If meatballs are the indulgent Yin then fish cakes must be the healthy Yang in Scandinavian culture. In Sweden, fish cakes are called “fiskbulle”, which literally translates as “fish patty”, which is a rather unpleasant sounding expression that doesn’t do them justice. They are so ubiquitous that you can buy them in tins and there are as many fish cake recipes over here as there are for sausages back in Blighty.
In my experience fish cakes are normally heavy on the stodgy potato and light on the fish which yields one of the most bland mouthfuls you will ever come across. They’re a great way of padding out a pub menu and making a few quid out of some iffy leftovers. But these prejudices were shattered when I tried Trina Hahnemann’s recipe for fish cakes in The Nordic Diet cookbook.
She switches mashed potato for porridge oats, grated courgette and carrot which lightens the texture and adds colour and moisture. I took the recipe a bit further by trying Niamh’s trick or coating the patties in breadcrumbs which created a crisp coating if you are feeling a bit more indulgent. And I can’t stand rapeseed oil so used sunflower oil instead. The book suggests pairing the fish cakes with potatoes and asparagus which would have been great but all I had was some barley and kale which was a shame.
Ingredients – makes 6 fishcakes
500g of minced fish – a mixture of salmon and white fish such as pollack, coley or ling 1 tsp salt 2 tbsp porridge oats 2 egg whites 2 finely grated carrots 1 grated courgette Pinch of thyme Sunflower oil for frying Knob of butter Japanese panko breadcrumbs Pepper
Choose your fish judiciously and have it minced. You don’t want anything too classy or endangered like cod or haddock. But try to include some salmon as much for colour as flavour. In Sweden they are very happy to mince your chosen fish in front of you in the fishmongers and very often have it pre-minced in pre-weighed bags. But in the UK you may want to finely mince the fish with a sharp knife or give it a very brief pulse in a food processor.
Add a generous pinch of salt and a grind of pepper. Then add the egg whites, porridge oats and grated veg and mix thoroughly. It should all come together and not fall apart. If it’s too dry add egg white. If it’s too wet add oats. Leave it to chill in the fridge for an hour or so.
When you are ready for dinner remove the mixture from the fridge and form into patties. If you are feeling indulgent pour breadcrumbs on a chopping board and press the patties into them so they stick. Then fry until golden.
The fish cakes were moist, lightly textured and full of fishy flavour. Not cloying at all and far lighter than their cousins from across the North Sea. The substitution of potato for carrot and courgette makes them far better for you as well according to the principles of The Nordic Diet. I had them with a minty yoghurt sauce and nutritious but very dull barley and kale splodge which is all I had in the fridge.
The yoghurt was a good match but the greens and grain were anything but. A fennel and caper salad would have been a much better platefellow. You could also experiment with adding ginger, chilli and lemongrass to the mix to give them an oriental aspect and pair them with some steamed Chinese cabbage and stir fried vegetables. But whatever you do, don’t think you can substitute fresh fish for tinned mussels and smoked mackerel, courgettes for Swede or consider using rapeseed oil because I’ve tried it and it tastes pretty gross!
We still love to go on trips around the UK, staying in BnBs or camping in search of a good meal or two - hence, Around Britain with a Paunch. Quite often the trips have been prompted by Diana Henry's Gastro Pub Cookbook. Here's where we've been to: