I spent a number of years working at a fish shop. And whenever there was odds and ends of fish that aren’t necessarily perfect to look at, I was the guy who made something from those bits. Invariably, these creations that started as a way to use the off cuts, become more popular than the bits can provide. One such thing I used to do was fish cakes.
Fish cakes are a natural for little bits of fish, or to have a small piece of fish go a long way to feed more than just one person. Salmon was always very popular and had lots of odds and ends to go into such things as salmon cakes.
Arctic char, a northern cousin to salmon, with a sweet, mild flavour and slightly softer, richer texture is a natural for fish cakes.
I never wanted to use lemon or dill with salmon (or its cousins) while I worked at that shop, and continue in that mindset. I find lemon and dill, while delicious are the easy approach. I always wanted to have something different and have people see the fish in a bit of a different way.
My recipe has a couple of steps, but each step is rather easy and there’s plenty of opportunity to multitask.
Spiced Arctic Char Fish Cakes
200g/7 oz arctic char filet (or salmon if you can’t find arctic char)
200g/7 oz potatoes (about 2 medium potatoes. I like to use a starchy potato like Russet or Yukon Gold is good too), chopped into 2cm/1″ pieces, leave unpeeled if it’s a thin-skinned potato, otherwise, peel
1/2 medium onion, sliced
1/2 tsp vinegar (the bit of vinegar helps firm up the texture a bit and add an almost imperceptible tartness)
2 tsp salt
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1 clove garlic
3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 egg + 2 Tbsp water
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
Preheat oven to 180C/350F.
On a sheet of aluminum foil, spread the sliced onions along one side. Place the filet on the onions, add the vinegar to the the bottom along with a few tablespoons of water. Fold over the other edge of the foil and crimp the edges all the way around the fish until it is sealed inside. Place on a baking sheet and then on the bottom rack of the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Reserve and finely chop the onions from the bottom of the cooked fish.
Place the chopped potatoes in a medium pot, cover it with water, add 2 tsp salt, bring to a boil over medium high heat, cover with a lid, reduce the heat to medium low and cook for 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Drain and mash coarsely. A few chunks of potato are actually preferable for a bit of textural variability. Set aside and allow to cool.
Place the coriander, mustard and fennel seeds, with the peppercorns in a spice grinder and grind until a fine powder is achieved. Add the spice mix to a food processor with the garlic and 1/4 cup of water. Purée into a thick paste. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine the flaked, cooked arctic char, mashed potato, onions, and garlic-spice paste. until uniformly combined. Divide into two, if you want large fish cakes or into four, if you want smaller fish cakes and form the portions into a round ball. Flatten them into a cake. The thickness is up to you. I made two large cakes about 9cm/4″ in diameter and 3 cm(1-1/2″) thick.
Place the flour in one small bowl, the egg/water mix in another small bowl and the breadcrumbs with salt in a third small bowl. Dredge the prepared fish cakes in the flour, then in the egg mixture, then in the breadcrumbs, ensuring an even coating all around them.
Preheat a medium nonstick pan over medium heat. Add 1-2 Tbsp oil. When the oil starts to make cracking noises, but not smoking, add a fish cake. Brown for 2-3 minutes on each side and if you are doing a thick fish cake, gently grab the fish cake with tongs and brown the sides for 30 seconds on each side, all the way around. Drain on paper towels and serve with sour cream. Makes 2 large fish cakes or 4 medium sized fish cakes.