Salt Cod Fishcakes
My ears always prick up when either of the girls request a dinner, and Willa surprised me recently when she asked for “fishy cakes” over a year after I first tried making them (a seemingly unsuccessful try at the time). I prefer to use salted cod rather than a fresh white fish when making fishcakes—the curing process for the fish brings out a concentrated fish flavor without being too “fishy” (as my mom would say, and contrary to Willa’s name for them). After rehydrating the fish for a few days, the saltiness disappears but that latent umami remains.
I’ve played around with various ways of making these—Willa prefers this method with some leftover mashed potatoes as the binder, while Phoebe seems to prefer hers potato-free, so I’m including notes on the two variations here. The dinner itself is easy to prepare but it does require a bit of planning. As mentioned, you must soak that fish in advance for at least two days, and somewhat obsessively change the water three or four times a day to ensure all that salt is leeched out of the fish. You’ll also want to par-cook the fish the morning or the night before you plan to make the dinner. The recipe here is also for a double batch of fishcakes: they freeze easily and well, which makes for a very quick second dinner on a weeknight.
I serve these fishcakes with a dab of the same tartar sauce recipe I posted for Fried Trout a while back, and usually just a simply dressed salad on the side and a bit of hearty toast. You can omit the tartar sauce and just give the cakes a healthy squeeze of lemon juice if you prefer.
In some other news, I’ve been pretty quiet with this blog for a few months, and this is likely to continue on for a while: we’ve bought our first home and are fleeing Brooklyn for suburban life! The house we purchased is, err, a bit of a fixer-upper and has us occupied with all those mundane tasks of upkeep. I’ll try to post some new recipes here and there but for now Squared Meals will remain quiet while we square away our house and adjust to our new commute.
- For the fishcakes
- 1-1/2 lbs. of quality salt cod, cut into pieces small enough to fit into a large pot
- 1 bay leaf
- 10 whole black peppercorns
- 1 lemon, zested (with zest reserved and remaining lemon juiced and set aside)
- 2 Tbsp. capers, rinsed and roughly chopped
- 1 to 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 to 2 c. mashed potatoes (or see variation in the notes)
- 1/2 bunch of parsley, chopped fine (around 1/2 c. post chopping)
- Ground black pepper to taste
- Around 2 c. plain or panko bread crumbs, 3 c. if not using mashed potatoes
- Olive oil and/or butter for frying, around 1/4 c. per batch
- A hearty bread for serving
- For the tartar sauce
- 1/2 c. Mayonnaise
- 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
- 4 Cornichons, small dice
- 1 Tbsp. Capers, minced
- Juice from 1/4 lemon
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Soak the fish for at least two days, preferably three, changing the water frequently. I usually change the water twice in the first few hours of the soak, and then once every four to six waking hours after that.
- Bring a large pot of water up to a boil. Add the bay leaf, peppercorns, and lemon juice and allow to simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Add the soaked salt cod to the pot. Once the water hits a simmer again, remove from heat and allow the fish to sit in the bath for 15 minutes. Remove the fish to a bowl or plate and allow to cool before refrigerating until the next steps.
- You can also make the tartar sauce in advance; combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and refrigerate. The tartar sauce will keep for a week.
- Break the fish into chunks small enough to fit into the bowl of a large food processor. Add the fish, reserved lemon zest, capers, and egg into the processor bowl and pulse until the mixture is like a coarse paste.
- Remove the fish mix from the processor to a larger bowl, and add the mashed potatoes, parsley, and black pepper, and mix with a wooden spoon to combine thoroughly. The mixture should be bound together so that patties can be easily formed and hold their shape. If the mix seems too dense or dry add the additional egg. If it seems too loose you can add some bread crumbs into the mixture.
- Line a pan (or pans) small enough to fit into your freezer with some wax paper and dust with some of the bread crumbs. Make 12 to 16 patties; coat each patty in bread crumbs and place on your pan(s). Once all the patties are formed, place the pans in your freezer for at least 15 minutes.
- Place a large non-stick pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil (or butter, or both) to the pan. Once the fat is hot, add 6 to 8 patties to the pan and fry on each side until brown, about 10 minutes per side. Once the cakes are nicely browned, serve on or with the bread and the tartar sauce, along with a side salad.
- I use leftover mashed potatoes when making these, and I do mean rich mashed potatoes—cream, butter, and seasoned. You should do the same for maximum enjoyment of these fishcakes, but you could also mash an unseasoned baked or boiled potato into the mix and adjust the seasoning as needed.
- If you aren't using any potatoes at all, you can use bread crumbs. Allow for at least an additional cup of bread crumbs to help bind the fish mix with the egg.
- If you plan to cook this as two separate meals, allow the fishcakes to completely freeze, then move them into a ziplock freezer bag and keep until ready to use.