It was a double fishcake day. A first batch that was light, fresh and spicy. A second to send us into a deep, satiated slumber. For the latter, I peeled potatoes, cooked them in boiling water and mashed them. Haddock was simmered with milk, parsley and bay leaves, its silver skin was removed and the pearly white flesh broken into fat flakes. I made a sauce from the seasoned milk, flecked with parsley and grated nutmeg. I stirred together the fish and potato and rolled it into balls, dipped them into beaten egg then rolled them in fine, fresh breadcrumbs and, lastly, fried them in deep oil. And then I washed up. Peelers and pots, dishes and mashers, plates and bowls and the dreaded pan in which I made the parsley sauce.
Was it worth it? The peeling and mashing and poaching and crumbing? Heavens, yes. Crisp balls of fish and potato hot from the pan alongside an accompanying comfort blanket of green-freckled sauce. A dish of quiet flavours, gentle seasoning and the satisfaction of a job well done.
The second batch were those that are on your plate in the time it takes to boil a potato. A sticky sauce hot with fresh chillies and shredded ginger – a neat little cake shaped and cooked in just 10 minutes. Flavours that are fresh and bright, clean and vivid. A fishcake to wake you up.
Dill and haddock fishcakes, parsley sauce
Serves 4 (makes 16)
potatoes 500g, floury and white fleshed
haddock or cod fillet 500g
parsley stalks 6
bay leaves 3
black peppercorns 8
dill fronds 20g
breadcrumbs 100g, fine and fresh
plain flour 40g
double cream 150ml
olive or groundnut oil a little to cook
Peel the potatoes and cut them into large pieces, lower them into a deep pan of boiling water and let them cook for 20-25 minutes. They are done when they are tender enough to pierce effortlessly with a skewer. Drain the potatoes and leave for 5 minutes.
Put the fish into a pan, pour in the milk and water and add the parsley, bay leaves and peppercorns. Bring the liquid to the boil, lower the heat and leave to simmer for 10 minutes, or until the fish is lightly cooked. You should be able to pull the flakes apart with relative ease. Set the fish aside.
Mash the potato. It should be smooth but not gluey. Finely chop the dill and add to the potato. Remove the fish from the milk, break into large flakes then combine lightly with the potato. Take care not to crush the fish.
Roll the fish and potato mixture into 16 balls of approximately equal size, place on a tray and refrigerate for half an hour.
Scatter the breadcrumbs on a plate. Break the eggs into a small mixing bowl and beat lightly. Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan, add the flour and stir together, cooking lightly over a moderate heat for 4 or 5 minutes, stirring almost constantly. Pour in the reserved milk from cooking the fish, discarding the aromatics as you go. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat, stirring until you have a smooth sauce. Chop the leaves from the parsley. Pour in the cream, add the parsley and correct the seasoning. Cover to stop a skin forming and set aside.
Remove the fishcakes from the fridge and drop them, one at time, first into the beaten egg and then the breadcrumbs. Place the crumbed balls on a tray. Warm a shallow layer of oil in a nonstick frying pan, add the cakes without crowding the pan and let them colour evenly, moving them around the pan as necessary. Remove, drain briefly on kitchen paper and serve with the parsley sauce.
Pea and prawn cakes, chilli dip
Serves 3 (makes 6)
For the dip:
caster sugar 100g
white-wine vinegar 125ml
red onion 1, small
hot chillies such as bird eye 2, small
ginger 10g knob, grated
mint leaves 15
For the cakes:
prawns 300g, raw and shelled
frozen peas 100g, defrosted
groundnut oil a little for frying
Put the sugar and vinegar into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Peel and finely dice the onion then add to the vinegar and continue cooking until the onion is tender and translucent. Finely chop the chillies and add to the pan, together with the ginger. Continue cooking for a couple of minutes then remove from the heat. Squeeze the limes and stir the juice into the syrup. Finely chop the mint leaves, stir in and set aside.
Finely chop the prawns, either by hand or in a food processor. Take care not to over-process. Chop the coriander and fold in. Once the peas are defrosted, roughly chop or blitz briefly in a food processor then fold them into the prawns and coriander, season lightly with both salt and black pepper. Shape the mixture into 6 balls then flatten them in the palm of your hand and set aside on a tray and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Warm the groundnut oil in a shallow pan. Lower the cakes into the hot oil, lightly frying for 4 minutes on one side, then 4 minutes on the next, until the mixture is pale gold. Lift out and serve with the chilli mint dip.