With so many ingredients the following recipe may seem complicated and perplexing, but it’s not. Thai-style fish cakes are dead easy to make. Basically you blitz everything in a blender, let the mix firm up in the fridge for an hour, then form it into little patties or cakes that you shallow-fry.
1. The ingredients…
The following makes about 12-15 small cakes.
- 350 to 400 g of white fish fillet, skinned and roughly cut into chunks
- A fistful of fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped
- The zest and juice of one fresh lime
- 1 knob of ginger (about thumb size), peeled and finely chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 2 spring onions, roughly chopped
- A splash of fish sauce (also called nam pla)
- 1 egg
The fish needs to be a white variety (rather than, say an oily fish such as mackerel or sardine), and plain (not smoked). Try haddock – it’s vastly underrated but is relatively cheap, has firm flesh and works well; but you could use cod, coley, pollock, hake, halibut, ling or whiting instead.
You can also bulk up the mix with a good handful of white breadcrumbs (for those not gluten-intolerant) and a tablespoon of mayonnaise. I don’t know who first thought of this trick, but the mayo really works.
2. The tweaks and optional extras…
If you haven’t a lime, use a lemon. You can also skip the garlic if any of your diners can’t abide it.
But the egg is absolutely essential to bind the mixture together. If you also happen to have a spare egg white (if, say, you are making mayonnaise), roughly whip that up and throw that in too – it will make the cakes extra light and fluffy.
You will also come across recipes with some of the following ingredients too. These are all totally optional extras – I find you can get away without any of them if you don’t have them to hand or can’t be bothered:
- 1 red chilli, chopped (or dried chillies, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes)
- 1 stalk of lemongrass, tender part only, chopped
- 1 teaspoon of red curry paste
- kaffir lime leaves
- a pinch of sugar
- a teaspoon of cornflour
- green beans (not thrown into the blender but finely chopped and added to the mix at the end)
3. The method in more detail…
Simply place your ingredients in a blender, whizz to a rough minced paste. Don’t worry if the mix seems quite wet; on the other hand, don’t overdo it to create an overfine purée gloopy thing.
Transfer to a mixing bowl, leave it in the fridge for at least half an hour to chill out and firm up.
* * *
In your hands – dampened with a drop of water if you like – take about a tablespoon of the chilled mixture and form it into a ball, squeezing the mixture together (you could flatten the balls slightly if you prefer that shape, but this will probably happen later anyway).
Put this little cake on a plate. Repeat, making another cake, putting it on the plate too and trying to leave a little space between each cake. You will want about 14 or 16 cakes in all.
In a wok or frying pan, heat some oil (I use rapeseed oil, about two tablespoons’ worth, but groundnut oil will do).
Once it’s very hot and beginning to shimmer*, fry the cakes in two batches, rather than overcrowding the pan.
(Another neat trick: Rather than bunging them in the pan randomly and all at once, drop the cakes into the oil gently one by one in a circle, clockwise, trying not to touch each other. Once you have them in this rough circle you will know the exact order they went into the pan, so you can turn them over and take them out in the right order too.)
Give them about two minutes on one side, turn with a spatula or fish slice, cook the other side, again for two minutes. By now they should have taken on a gorgeous golden brown colour. Remove and drain on some kitchen paper before serving
You can serve the fish cakes immediately, but they are surprisingly tolerant – you can reheat them in a warm oven for fifteen or twenty minutes and they shouldn’t dry out. In fact their outside should become extra crispy and even more golden.
A few sprigs of coriander make a good garnish.
Serve with small dipping bowls of sweet chilli sauce – the standard stuff from Tesco or Lidl is fine – or your own mix of soy sauce and chopped chilli.
A cucumber salad is another great accompaniment. With a vegetable slicer, slice a cucumber lengthways into thin strips (you can discard the all-skin outside strip), then add a dressing to taste: try a splash of vinegar (rice wine vinegar if you have it), a pinch of caster sugar, and either plain (not extra virgin) olive oil or a few drops of peanut oil if you have it.
5. The footnotes and small print…
(* CAUTION: Hot oil can be dangerous. Do not leave unattended. SO IS SMOKING IN THE BEDROOM, v dangerous too. TEXTING PEOPLE while driving and reading this recipe on your expensive iPhone, that’s ALSO V DANGEROUS. Also HEADING A FOOTBALL continuously for many years can lead to dementia and turn you into a FOOTBALL PUNDIT ON TV. And SHOOTING UP WITH SMACK WHILE WATCHING REPEATS OF EASTENDERS on the BBC iPLAYER is also not v good for your health either. Terms & Conditions may apply. Seriously though, if we really want to talk about health & safety, it’s time for a short rant about… SALT!!!
The amount of fish sauce you use in this recipe is a question of taste. My taste is to keep it to the bare minimum. Survey after survey finds dangerously high levels of salt in high-street restaurants, often more salt in a single dish than adults are supposed to eat in a whole day. But unlike chefs and food businesses, who seem to have a mad compulsion for way too much salt, I don’t like things too salty. So in this particular recipe I would definitely use less than a teaspoon of fish sauce. If you don’t have fish sauce, you could add an anchovy or a pinch of salt for that salty element. But err on the side of caution. If those you are cooking for do prefer more salt, let them add it themselves via the dipping sauce and so on.)