Sunday, November 30, 2008

Fish cakes, Fish cakes

As soon as I started thinking about this post, that "Fish Heads" song came into my head. (You know, "Fish heads, fish heads, roly poly fish heads. Fish heads, fish heads, eat them up, yum." That one. Thanks to the wonder of YouTube, you can even watch it here. )

For a person who's been mostly a vegetarian for much of her life, I'm perhaps a bit fonder of fish cakes than I should be. They're so hard to resist though--all neat and crisp and compact. I've often ordered them in restaurants, but I only started cooking my own fish cakes in the past 4 or 5 years.

First, I was a devotee of this Amanda Hesser recipe, first published in the NY Times magazine in 2004. These are definitely tasty, and I made them with cod as well as with other white fish. I haven't made them in awhile, but I'd like to again.

Last year, everyone I knew was making these salmon cakes from Not Eating Out in New York, and while I enjoyed them, there was a bit too much mayonnaise in them for my taste, and I never succeeded in not having them fall apart in the pan.

So, I have a history of falling for fish cakes, and it had been a year or so since I'd last made them. So when I saw Melissa Clark's column in the NY Times food section a few weeks ago, I knew I had my next fish cake project before me. Her column was about using leftover mashed potatoes from Thanksgiving, and the potatoes serve as the base for these salmon cakes. She mixes them with salmon, spinach, bread crumbs, and eggs, makes them into patties, chills them and then fries them in a little bit of oil.

I made these last week, pre-Thanksgiving. Alex had made an early Thanksgiving dinner for his daughters but somehow never got around to making the mashed potatoes. Still, he'd peeled and cooked the potatoes and had them sitting in cold water, and he kindly donated them to the salmon cake experiment. (He was repaid in salmon cakes, of course.)

I was also glad that, on a whim, I had bought a little bag of panko at the store. I'd never used panko before, and I can no longer remember what inspired me to buy some, but when I was getting ready to make the salmon cakes (and didn't want to run out to the store again), I was glad I had.

These are quite easy to make, though you do you have to think ahead so that you have your salmon cooked, your potatoes mashed and your spinach thawed. You mix it all together in one sticky mess along with the eggs and bread crumbs.

And then you set up your dipping station--a bowl of flour, a bowl of beaten egg, a bowl of bread crumbs or panko.

And then you take a spoonful of the fish/potato/spinach mixture and make it into a patty, which you then dip first in the flour, then in the egg and finally in the bread crumbs.

After they've chilled in the refrigerator for a half hour or so, you can fry them up in a bit of olive oil. I think the panko helps them not absorb as much oil, but a blotting with a paper towel is advised.

I'd forgotten to buy dill at the grocery store, so I skipped Melissa's suggested garlicky dill cream, though it sounded delicious, and just ate them with tartar sauce out of a jar. (A travesty, I know.)

Next time, I might add something oniony to the mix--maybe some chopped green onions or a bit of shallot. That was the only thing missing, I thought. Otherwise, it's a very nice combo, and the texture is great.

My one warning is that this makes a BIG batch of fish cakes. I believed Melissa when she said this would make 12 patties, and I made a full batch. I ended up with 17 patties, which was more than I'd bargained for. I became the fish cake fairy and brought them to work to give to colleagues to have for their dinners. Next time, unless I'm planning a fish cake party, I'm going to make half a batch instead. I also kept the uncooked ones in the fridge, and we ate them over the course of the week. If you cook them ahead of time, you can just reheat them in the toaster oven, and they still taste good, but I made most of them fresh. One last shot of the plethora of fish cakes, even after I'd cooked the first batch . . .

Still, I think these are definitely worth making fresh mashed potatoes for, and I'm adding them to my fish cake repertoire.

Potato, Salmon and Spinach Patties With Garlicky Dill Cream

from Melissa Clark's "A Good Appetite" column in the New York Times

Time: 45 minutes plus at least 30 minutes’ chilling


10 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed

2 cups mashed potatoes, chilled

8 ounces cooked salmon fillet, flaked

2 1/2 cups panko or bread crumbs

4 large eggs

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup all-purpose flour


2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt, more to taste

1 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt

1/4 cup chopped fresh dill

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Olive or vegetable oil for frying.

1. Squeeze as much water from spinach as possible. Place in a bowl and add potatoes, salmon, 1 cup panko, 2 eggs, salt and pepper; mix well to combine.

2. Place remaining bread crumbs in a wide, shallow bowl. Place remaining eggs in a second bowl and beat lightly. Place flour in a third bowl.

3. Form spinach mixture into 3-inch patties, about 3/4-inch thick. Dip each patty into flour, tapping off excess, then the egg, letting excess drip into bowl. Coat evenly with panko crumbs. Transfer patties to a large baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours.

4. Meanwhile, make dill cream: In a mortar and pestle or with the back of a knife, mash garlic and salt together to make a paste. Stir it into the sour cream or yogurt. Add dill and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. Chill until ready to serve.

5. Heat 1/4-inch oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; if using olive oil, you don’t need to use good extra virgin oil. Cook patties in batches, turning once halfway through, until golden and cooked through, about 3 minutes a side. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Serve hot, with a dollop of dill cream.

Yield: 12 patties (or, actually, more like 16 or 17, unless you make them really big)

1 comment:

Lisa said...

Excellent -- I'm going to try these. I am also a bit disenchanted with that salmon cake recipe, although I've made it a few times. I think you're right -- it's too mayonnaisey.