These are traditional, old fashioned fish cakes and they’re a great example of classic Irish country cooking. Packed with tender flakes of just barely poached cod, lots of fork-mashed russet potatoes and a smattering of lemon, ketchup and parsley, they’re fried in a cast iron skillet until crispy golden on the outside, and downright feathery inside. They’re homey and comforting, but I think of them as a light summer meal because I always serve fish cakes on top of a pile of fresh greens, — baby arugula is my ‘green’ of choice these days — along with plenty of lemon and tartar sauce. I’m giving you a twofer today, because the homemade tartar sauce could have been a post in itself. Thick, rich, from scratch tartar sauce in 30-seconds. You’re going to love me for it.
I’m of two minds when it comes to fish and seafood cakes. Sometimes I like to serve them with a fresh salsa, and other times, nothing but a classic mayo based tartar sauce will do. These homey Irish cod cakes called out for the latter. The sauce is simple, and wonderful, and I bet most of you assumed I was going to mix a few ingredients into a ready made mayo and call it homemade. But no, this is from scratch, made just the way my 30-second mayonnaise is made, with a room temperature egg and vegetable oil as its base. I add some dill pickles, capers, lemon, mustard, and some salt and pepper to the jar. It blends up instantaneously with my stick blender into a creamy tartar sauce.
You can play with the ratio of fish to potato in this recipe if you like. While I usually make my fish cakes with a higher ratio of fish to other ingredients, in this case the potatoes and the cod face each other as equals. The Irish have a deep respect and love for the potato, and who am I to argue? The tarter sauce helps wake up the flavor and saves them from too much of a ‘nursery food’ vibe.
These keep well in the fridge and make great leftovers, you can reheat them in the skillet, (over low heat) or in the microwave. In fact these can be made from leftovers if you’ve got extra fish and potatoes around. Salmon would work well with this recipe, too.
I’ve adapted the fish cakes from the beautiful book The Country Cooking of Ireland.
- 1 lb russet potatoes
- 1 lb cod fillet
- 1 Tbsp spicy ketchup or chili sauce
- a handful of minced fresh parsley
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1/2 tsp each salt and fresh ground black pepper
- 1 sleeve Ritz crackers, finely crushed (use a small food processor or a rolling pin)
- several Tbsp vegetable oil for frying
- sliced green onion
- chopped parsley
- 1 pasteurized egg, at room temperature
- 1 cup vegetable oil, at room temperature
- 1 tsp grainy Dijon mustard
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 2 Tsp capers
- about 1/2 cup dill pickles, chopped
- 1/4 tsp salt
- fresh cracked pepper to taste
- Peel and chop the potatoes into large chunks. Put them in a saucepan, cover with cold water, add 2 teaspoons of salt, and bring to a boil. Cook until the potatoes are very soft.
- Put the cod in a shallow saute pan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, and then cover, turn off the heat, and let the fish poach for about 10-15 minutes. Drain.
- Drain the potatoes and put them into a large mixing bowl. Use the back of a fork to mash them, leaving a little bit of texture.
- Add the ketchup, parsley, lemon juice, beaten eggs, and salt and pepper. Stir briefly to combine, and then add the fish, breaking it apart with your fingers as you add it. (Check for tiny bones as you do this.) I like the fish to remain fairly chunky, so don't break it apart too much. Fold the fish into the mixture until everything is evenly incorporated. It will be fairly wet.
- I use a 1/3 cup measure to scoop out the mixture and form into patties. Flour your hands if necessary.
- Roll each patty in the Ritz cracker crumbs, to coat all surfaces and set on a platter. You can cover and refrigerate the cakes at this point for later cooking if you like.
- Coat the bottom of a skillet (I like cast iron) with vegetable oil and heat on medium heat until hot. Fry the cakes for about 5 minutes on each side until golden, crispy, and hot throughout. Note: the cakes will be very delicate, move and flip them with extra care.
- Serve immediately on top of a bed of greens. I like to mix the greens with a few chopped ripe tomatoes and some thinly sliced red onion. You can add a little oil and vinegar to the salad if you like before adding the cakes.
- Serve lots of fresh tartar sauce and lemon wedges on the side.
- To make the tartar sauce: Put all the ingredients into a jar that fits the head of your immersion blender. I find that a 16 oz wide mouth mason jar is the perfect size.
- Set the head of the blender down at the bottom of the jar, and turn it on. Blend for a few seconds and as the sauce starts to thicken, gently raise the blender up to blend all of the contents. This will only take a few seconds. you can pulse the blender a few times to continue to thicken the tartar sauce.
- Remove the blender, give the sauce a stir, and taste to adjust the seasoning. Screw the cap on the jar and keep refrigerated until needed. Use within a week to 10 days.
Use a pasteurized egg for safety in the tartar sauce. You can usually find them next to the regular eggs. You can also try to pasteurize one yourself, in a microwave, instructions here
This is very simple, satisfying fare, and one of our most oft repeated summer dinners.