Fishcakes are very simple to make, and are tasty, filling and economical – and if you have found some bargains at the fishmongers, and loaded up on more fish than you can immediately use, make up a big batch of fishcakes, as they freeze really well.
You can use any fish; a single variety or combination. Shellfish work well too; whatever you find at the market that is good value. I’ve given a few delicious and tried-and-tested mixes after the basic recipe below. All premium fish is probably best served plain and simple; for fishcakes you are still looking for spanking-fresh fish, but perhaps from those (often erroneously) considered to be the second division – pollack, coley, farmed salmon (ethically farmed, of course), ling, or the less-favoured (but well-flavoured) flatfish such as dab or megrim. Mackerel and herring make good fishcakes, but usually don’t make it further than a simple grilling or frying in my kitchen, as they are so delicious. Smoked fish is great in fishcakes: try smoked haddock, cod or even kippers. Or, you could use up some smoked salmon trimmings, which are often available quite cheaply, perhaps in combination with some unsmoked fish.
For the starchy part of the fishcake, you need a good floury potato that mashes well. You’ll need a good dose of seasoning: fish and potatoes will take a lot of salt and pepper, and use whatever herbs you like; dill, tarragon and parsley are obvious choices, and this is one of the rare occasions where dried herbs can often work as well, or even better, than fresh.
I like to give my fishcakes a crispy coating; use pinhead oats (often available at health-food stores) or good, very dry, breadcrumbs. If you prefer your fishcakes uncoated, the choice is yours.
I think 120g/4oz is a good size for a fishcake, serving one or two per person depending on appetite and whatever you are eating on the side. I use fifty/fifty fish to spud – so, for eight fishcakes you’ll need around a pound or just under half a kilo each of fish and mashed potato, both measured AFTER cooking, with skin and bones removed from the fish.
Makes 8 fishcakes
480g/1 lb cooked fish, skin and bones removed
480g/1 lb mashed potato
Plenty of salt and pepper
Herbs of your choice – dried is fine in this recipe
For the coating:
A dish of plain/all purpose flour
A bowl of milk, beaten egg or a combination of the two
A dish of dry breadcrumbs or pinhead oats
(Quantity-wise, you’ll need around 220g/half pound of the flour and the oats/crumbs – you won’t use it all, but you need a good depth in your dish to get a good coating.)
Poach, steam or microwave the fish until it is only just cooked. Leave to drain, then gently flake with your fingers, making sure to remove any last bits of skin and bone. Cook, drain and mash the potato as normal, and leave until cool enough to handle. Thoroughly mix the fish and mashed potato; use your hands. Add seasoning and herbs of your choice. Taste, and adjust the seasoning and herbs if necessary.
Either using a set of scales, or by eye, split the mix into eight portions, roll into balls, and refrigerate for at least half an hour to allow them to firm up.
After they have firmed, have ready the dishes/bowls of flour, milk and/or egg, and breadcrumbs/pinhead oats.
Flatten each fishcake ball and round the sides until you have the shape you like – mine are around the shape and size of a small tuna can. Dip each, in turn, coating thoroughly, into the flour, the milk/egg and then the crumbs. If you desire a really crispy coating, repeat the process, so the fishcakes are double-coated – you’ll have to use egg, though, as milk usually won’t hold enough for a double-dip. You will have very sticky hands after this, so be warned!
To cook the fishcakes:
You could gently fry or grill the fishcakes, turning from time to time, until ready, but I think the simplest and easiest way is to put them in a medium oven for around 20 – 25 minutes. Use a skewer, or a temperature probe thermometer to make sure they are piping hot throughout.
Some tried-and-tested fishcake mixes – copy these, or use them as inspiration for your own experiments
Cod and Parsley
Salmon and Dill
Smoked Haddock (or kipper) and Horseradish
Crab and Coriander (with or without Chilli flakes)
Sea Bream and Mexican Seasoning (cumin, chilli, oregano, garlic, pinch cinnamon and ground cloves)
Smoked Mackerel with Citrus (use mainly the zest of lemon/lime/orange with only a touch of the juice, or the mix may go too sloppy)