Back in Seattle, Sarah used to love to go to Coppergate, a Scandinavian bar in Ballard known for the pirate ship-shaped bar and abundance of nude photos. I enjoy a bottle of Carlsberg as much as the next Nordic-looking white guy, but I wasn’t a big fan of the food — too much dill! There were a few other ordering mishaps – Pamela and I once ordered a plate of fiskkakkor (fish cakes) that were so doughy that they were really more “cake” than “fish”. But hey, the fries were consistent, the drinks were strong, and the place was so quintessentially Seattle that I’m sure we’ll be visiting again the next time we’re in Seattle.
These fish cakes are completely different. I originally got the recipe from Mark Bittman’s column a few years ago, and I have been playing with this method since then. Basically, you use mashed potatoes to bind some flaked-up white fish (I used cod, but tilapia works fine too), add some delicious aromatic herbs, and pan-fry, broil, or bake until crispy.
We have a terrible range with an awful broiler (seriously, I thought I would love having a gas stove but this thing is completely under-powered, plus what is the deal with those drawer-broilers?) so I baked them at about 475 degrees for 20 minutes or so. They always fall apart a little bit, but that’s OK. Tonight I added an egg to the mix, which helped keep things together a little bit more. These are awesome on top of rice with a spicy dipping sauce (and if some of the sauce creeps onto your rice, so much the better) – I am including a recipe for a creamy avocado sauce as well as a simpler Sriracha crema. I usually make the avocado sauce, but we each had half an avocado with breakfast so I thought I’d make the much healthier version with Mexican sour cream.
Serve these cakes with a side of greens: I like to stir fry bok choy with some garlic and oyster sauce but kale, broccoli, cauliflower, or spinach would be good too. Or serve a big salad alongside the fish cakes. Or, hell, put the cakes on top of the salad and make it like a vamp on one of those faux-fancy goat cheese salads. Or make the patties a little bigger and put them in a potato bun with some lettuce, tomato, mayo, and Sriracha and call them fish burgers. Honestly, I don’t care what you do with them, just go make these fish cakes, because they are completely delicious.
Roasted, Broiled, or Pan-Fried Fish Cakes
Adapted from Mark Bittman
- 1 pound Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into even-sized chunks
- 1 pound mild white fish such as cod or tilapia (any format is fine, but fillets are easiest – thawed frozen is fine)
- 1 tablespoon ginger, peeled and minced
- 1 jalapeno pepper, minced (remove the seeds before mincing for a milder version)
- 2 limes, one juiced and one cut into quarters for serving
- 1 bunch cilantro, chopped (if you insist on omitting this, substitute the greens parts from a few scallions, minced)
- 1 egg, beaten
- soy sauce to taste
- fish sauce to taste (optional, but recommended)
- vegetable oil
Bring a medium saucepan of water to boil. Add about 2 teaspoons of salt. Taste the water; it should be fairly salty, almost as salty as pasta water. Add the potatoes and cook for 5-10 minutes, or until they are very tender. Remove with a slotted spoon, being careful to drain off as much water as possible, and place in a bowl.
Add the fish to the water, return to a boil over high, then reduce to medium. Cook until the fish is flaky, about 3-7 minutes depending on the type and size of your fish. Remove with a slotted spoon, draining well, and place in the same bowl as the potatoes.
Add the ginger, jalapeno, juice of one lime, and most of the cilantro. Mash with a potato masher or fork until everything is all mixed together. Taste for salt; it will probably need at least a teaspoon each of soy sauce and fish sauce. Once the seasoning is where you want it, add the egg and stir to incorporate. If you have time, chill the fish-potato mixture in the fridge for about an hour. If not, proceed!
Preheat your broiler to high and place a rack 5-6 inches from the element, OR preheat your oven to 450 degrees, OR find your widest nonstick skillet (a big electric griddle like you’d use for pancakes would work great), depending on how you want to cook these.
If you’re pan-frying, preheat the skillet over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. You’re going to have to cook 3-4 patties at a time, so scoop out about half of your mixture and form them into 4 patties. Add them to the pan and leave them alone for about 5-6 minutes, or until they start to develop a nice crust (this is what helps them stay intact). Using a spatula, carefully flip and cook the other side until well-browned, another 5-6 minutes. Set in a 200 degree oven while you cook the rest (you’ll need to add more oil).
If you’re broiling or roasting (my preference), generously oil a baking sheet with 2-3 tablespoons of oil. Form the mixture into 8 patties and brush each with a little more oil to help with browning. Place in the oven or under the broiler. If you’re broiling, look for the tops to get well-browned, about 5-7 minutes depending on your oven. Flip carefully and continue to cook until well-browned on both sides. If you’re roasting, you’ll do the same thing but it’s going to take a little longer and the bottoms (not the tops) will brown first. Mine took about 20 minutes in a 475 oven; yours could take more or less time. Just be patient, don’t poke at them too much, and don’t be afraid to add more oil if they seem like they’re sticking.
Speaking of which: if you’re using the oven, they might want to stick to the pan a little bit. Just be gentle and patient and remember that even if they all fall apart they’re still going to taste good.
However you cook these suckers, serve with a dipping sauce (below), sprinkle with more cilantro, and give everyone a wedge of lime to drizzle on top.
Creamy Avocado Sauce
Using a food processor, blender, or immersion blender, combine the following until smooth:
- 1 avocado, cut into chunks
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon Sriracha
- juice of one lime
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 2-3 tablespoons cilantro
Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. You may need more lime juice or soy sauce to cut the richness of the avocado.
- 1 cup Mexican crema, sour cream, or mayonnaise
- 1-2 tablespoons Sriracha, or to taste
- juice of one lime
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon fish sauce (optional)
Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.