There are myriad types of fish cakes, and it’s hard not to love them all.
They can be the frugal kind, made from leftovers: yesterday’s fish, flaked and folded into yesterday’s mashed potatoes. They make pretty good eating with a dab of tartar sauce. Or there are fancier uptown versions, made with crab meat or lobster, if you’re feeling flush.
I was raised on salmon cakes, a.k.a. salmon patties, made from a canned salmon concoction rolled in Corn Flakes crumbs. Very Midwestern, and mighty fine. Or is it nostalgia that makes me think so?
Codfish cakes are traditionally made with salt cod, which needs a day or more of soaking to soften and desalinate the salted fish. Salt cod bestows a deep, complex flavor; some people find it a bit too powerful, but when properly prepared, it is divine. For the most part, though, salt cod has gone out of style, at least in North America. It’s too bad, since there are so many wonderful Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and French dishes that feature it.
As an alternative, I devised this version, which uses lightly cured fresh cod and a bright mix of green herbs. You can use cod, haddock or scrod for these cakes, or another white-fleshed fish like snapper, halibut or flounder. The curing process is straightforward: Fresh cod is lightly sprinkled with salt and pepper, then refrigerated for a few hours or overnight. This light cure gives the fish the seasoning it needs, but it also helps keep the flesh firm when cooked and gives the cakes a moist texture.
I wanted a somewhat Iberian profile for these, so I added lots of chopped herbs (heavy on cilantro) to the fish mixture, and I chose to serve them with colorful stewed sweet peppers and onions flecked with bits of chorizo.
With all fish cakes, you need something to bind the mixture, whether it is potatoes, béchamel, a little mayonnaise or bread crumbs, and some beaten egg. I went the bread-crumb route. Though I love potato-bound cakes, they can sometimes taste more like potato than fish. These are lighter, and more fish-forward. Besides, I wanted to serve roasted potatoes with them.
I also chose not to dip them in flour or crumbs before cooking. Instead, they are gently fried, uncoated, in olive oil until golden. They are downright delicious warm or at room temperature.