Part of this whole unemployed cooking experiment was not to just continue improvising meals, but to actually use the spate of very nice cookbooks I've received over the years. I have never been one for cookbooks, preferring to feel my way through whatever strikes my fancy. However, I am finding that using cookbooks can not only add some real stunners to your repertoire, it can also give you a good jumping off point for more ingredient ad-libbing. Tonight’s excellent recipe was inspired by Nigella Lawson’s recipe for Salmon Fish Cakes, from her wonderful cookbook “Nigella Bites”. Her recipe is near perfect, very simple and delicious, but I just couldn’t stand to not jazz it up a tad. I think you will like them.
Call them croquettes, fish cakes, or whatever you want—these golden patties are the ultimate comfort food and a wonderful use for leftover mashed potatoes. I was inspired to make them after finding canned salmon at the market for $1 a can, and once I saw that it was wild salmon, I couldn’t resist. In fact, this seems to be a best kept secret of the fishing industry—all canned salmon is wild. That’s right, for $1 a can, you can get delicious wild salmon that would cost you who knows what if it were fresh. Of course, it does come from a can, so it’s hardly material for a fine dinner party or anything. At least the cans are nice to look at in your pantry.
Regardless, these fish cakes are simply divine. Mr. C. hugged me after eating them, and to paraphrase Amanda Hesser, “anything that elicits a hug is good by me.” He started going on about how he would order them in a restaurant, and could I please make them again? Pretty please?
Since all of the ingredients are in my pantry on a regular basis, I would be happy to.
with assistance from Nigella Lawson
makes 7-9 patties
for the croquettes:
1 ½ cups cold mashed potatoes (I use peeled red potatoes, mashed with butter and a little cream)
14-15 oz. canned salmon, with any visible bones picked out
pinch cayenne pepper
zest of ½ a lemon
salt and pepper
dollop of Dijon mustard (optional)
scant ¼ cup finely chopped celery (optional)
scant ¼ cup finely chopped onion (optional)
for coating and frying:
scant ½ cup bread crumbs or matzo meal (if you can’t be bothered to make your own breadcrumbs, try the matzo rather than storebought crumbs. It’s much better)
about a ¼ cup of butter
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
In a large bowl, mix together all of the fishcake ingredients. You can use your hands, but I like to use an old fashioned potato masher. I find that it really mixes the ingredients thoroughly, and even better, your hands don’t smell all fishy. Well, yet.
Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and use your hands (sorry) to form fat, palm sized patties. Place these on the baking sheet and let stand in the fridge for at least an hour to firm up. It works even better to pop them in the freezer for a bit.*
Beat the eggs in a wide, shallow soup bowl and sprinkle the bread crumbs or matzo meal onto a dinner plate. One at a time, dip the cakes into the egg first, then into the crumbs, covering it in a thorough crust. When you’re all done, put the butter and oil in a large frying pan, heat it until the butter foams, and then fry the croquettes on each side until the crusts are a deep golden brown. Be careful when flipping them, they will still be a bit soft.
As you cook them, let them drain for a minute on a few paper towels. Squeeze a little lemon on top and eat with lots of ketchup. I turned my nose up at Lawson’s ketchup recommendation, but she was right, it was delicious. I served these with a pile of seared green beans, cooked in lemon and olive oil.
*At this point, you can freeze the patties, individually wrapped. These little wonders are just the thing when you are home alone for the evening but just can’t face a night of popcorn or cheese and crackers. Not that there is anything wrong with cheese and crackers. To cook after freezing there is no need to thaw, just dredge the frozen slabs in the egg, then breadcrumbs, fry until golden brown on each side, then pop in an oven set at 250 degrees for 40 minutes to an hour. Yum.