Monday, January 30, 2012

Make Ahead Recipe: South Shore Fish Cakes

Don't tell fish stories where the people know you; but particularly, don't tell them where they know the fish. – Mark Twain 

Traditional fish cakes, with a slight twist.
A favourite dish for many folks in the Maritimes is fish cakes. It’s sad that so few people make them from scratch any more. There is nothing tastier than a well flavoured fish cake and they're very easy to make.

Don’t judge fish cakes by those orange/brown pucks you get in grocery stores made with "minced fish." These are the real deal. Wonderful flakes of haddock held together with highly seasoned potato with onion and parsley and then gently fried to a golden brown. 

Poaching the fish in milk with bay leaves imparts
more flavour than the traditional salt and pepper.
Sound great, don't they? This recipe is another one found on an old recipe card in my late Great  Aunt Hilda’s collection. I admit to some “liberties.” 

For example the lemon juice is my inclusion as are the bay leaves (both from looking at other recipes). The original recipe simmered the fish in milk with just salt and pepper. I added the lemon because it helps "brighten" the taste. The original card also said “cod (or haddock)”, but cod is rare now and I don’t much like it anyway… 

I have specified Russet potatoes. Russet are the driest of all potato varieties and as such make the lightest mashed potatoes. No one likes a sticky potato filling in a fish cake.

Always remember to get the freshest fish possible. That means translucent flesh. As fish gets further away from the date it was caught it begins to become very opaque and almost “chalky” looking.

The real charm about these tasty cakes is that they can be made in the morning and refrigerated until you’re ready to eat. Cooking time only takes about 15 minutes. They can also be frozen quite easily. Just make sure they’re frozen separately, and completely thawed before use.

Once you make the fish cakes you can enjoy the rest of your day knowing that dinner is only minutes away.

I’ve paired this recipe with a curry/lemon mayonnaise and a light salad. Together they take only 10 minutes maximum to make. The curry mayonnaise is also used as an ingredient in the dressing for the salad.

If you’re feeding four as a main course you may want to double the fish cakes recipe and make eight. As a starter the quantities would be perfect for four people.

I made 4 cakes. You can make more from the same recipe,
but they will cook faster if thinner than these.
South Shore Fish Cakes
Prep: 20 min  |  Cook: 10-16 min  |  Makes 4 cakes
1 lb (454 g) fresh haddock fillets
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup milk
3/4 lb (2 medium) Russet potatoes
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp onion, grated
2 tbsp fresh parsley, minced
1 egg
1 cup dry bread crumbs
salt and pepper
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp butter

Place the bay leaves, fish and milk in a wide sauté pan (or other pan) with a lid. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the fish sit in the milk for 5 more minutes. Then drain and remove the bay leaves.

Cube the potatoes quite small, add to salted water and bring to a boil. Cook until fork tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and mash.

Add the lemon juice, onion and parsley to the potatoes and combine well. Add salt and pepper and taste. The potato mixture should have lots of flavour. If not season it with more lemon, onion, salt or pepper as needed. Good flavour in the potato is important.

Break the drained fish up into large pieces and use your hands to mix with the potatoes. Bring it together just enough so the fish is well distributed. Do not make it a homogenous mush.

Prepare two plates for bound breading: beaten egg on one plate; bread crumbs on the other.

Divide the fish and potato mixture into four equal pieces. Shape into a patty about 3/4” thick and 4” wide. Coat each patty with egg and then dredge in the breadcrumbs, making sure both sides and the edges are covered.

When ready to fry, heat the vegetable oil and butter in a frying pan set to high. Reduce the heat slightly and fry each cake for about 5-8 minutes per side until nicely browned. Take care that they don’t brown too fast and burn. If they look like they may turn the heat to medium high and continue.

Serve with half the curry mayonnaise, a wedge of lemon and the salad.

Curry Lemon Mayonnaise
Prep: 2 min
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp Garam Masala
1/4 tsp cayenne
(or substitute equal amount curry powder for the last 2 ingredients)

Mix together and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Curry Dressed Salad
Prep: 5 min  |  Serves 4
1/2 cup curry lemon mayonnaise
mixed with 2 tbsp vegetable oil
4 cups shredded Napa cabbage
2 medium carrots, cut into matchsticks
6 green onions, sliced

Add all ingredients to a bowl. Toss to lightly coat the vegetables.


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Questions? Comments? Derogatory remarks?


  1. So If I want to freeze these to I fry them up first? Or do I just make them, freeze them separately and fry them when I thaw them out?

    1. Form, bread and then freeze uncooked without the patties touching so you don't damage the breading. You "could" fry and freeze and then microwave but I would be afraid the texture would change dramatically. Hope this helps!

  2. These look delicious. I can't wait to try them.