Monday, January 18, 2016

Nova Scotia Fish Cakes

During much of my life, fish has been off the menu. It's only in the last year that I've taken to regularly eating fish. It might be menopause, or it could be that, once people stopped telling me I should do it, I decided to give it a chance. I'm not a stubborn person, but I prefer to try things based on curiosity rather than being pushed. It doesn't help that those who recommended fish only pushed it for health reasons and really didn't describe the experience in any other terms. If you can't tell me that it has some sort of textural delight or flavor potential, then I'll stick to other, cheaper, healthy dishes.

It also did not help that I was in Japan and most of the fish I was told to eat was raw. I really dislike the texture of raw fish and I was raised to think uncooked flesh of any sort would result in dire healthy results. And, of course, my mother's home cooking of fish was not especially impressive. It usually meant a carp or trout wrapped in foil and cooked with lemon, salt, and pepper until it had had all of the textural delights steamed out of it.

I've tried to overcome the disadvantages of my youth in this regard. Pollock has been helpful in this regard as its the least "fishy" fish. It's also cheap. I've been trying it in various preparations and have generally been pleased. I had not folded it into a recipe which wasn't simply a way to make a whole piece of fish so the Nova Scotia Fish Cakes recipe caught my eye.

This was my first experience cooking fish in milk. I did as instructed, but I didn't know why this was of value until I did a little research. It's supposed to remove the "fishy" smell and taste and restore fish to a fresher flavor and impart a better texture. I do believe this worked and was effective. The fish did taste good without being overly "fishy" (which is an unpleasant taste  and odor that comes from the aging of the fish).

Since the recipe called for any white fish, my stash of frozen pollock which was a little over 14 oz. fit the bill well. I soaked it in milk as instructed, though some of the fish was partially frozen and it froze the milk so I wonder if that may have undermined the soaking effects. I also cooked it in milk, but for a very short time (about 4 minutes) because my fillets were very thin. This worked well as the fish didn't seem rubbery or overdone when I flaked it.

For the potato, I weighed it out to be sure to get the proportions correct and I used a ricer to mash it. This allowed for a much more even mashing than using a fork and I was pleased with how uniform it was when I made the cakes. I am dubious, however, about boiling the potato as part of the cooking and wondered if steaming my not have been a better idea. When I prepared the cakes for frying, they were delicate and it was hard to keep them from falling apart in the egg mixture. I had to roll them back into shape to some extent when I applied the bread crumbs. One cake broke in half, but cooked fine anyway. My best guess is that making smaller "appetizer" size cakes would have made this less likely, but I was prepping these for an entree. Mine looked like this:

The original potato patty was actually round. The shape change occurred because of the softness of the patty and the need to roll it around in the bread crumbs (I used panko) to keep it together and firm it up after the egg coating.

In terms of how this was, it was actually pretty great. The outside is crispy and not too oily. The inside is tender and soft and there's just enough flavor variation to keep things interesting without overwhelming the potato and fish flavors (which can be faint). I would make these again in a heartbeat if I had the fish on hand. I modified the recipe little, but the one thing I did do was add a 1/8 teaspoon of Old Bay seasoning. I'm not sure that it made any difference given how tiny the amount was, but I might throw in 1/4 teaspoon next time to see if it has an impact. These were very flavorful on their own because of the scallions, salt, and pepper, but I don't think adding more complexity would do any harm.

The only problem is that this makes a lot and I am the only person in the house eating them. My batch made five cakes and I cooked them over two days. I allowed the leftovers to cool and froze them immediately. My hope is that fast freezing (while the coating was still crisp) and then cooking them still frozen and in a toaster oven will keep the delightful crispy exterior's charms intact.

Update: Freezing them (in plastic wrap) shortly after they'd full cooled and then re-heating in them in the toaster oven straight from the freezer worked very well. It retained the crispy exterior and tender interior. This is a winner for long-term use and a way to avoid process breaded products and make your own. 

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