain the potatoes and return to the heat briefly, until completely dry (be careful not to let them stick to the pan).  Add the chips to the hot oil, turning to coat. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper.  Leave in the oven for 30-40 minutes until golden, tossing occasionally to  make sure they don’t stick to the tray.

    3. While the chips are cooking, get cracking with the tartare sauce.   Place the egg yolk, mustard powder, a squeeze of lemon juice, salt and pepper into a bowl.  Use an electric mixer to combine all the ingredients.  Keep the mixer running while you slowly add the oil in a continuous, thin stream, as you would when making mayonnaise.  Taste to season and see if it needs another squeeze of lemon juice before adding the  capers, gherkins, parsley and shallot.  

    4. Wash and pat the prawns dry, particularly if using frozen ones that you have defrosted. Put the flour in a bowl or onto a large plate and season with salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper.  Crack the egg into a second bowl and lightly whisk. Put the breadcrumbs in a third bowl.

    5.  Dip each prawn in the flour, then the egg and finally the breadcrumbs.  Make sure each prawn is totally coated at each stage. Place to one side on a large plate.  

    6. Heat the oil in a large pan (a wok would be ideal) until a chunk of bread sizzles and turns golden brown and crisp within a couple of minutes.   Carefully add the scampi (laying them in a motion away from you so as to not inadvertently splash yourself with hot oil), a few at a time and cook for about three minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.   You can keep them warm in a low temperature oven while you continue with the rest of the prawns. 

    7.  Finally, steam the samphire, which should only take a few minutes. Serve the scampi with the tartare sauce, chunky chips, samphire and lemon wedges.  Ideally wrapped in newspaper. 

    Fishy Business

    My grandmother makes the most amazing fish soup.  I grew up with it as a regular highlight in her repertoire of homely comfort food.  Traditional Swedish dishes are often quite heavy (I seem to always gain a few pounds whenever I stay with my Mormor for a few days), but this soup is light, even despite the addition of cream.  I suppose you could always substitute it for creme fraiche if you want to make it healthier.  It also has the added addition of a dash of curry powder, which might sound strange, but because it is so scant,   adds the merest hint of fiery backbone.  All in all, it’s actually quite a mild soup, with delicate flavours.
    I hereby pass the recipe on to you, in the hope that it might provide you with as much joy as it has given me.  You don’t have to include the mussels, if the thought is just a bit too much.  It was for Toby, who hates fish, but bravely tried a bit of this. 
    Mormor’s Fish and Seafood Soup
    You will need:

    About 400g frozen fish fillet (cod, haddock, plaice)
    2 yellow onions
    1-2 tsp curry powder
    800ml fish stock
    1 tin of mussels, about 125 g
    approx 100g prawns 
    a large handful of chopped dill or some chopped chives
    150-200ml single cream

    First off, semi defrost the fish.  Peel and slice the onions and fry them in a click of butter with the curry powder.  Meanwhile, chop the half-thawed fish into 2cm thick chunks.  Add these to the onions and pour over the stock.  Let everything simmer on a low heat until the fish has cooked, about 5 minutes.  Add the mussels, if using, and the prawns.  Finally, pour in the cream and let everything heat up gently before adding the fresh herbs.

    There we go.  Serve with hot, buttered toast.  For an extra fishy hit, I even made some anchovy butter to put on my toast.  But I can understand if this isn’t for everyone!