Chances are, you’ll never eat a better fish cake. This spicy fish cakes recipe features finely diced chorizo, cilantro, a few capers, Bird’s Eye chilies, and a couple of salty anchovies — and that’s just the start. It’s a world of flavor.
The next time you make buttery mashed potatoes, do yourself a favor and double-up on the quantity. Keep half in the refrigerator overnight and prepare yourself for a real treat the following day.
That treat will be crunchy-coated, spicy fish cakes served with a sharp, fresh salsa and garlicky zucchini.
Cod, Alaska pollock, or hake: Any of these firmly fleshed white fish will be grand for these fish cakes, provided they’re skin-on fillets. And, for this recipe, frozen fillets are the way to go.
Why skin-on for these spicy fish cakes?
The fish in this dish isn’t going to be poached or grilled — it’s going to be rapidly seared first. Think of the skin like the crackling on fine roast pork. You sure miss it if it isn’t there.
So, the skin’s kept on the fillets because it’s there for flavor — with a capital ‘F’. Once the fillets are cooked — really hot and fast in sizzling butter — and mashed into the ‘cake’ mix, you won’t see the skin. But, leave it out and you will definitely miss its oceanic flavor.
Go beyond the bad rap
Strikes me that fish cakes have sadly suffered a bit of a bad rap since I was a boy. (That’d be back in the late sixties…) They seem to have been branded with a sneery, ‘cheap’ tag. For sure, they’re not an expensive dish to make, and they weren’t ever supposed to be.
But the idea in recent years of trying to ‘elevate’ them with high-end fish like salmon and crayfish just seems to me like missing the point. Like shaving truffles onto first-class hot dogs in an attempt to raise their culinary status and social acceptability. And for me, anyone who snobbishly says they don’t eat proper hot dogs, on the street, no less, has either lost their mind or their taste buds.
No matter. I’ll freely admit I’ve done a bit of elevating in this recipe. Here’s why. Back in the England of the late sixties, nobody in my family’s circle had even heard of — let alone purchased and eaten — chorizo, cilantro, or capers. At best, parmesan was a whispered rumor. Same story with anchovies.
Even something that’s now as everyday as black pepper was pretty much unheard of — especially if it was ground in a grinder in the kitchen or, unthinkably, at the table.
As for chilies, well, my grandfather used some in his superbly crunchy, eyebrow-raising pickled onions. Chilies were an ‘exotic’ thing in England back in those days. Lord knows where he bought them in his small, country town that was at least 50 miles away from any big cities. And chilies certainly didn’t feature anywhere else in the no-complaints-from-me, home-cooked food I enjoyed as a kid.
How the world turns.
The ‘global village’ has increasingly shared its cooking’s ingredients. Even for humble fish cakes. Mine now have chilies, cilantro, capers, anchovies, lime juice, and ground black pepper. And parmesan. Yep, the world turns. And sometimes for the better.
Because I know this as an absolute certainty — a dollar to your dime — my grandfather would have adored these spicy fish cakes with their inexpensive, and now commonplace, ingredients.
Spicy Fish Cakes With Salsa And Garlicky Buttered Zucchini
For the fish cakes (8 total cakes, 2 per person)
- 2 red Bird’s Eye chilies Finely chopped, seeds and all
- 16 ounces white fish fillets Skin-on, frozen fillets of cod, hake or pollock are fine – defrosted and drained
- 20 ounces cold buttery mashed potatoes seasoned with salt and pepper There‘S an update on the mashed potatoes in the instructions that follow
- 4 ounces chorizo sausage finely diced
- 1/2 ounce cilantro finely chopped, stalks and all
- 1 tablespoon capers drained and finely chopped
- 6 anchovy fillets finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons lime juice approximately the juice from one lime
For the fish cake coating
- 3 tablespoons plain white flour heaped
- 3 ounces breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese finely grated, heaped tablespoons
- 1 egg beaten
- 3 ounces salted butter for both cooking the fish and frying the cakes
For the salsa
- 4 Red Bird’s Eye chilies finely chopped, seeds and all
- 12 ounces red cherry tomatoes halved
- 1 small red onion peeled, halved and finely sliced
- 1/2 ounce cilantro finely chopped, stalks and all
- 1 ounce fresh basil torn into small pieces
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar heaped
- 1 teaspoon ground sea salt
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons lime juice approximately the juice of one lime
For the garlicky zucchini
- 10 zucchini medium-sized, topped and tailed, peeled lengthways to creates stripes, then cut into inch-thick slices
- 4 cloves garlic peeled and very thinly sliced
- 2 ounces salted butter
- 2 teaspoons ground sea salt
Prep the zucchini
- You want to prep the zucchini at least 30 minutes before you plan to cook and serve the fishcakes.
- Place the slices in a bowl with six or so ice cubes just barely cover them with cold water and set them to chill in the refrigerator.
Making the mashed potatoes (if you don’t have some at the ready)
- Remember that you want cold mashed potato for the fish cakes. So, if you’re starting from scratch – as opposed to using leftover mashed potatoes – you’ll need to cook the potatoes at least 1 ½ hours before you plan to serve the fishcakes. If you already have mashed potatoes at the ready, skip these steps.
- Choose medium-size floury potatoes (about 20 ounces). Peeled and quartered. Put them into a saucepan and barely cover them with cold water.
- Add 1 heaped teaspoon ground sea salt, place the pan on a high heat and bring to the boil.
- As soon as that happens, drop the heat to low and let the potatoes simmer for about 10 minutes – until just cooked through.
- Drain the potatoes, return them to the pan (no heat) and use a fork to roughly mash them: not smoothly mashed yet, just roughly with 2 ounces butter and salt and pepper to your taste.
- Set a lid slightly ajar on the pan and let the potatoes steam for 3 minutes, then mash them until just barely smooth.
- Let them cool for 30 minutes before placing the pan in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
Preparing the fish cakes
- Time to cook the fish – hot and fast. On a high heat, melt 1 1/2 ounces butter in a non-stick skillet large enough to hold the fillets in a single layer.
- As soon as the butter starts to foam, add all the fillets, skin side down. Turn the heat to medium-high and let the fillets sizzle away for two minutes. Then turn them and cook for another two minutes.
- Turn off the heat and add the lime juice all over the fillets. Leave them to cool in the skillet for 30 minutes.
- Once the mashed potatoes are cold, transfer them to a mixing bowl and add the chilies, chorizo, cilantro, anchovies, and black pepper. Stir until all the ingredients are combined.
- Transfer the fillets – and all their juices – from the skillet onto a board and roughly chop them, making sure the skin and juices get mixed in with the flesh.
- Add the fish to the mixing bowl and stir gently so that you get an even mixture that still keeps some body in the fish.
- Using your hands, form the mix into eight round patties, about 3 inches in diameter and 2/3 inch thick. Time now for coating them.
- Line up three side plates on your work surface, plus a plate large enough to hold the patties in a single layer.
- Add the flour to the first side plate, the beaten egg to the middle one, and then a thorough mix of parmesan and bread crumbs to the last side plate.
- Begin by coating the first patty in flour, then give it a light coating of the egg, and finally a generous coating of the parmesan and breadcrumb mix. Place the coated cake onto the large plate.
- Repeat the process until you have eight coated fishcakes. Put the large plate with the fishcakes in the refrigerator for 30 minutes – good time now to make the salsa.
Making the salsa
- Simply mix all the ingredients into a bowl in which you plan to serve the salsa. Stir a few more times. Done.
Cooking the fishcakes and the zucchini – at the same time
- Set a serving dish for the fishcakes and one for the zucchini into a very low oven.
- For the zucchini, drain them and dry them by loosely wrapping them in a clean dishtowel.
- Melt 2 ounces butter in a pan on a medium heat so that it begins to foam. Add the zucchini and 2 level teaspoons salt. Stir so all the zucchini are coated in the sizzling butter. Let them cook like this for five minutes with a few, regular, gentle stirs. You’re aiming to get some golden colour onto the zucchini before adding the finely sliced garlic and dropping the heat to low.
- Stir so the garlic gets well mixed with the zucchini, cover the pan, and let it cook on low for another 5 minutes with a few more stirs. You want to pull the flavor out of the garlic but not for it to brown. Done – and ready to be transferred to its warm dish in the oven whilst you rapidly cook the fishcakes.
- For the fishcakes, melt 1 1/2 ounces butter in a broad skillet on medium-high heat.
- The moment the butter foams, add four fishcakes and fry them for 4 minutes on each side until the coating turns darkly golden and crisp.
- Place the first four cakes on their dish in the oven and then cook the remaining cakes in the same way. You might need to add some more butter to the skillet before you fry the next four cakes.
- Serve at once on warm plates with the zucchini and the hot salsa on the side.