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. 

Buried Salmon

Gravad lax is probably among the more famous Scandinavian dishes- and rightfully so.  It merits high praise indeed for its melt-in-the-mouth texture and salty-sweet flavour.  Although technically curing the fish preserves it rather than leaving it raw,  gravad lax is often referred to as Scandi Sushi.  And, sure, the texture is a bit similar, but the taste is completely different. 

Gravad actually means ‘buried’ in Swedish (and other, less important, Scandinavian languages).  And yes, that image you are now conjuring up of a bunch of Vikings standing around a hole in the ground, knives in hand, ready for their dinner to emerge from the ground, is not too far off the truth.  In the middle ages, fish was buried in sand and left to ferment before everyone tucked in.  Yummy. 

These days, gravad lax is still buried- in a mixture of salt, sugar and dill.  And I can totally understand if this whole curing raw fish thing seems a bit scary.  And I’m right there with you, I was terrified.  But if you follow some straightforward but vital tips, it is not only perfectly safe, but also ridiculously easy- and delicious.  

So here are my three rules for gravad lax: 

1. The first is to get really fresh salmon, ask your fishmonger when it was caught.  I got mine from Billingsgate Fish Market, which is luckily just a hop and a skip away from our flat.  

2. The second is a very well-rehearsed practice in Sweden, but I couldn’t find much mention of it in any of the English recipes I found on the Internet.  So here it is: when you get home, freeze the fish immediately and leave for 24 hours.  This is to kill off any parasites.  Again, yummy.  

3. And finally, once you have cured the fish and it is resting in the fridge, make sure you turn it over in its plastic bag/clingfilm a couple of times a day.

I’m also including a recipe for the traditional hovmästarsås- the maitre d’ sauce.  There are many different twists on gravad lax that play on the salty/sweet flavours by adding honey or syrups, soy, citrus, teriyaki, etc. to the accompanying sauce.   For me, though, nothing beats this classic.


Gravad Lax

You will need:

1kg salmon ( roughly 2 x 500g whole fillets with the skin still on)
50 g salt
50 g caster sugar
1 tbsp white peppercorns, crushed
bunch fresh dill

For the sauce:

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

50 g mustard (Dijon will do the trick)
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 pinch salt
1 pinch ground white pepper
100 ml sunflower oil
bunch of fresh dill, chopped


1.  To cure the salmon, first wash the fillets and pop in the freezer.  After 24 hours in the freezer, remove and allow to thaw a little.  Pat with some kitchen roll.  
2.  Mix together the sugar, salt and pepper.  Add the dill, roughly torn. 
3.  Rub the mixture into the salmon fillets and place on top of each other, skin sides facing outwards.  Place these in a large zip lock bag or wrap in cling film.   
4.  Put in the fridge for two days, turning frequently to distribute the salt/sugar mixture.  
5.  To serve, remove the dill and cut into thin slices (not including the skin).   The cured fish will be fine in the fridge for a few days.
6.  To make the sauce, mix the mustard, sugar, salt, pepper and vinegar together.  Add the oil gradually, mixing continuously until thickened.  Be careful not to add the oil to quickly or the sauce will split.  Finally, add the chopped dill and serve with the gravad lax, some rye or crisp bread, new potatoes and plenty of dill.  

Another lunchy thing

Salmon. Spuds. Spinach. Mustard dressing. Dill. Beetroot. Delicate, russo-scandinavian flavours. A way to extend the holidays.

An easy dinner tip no. 1

I went to visit my friend Fliss the other evening for a catchup and to see her new abode in Clapham, which was very nice.

She made me an amazingly tasty and simple salmon and lentil combo for dinner. It involved the following:

Boil up some lentils in a pan, then add a tablespoon of curry paste and some crushed garlic, mix well and leave to simmer. Add your salmon fillets on top and put a lid on. Leave for 10 min or so for it to cook through and for the curry to permeate the salmon. Remove the salmon and stir through some spinach. Serve.

Easy as pie… Actually, stay tuned for pie.