Friday Night Fishcakes With a Thai Twist
The story behind this story is one to which we all can relate: What should I cook for dinner tonight?
I was pondering that very question yesterday afternoon, but was coming up empty, even with hundreds of books in my midst. To help fire up the synapses, I turned to my food-stained copy of "The Kitchen Diaries," an old reliable by Brit food writer Nigel Slater. In "The Kitchen Diaries," Slater chronicles a year in the life of his own home kitchen in London.
I peeked at the Feb. 7 and Feb. 8 entries (with the idea of coinciding with the calendar) which dish up "lamb shanks to warm the soul" and "a smoked fish supper." The idea of fish appealed -- but without the smoke. So I kept thumbing through until I saw the entry for April 9, which also happens to be Slater's birthday. To celebrate, he prepared supper, a multi-course affair that included Thai fish cakes, which sounded positively tongue-ticklish and worth a kitchen whirl.
The fact that today is the first Friday of Lent, when many observant Catholics eat fish, sealed this deal. Let's see what we can do spritz up ye olde stodgy fishcake, I thought.
The Thai aspects of this dish are fish sauce (aka nam pla), lime leaves (found in the frozen section of any Asian and Indian grocery) and to a certain degree, cilantro. Although you could substitute the rind of several limes, I highly recommend getting your hands on the leaves, as the flavor is a knockout that will forever be imprinted in your memory.
Slater tends to write in long hand, often without exact measurements, so I've filled in the gaps in my notes below. His idea of making a spice paste that gets integrated into a fish paste (from a quick "pulse" in the food processor) is brilliant; the resulting patties are gloriously green and when fried up, transform into an intriguing medley of flavors that will be cause for pause and contemplation.
To go with, Slater suggests a limey-gingery dipping sauce that gets a little time atop the stove, so that it thickens and jams up a bit (that's due to the sugar and the fish sauce).
The house will smell like limes, which is never a bad thing, and you and your lucky guests will be doing a tableside jig because these little patties are so darn interesting. Good stuff!
A couple of notes: The original recipe does not include a binder, such as egg, potatoes or bread crumbs. I followed Slater's instructions and ended up with a crumbly mess. So I scrapped the first batch and added one beaten egg and a small amount of bread crumbs. If you don't do eggs, try boiling a potato and mashing it, then adding completely cooled potato to the fish mixture. As mentioned earlier, Slater's recipes are meant to be tweaked.
I also dredged the patties in flour, a step worth doing so they get brown and crispy. You could try cornstarch as well.
Have a delicious weekend!
Thai Fish Cakes
Adapted from "The Kitchen Diaries" by Nigel Slater
2 small red chiles, stemmed and seeded (I used 1/2 habanero)
3 scallions, cleaned, root removed
2 cloves garlic, peeled
6 lime leaves (available at an Asian or Indian grocer)
1 small bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
1 heaping tablespoon Thai fish sauce (aka nam pla)
1 pound white fish (haddock, hake, cod, tilapia, turbot - keeping in mind eco-friendly choices), skinned if necessary
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup plain bread crumbs
1/4 teaspoon salt
flour for dredging
vegetable oil for frying
Roughly chop chiles and scallions and place in the bowl of a food processor. Add garlic, lime leaves, cilantro and fish sauce. Process into a smooth paste, then scoop out of food processor into a medium mixing bowl.
Cut fish into chunks and pulse in food processor, until you have a rough paste. Scoop fish out of food processor and add it to spice paste, mixing until well combined. Add egg, bread crumbs salt and pepper, and cover with plastic. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to set up.
Flour your hands and shape mixture into small, flat patties about the size of a gingersnap. Return to the fridge for an additional 20 minutes.
When ready to cook, heat skillet over medium heat and add at least three tablespoons of oil. Dredge patties in flour and evenly coat. Place patties in skillet and fry patties until golden on both sides. Drain on paper towels; keep in a warm oven while and serve with dipping sauce.
Makes enough for two; amounts may be doubled.
2 large red chilies of medium heat, diced (fresno, mirasol; remove seeds if you like a milder result)
3 tablespoons fish sauce
7 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
7 tablespoons superfine sugar
thumb-sized knob of fresh ginger, peeled, chopped and pulverized
Juice of 2 limes (or l large lime)
1 1/4 teaspoons soy sauce
In a small saucepan, combine fish sauce, water, rice vinegar and sugar and bring to a boil. Add ginger and allow mixture to boil until it has begun to slightly thicken. Pour over a sieve, leaving behind larger ginger pieces.
Let sauce cool, then add lime juice, chopped chiles and soy sauce.
By Kim ODonnel |
February 8, 2008; 11:04 AM ET
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