Any White Fleshed Fish can make these glorious, meaty Fish Cakes
The fish cake is a wonderful way to put fish on the table. Full of flavor, their crispy crust gives them both crunch and character. Originally, this recipe called for Cod. But as you will discover, they work brilliantly with virtually any white fish. Haddock is cod’s most common replacement and my replacement of choice. But consider using Pollock, both Alaskan, and Atlantic, Sea Bass, or Halibut. All these firm-fleshed white fish will make perfect fish cakes. The fish is first poached in bay-leaf-scented water seasoned with black peppercorns and lemon. The Fish Cake gets its flavor from a mirepoix of sautéed onions and celery. Bound together with egg and cracker crumbs, the patties should be chilled for at least 30 minutes. Chilled, they hold their shape when sauteed with a smear of mayonnaise on both sides. The Fish Cakes emerge from the skillet with a glorious crust the perfect accompaniment to a green salad.
Virtually every country bordering the sea has its version of the Fish Cake.
China claims their version of the fishcake has more than 4000-year history. One of the most famous Chinese fishcakes has a more modern history. During the Qing Dynasty (1875 to 1908) one of their emperor’s wives, Zheng, loved fish cakes. She brought the recipe into the forbidden city. There her cooks improved the recipe so much that the cakes became famous and very popular. They all but disappeared, however, when Zheng herself was murdered in the final days of China’s last Dynasty. In the U.S. the fish cake is most associated with New England. They were most commonly a way of using leftovers. The 19th Century Mrs. Beeton’s “Book of Household Management” gives a recipe calling for ‘leftover fish’ and ‘cold potatoes.’ In New England, there was plenty of leftover fish. Seafood consumption peaked during Lent. New England, with the largest Roman Catholic community in the country, was hungry for meatless meals. Enter dozens of variations of fish cakes every year.
And Please Don’t Forget the Tartar Sauce!
Mayonaise-based Tartar sauce is pretty well essential to our Fish Cakes. Made with chopped pickles or relish shallots and capers it’s also the perfect complement to fried fish as in fish and chips. Tartar is so revered, there’s even a National Tartar Sauce Day. It is celebrated on the first Friday after the beginning of Lent. The idea behind the celebration is to pay tribute to this unique sauce and to remind foodies to top their seafood with this mouthwatering sauce. You’ll find both Fish Cake and Tartar Sauce recipes below. Plus some other seafood cakes to try.
All-Time Best Seafood Cakes
Full of flavor, their crispy crust gives them both crunch and character.
- 4 peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 lemon, cut into eighths
- 1 pound cod fillets, or other white flaky fish
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 ribs celery, trimmed, peeled and diced
- 1 medium-size yellow onion, peeled and diced
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 heaping tablespoon mayonnaise, homemade or store-bought
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 2 eggs
- 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning, Lawry’s Seasoned Salt or 1 teaspoon paprika and 1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes, or to taste
- 1 ‘‘sleeve’’ unsalted saltine crackers, crushed, or 1 heaping cup panko bread crumbs
- ½ bunch parsley, roughly chopped
- ¼ cup neutral oil, like canola
- Step 1 Fill a shallow, wide pan with high sides with about an inch of water, and set it over high heat. Add the peppercorns, bay leaf, and 1 section of the lemon to the water, and allow it to come to a bare simmer. Place the fish into this poaching liquid, and cook, barely simmering, until the flesh has just begun to whiten all the way through, approximately 6 to 8 minutes. Using a wide spatula, carefully remove the fish from the water, and set them aside to cool.
- Step 2 Empty the pan, and return it to the stove, over medium-high heat. Add the butter, and allow it to melt, swirling it around the pan. When the butter foams, add the celery, onions, and garlic, and sauté, stirring often, until the vegetables soften and the onions turn translucent, then transfer them to a large bowl.
- Step 3 In a small bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, mustard, eggs, salt, pepper and seasoning salt (or paprika and hot-pepper flakes), then add this mixture to the bowl with the sautéed vegetables, pour the crushed saltines or bread crumbs over them and stir to combine. Add the parsley, and stir again.
- Step 4 Flake the cooked fish into the binding sauce carefully, keeping the flakes as whole as you can manage, then gather them into small balls, and form them into patties, 4-6 for a main course, 6-8 for an appetizer. Place them on a sheet pan or platter, cover them loosely with plastic wrap, and transfer them to the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to set.
- Step 5 Set a large sauté pan over high heat, and add to it the neutral oil. When the oil is shimmering, remove the fish cakes from the refrigerator, and carefully sauté the patties until they are golden brown, approximately 4 to 5 minutes a side. Work in batches if necessary. (A small smear of mayonnaise on the exterior of the patties will give them a crisp crust.) Serve them alone, or with greens dressed in a lemony vinaigrette, with the remaining wedges of lemon.
Absolutely essential whenever you serve Fish Cakes or any Fried Fish.
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1 heaping teaspoon prepared horseradish
- 1 tablespoon spicy relish, drained (use sweet if you prefer)
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
- 2 teaspoons flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- Hot sauce, to taste (Optional)
- Step 1 In a large bowl, mix all of the tartar-sauce ingredients together and set aside.