How to make a perfect fish cake

Simple ingredients, good seasoning and good fish and you can’t go wrong. Just one of four healthy dishes that come with a natural feel-good factor

Fish cakes: simple ingredients, good seasoning and good fish and one can’t go wrong. Photograph: Emma Jervis

Fish cakes: simple ingredients, good seasoning and good fish and one can’t go wrong. Photograph: Emma Jervis

 

Spring is truly here and it’s time to start weaning ourselves off our winter comfort foods and to start eating lighter. The evenings are longer and it’s good for the soul to get outside, get more movement in our lives and to work up a healthy appetite.

During these weeks I’m drawn to the outdoors and, naturally, I want to spend less time in the kitchen and more time enjoying the light breezy evenings. The solution – lighter meals, that take less time but provide just as much energy. It’s a good time to focus on keeping life simple in the kitchen, focus on our diet and put things in place for some fast but healthy meals.

So, as we wait for lighter produce to arrive, we can start looking at lightening our foods using some simple store cupboard ingredients. Here are four recipes that work well together, are interchangeable and can be prepared in advance. These dishes are light, healthy and come with a natural feel good factor.

Planning what we want from our meals allows us to bring the simple joy back to cooking and at the same time have some time for ourselves.

When we eat light, we live and think light.

The perfect fish cake

You can’t beat a good fish cake – simple ingredients, good seasoning and good fish and you can’t go wrong. I like a fish cake that can stand on its own with an interesting sauce or a simple salsa at the side. So take this recipe and make it your own by adding your favourite ingredient but remember less is best when it comes to fish.

Either of the above sauces works prefectly with the cakes and your whole meal can be made well in advance. Fish cakes also work well from the freezer so think of doubling up the recipe if you have space.

Keep the fish after you have poached it to make a simple soup. Chop a medium onion and a couple of sticks of celery and soften in some olive oil for a few minutes and season well with salt and pepper. Peel and chop 2-3 medium potatoes and add them along with the stock and bring to the boil. Allow to simmer until the potatoes are just soft, add a good squeeze of lemon juice and serve with some chopped parsley. A tiny pinch of saffron would make it a real treat.

Ingredients
Serves 4 people as a starter or light lunch
500g white fish, haddock or hake, skinned and boned
1 litre fish stock
350g potatoes
Salt and pepper
Zest and juice of one lemon

Method
1
 Peel and chop the potatoes into rough chunks and bring to the boil in salted water and cook until they are just soft through, try to catch them before they break apart. Drain through a colander and then place the colander over the empty saucepan and turn on the heat very low to allow the potatoes to dry out. Allow to cool slightly before mashing.

2 In the meantime, in a separate saucepan bring the stock to the boil, add the skinned and boned fish, cover with a lid and turn off the heat. After five minutes turn the fish over in the stock and replace the lid for another five minutes or until the fish is just cooked through, depending on the thickness.

3 Drain the fish through a sieve (keeping the stock for a later date) and flake it into large pieces.

4 Mix the drained fish with the mashed potatoes, along with the chopped zest and juice of the lemon. Season generously with salt and pepper and mix well, trying not to break up the fish too much.

5 Divide the mixture into four and shape into cakes, pressing them firmly together. Put in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to chill fully.

6 To cook, heat a frying pan to medium, add enough oil just to coat the bottom of the pan and add in the fish cakes and cook for 5 minutes on each side until nicely golden.

Hake steamed on a bed of sushi rice with herbs

Hake steamed on a bed of sushi rice. Photograph: Emma Jervis
Hake steamed on a bed of sushi rice. Photograph: Emma Jervis

I originally created this recipe for my “cooking for one” class as it is light and simple to dial up or down, depending on how many you’re feeding. My family and staff ate many versions of it before I got the recipe just right – it’s both profound and refreshing in flavour. It’s so versatile I find myself cooking at least one version a week depending on what is in the fridge.

Making extra sauce is always a good idea as it will keep for months in the fridge. It’s important to remember the longer you soak the rice, the shorter the cooking time will be. You can soak and drain the rice in advance and keep in the fridge for up to four days which will make for a very quick meal.

Ingredients
Serves 4
4 x 200g of scaled hake fillets
400g of sushi rice
800ml of fish stock/ water
Fresh herbs
½ diced cucumber
4 chopped spring onions

For the dressing
1 inch ginger, grated, very fine
1 inch turmeric grated, very fine
2 garlic cloves crushed
½ chilli finely chopped
1 lemon zest and juiced
250ml toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp cider vineger
2 tsp tamari

Method 
1
 Soak the rice for 10-20 minutes, rinse under running water to remove the starch.

2 In the meantime, make the dressing by combining all the ingredients in a bowl, season and taste. Or, for a better result, use a liquidiser.

3 In a saucepan heat the fish stock/ water. When it comes to the boil add the rice and herbs, cover and cook for 2 minutes.

4 Depending on the thickness of your hake, place it on top of the rice at different times: for example, place thick pieces after rice has cooked for 2 minutes; thin pieces after the rice has cooked for 4 minutes.

Cover and continue cooking until both the rice and hake are done. To check the fish is correctly cooked, press your finger at the thickest part; it should be soft if properly cooked.

Serve with the dressing, diced cucumber and spring onion.

Vegetables with sushi rice

Vegetables with sushi rice. Photograph: Emma Jervis
Vegetables with sushi rice. Photograph: Emma Jervis

This is my plant-based version of the above recipe and I love it for its simplicity and convenience. When the market is overflowing with summer vegetables, you can have lots of fun with this dish. Different combinations of beans, kales and spinach make for interesting variations along with the tops of beets, turnips and kohlrabi.

Ingredients
Serves 4
1kg mixture of seasonal vegetables of your choice
400g of sushi rice
800ml of vegetable stock/ water
Fresh herbs
1 quantity of sesame dressing from fish-cake recipe

Method
1
 Soak the rice for 10-20 minutes, rinse under running water to remove the starch. Prepare all the vegetables and chop according to their size and shape.

2 In a saucepan heat the stock/water. When it comes to the boil add the rice and herbs, cover and cook for 2 minutes.

3 Depending on the vegetables you have chosen, add in the ones that will take the longest to cook, such as carrots, as soon as the rice has been cooking for two minutes. Then add in the next vegetable such as broccoli or cabbage and give it all another 2 minutes. making sure you replace the lid tightly every time. If you are using green beans, purple sprouting broccoli or spinach beets, add them in for the last minute. Keep an eye on the stock and if it’s looking a little dry, add a little more to help the vegetables to finish cooking. 4. Once the vegetables are just cooked, turn off the heat and allow to stand with the lid tightly on for 5 minutes before serving.

Anchovy and caper dressing

This store cupboard dressing should always be at hand in your fridge as a finishing touch to many dishes – its zing adds a lightness to everything it touches. It can be whipped up in minutes, it’s a winning combination and works perfectly with the fish cakes. Also, it’s great to accompany eggs for breakfast or to dress a green salad finished off with some parmesan.

Ingredients
2 tbsp freshly lemon juice
5 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
6 anchovies fillets, chopped or pounded
1 tbsp capers, chopped and pounded

Method
Mix together all the ingredients in a bowl. Salt should not be needed because of the anchovies and capers.

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