fish cakes – happy, happy, happy!

Fish Cakes, Lady Ashburnham Pickles and a fried quail’s egg – oh yeah!

A proper east coast fish cake – we all think our own family’s recipe is the original, by the way – is a mixture of mashed russet potatoes, onions sautéed in butter, eggs, a little seasoning and salt cod soaked in water to reduce the salty taste. Some people use milk, but that seems like a colossal waste. This mash is shaped into thick patties, dipped in an egg-wash, sometimes rolled in flour or dried breadcrumbs or both then fried in butter or lard.

Salt cod is sold by the slab. Nothing much to get excited over. Its cheap and keeps well, which makes it an ideal food for Friday suppers when fresh fish is too expensive. Growing up on the Bay of Fundy, fish cakes were a Friday night dinner staple. You could buy them from any fish monger, grocery store or, interestingly, at most bakeries. I loved opening the twine wrapped rough cardboard tray of fish cakes Mom would bring home to fry up with some eggs. She’d then serve them with homemade molasses beans and green tomato chow-chow. This was as close as my family came to a take-out dinner.

I haven’t eaten a fish cake in years and probably wouldn’t be writing this post if it weren’t for the lovely carton of quail eggs I bought at a local Asian market the other day.. As soon as I saw the tiny speckled shells, I thought of fish cakes. Don’t ask. My brain is so weirdly wired! I’ve taken humble fish cakes and made it a little Italian – I can’t help myself! –  with the addition of fresh herbs and pancetta. I omitted a crumb coating because I wanted a crispy potato crust. For a bit of sour I spooned on homemade mustardy Lady Ashburnham Pickles and then the crowning glory; a tiny quail’s egg – sunny side up! Have them for breakfast or supper, it doesn’t matter cause its ‘Happy, Happy, Happy’ on a plate! I’m being so silly…

Its Easter weekend. Time for celebrating life, family, friends and good health. Take none of it for grated, in a heartbeat it could all be very different. Its been a long hard winter full of heartache and challenge but important lessons were learned and now the sun is shining. My world is good! Happy Easter my friends. XO

FISH CAKES
makes 12 large patties

1 lb pound salt cod
¼ lb pancetta, chopped coarsely
2 tablespoons butter
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 stalk of celery, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
4 peppercorns
1 small onion, peeled and left whole
1 lb russet potatoes, boiled, drained and mashed
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped coarsely
Butter, for frying the fish cakes

THE STEPS:

  • Wash the excess salt from the salt cod under cold, running water.
  • Place the salt cod in a bowl of cold water, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate, changing the water several times. This will take 24 hours.

fish cakes - happy, happy, happy - bitebymichelle.com

  • When the salt cod is ready to use, place a large skillet over medium-high heat,
  • Add 2 tablespoon of butter to melt.
  • Add the chopped pancetta and saute for three minutes, stirring constantly.
  • Add the celery and onion and saute until the vegetables are soft and golden.
  • Remove skillet from heat and set aside.
  • Boil the potatoes in a large pot of unsalted water until they are fork tender.
  • Drain the potatoes and mash roughly with 1 egg.
  • While the potatoes are boiling, bring a large shallow pot of water to a simmer.
  • Add onion, bay leaf and peppercorns.
  • After 5 minutes, add the salt cod.
  • When the water comes back to a simmer, cover immediately, and remove pan from heat.

fish cakes - happy, happy, happy - bitebymichelle.com

  • Let stand for 10 minutes.

fish cakes - happy, happy, happy - bitebymichelle.com

  • Remove the fish from the poaching liquid and flake it into a bowl.
  • Using a wooden spoon, mix the mashed potatoes, pancetta mixture and basil in with the flaked cod.

fish cakes - happy, happy, happy - bitebymichelle.com
fish cakes - happy, happy, happy - bitebymichelle.com

  • Shape the salt cod mixture into small balls using an ice cream scoop and place them on a baking sheet. The fish cakes can be stored in the fridge well covered up to 3 days or frozen up to 3 months.
  • When you’re ready to fry your fish cakes, place a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat.
  • Add a hunk of butter to melt.
  • When butter is frothy add the fish cakes and fry until golden, on both sides.
  • Remove to a baking sheet lined with paper towels.
  • Keep warm in 200* F oven while frying the remaining fish cakes.
  • Serve with your choice of condiments…

THE LOVE: Salt cod needs a long soaking to remove the preserving salt, so start at least one day in advance. You’ll read a lot of recipes where milk is used as the soaking liquid but water does the trick just as well. You decide. Also, because I didn’t use any flour or breadcrumbs in the potato mixture you’ll find the fish cakes very delicate. Be careful frying them.

 

Thanks for reading.

fish cakes - new east coast style
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AUTHOR:
Yield: 12 cakes
INGREDIENTS
  • 1 lb pound salt cod
  • ¼ lb pancetta, chopped coarsely
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 stalk of celery, finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 peppercorns
  • 1 small onion, peeled and left whole
  • 1 lb russet potatoes, boiled, drained and mashed
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup fresh basil, chopped coarsely
  • Butter, for frying the fish cakes
THE STEPS:
  1. Wash the excess salt from the salt cod under cold, running water.
  2. Place the salt cod in a bowl of cold water, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate, changing the water several times. This will take 24 hours.
  3. When the salt cod is ready to use, place a large skillet over medium-high heat,
  4. Add 2 tablespoon of butter to melt.
  5. Add the chopped pancetta and saute for three minutes, stirring constantly.
  6. Add the celery and onion and saute until the vegetables are soft and golden.
  7. Remove skillet from heat and set aside.
  8. Boil the potatoes in a large pot of unsalted water until they are fork tender.
  9. Drain the potatoes and mash roughly with 1 egg.
  10. While the potatoes are boiling, bring a large shallow pot of water to a simmer.
  11. Add onion, bay leaf and peppercorns.
  12. After 5 minutes, add the salt cod.
  13. When the water comes back to a simmer, cover immediately, and remove pan from heat.
  14. Let stand for 10 minutes.
  15. Remove the fish from the poaching liquid and flake it into a bowl.
  16. Using a wooden spoon, mix the mashed potatoes, pancetta mixture and basil in with the flaked cod.
  17. Shape the salt cod mixture into small balls using an ice cream scoop and place them on a baking sheet. The fish cakes can be stored in the fridge well covered up to 3 days or frozen up to 3 months.
  18. When you're ready to fry your fish cakes, place a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat.
  19. Add a hunk of butter to melt.
  20. When butter is frothy add the fish cakes and fry until golden, on both sides.
  21. Remove to a baking sheet lined with paper towels.
  22. Keep warm in 200* F oven while frying the remaining fish cakes.
  23. Serve with your choice of condiments...
THE LOVE:
Salt cod needs a long soaking to remove the preserving salt, so start at least one day in advance. You'll read a lot of recipes where milk is used as the soaking liquid but water does the trick just as well. You decide. Also, because I didn't use any flour or breadcrumbs in the potato mixture you'll find the fish cakes very delicate. Be careful frying them.

 

  • Gina

    Happy Easter to you and yours too! Heard you on CBC radio this morning. That’s an exciting contest!!