As Christmas draws in and thoughts turn to the social whirl of the festive season, it might be worth having this timely reminder of the delights of the humble fish cake. These tasty morsels are a wonderful addition to any Christmas or New Year’s Eve party menu and are guaranteed to perk up the most jaded of palates. So if you are looking for something to put a smile on guests faces or have been asked to take a dish along to a party, then read on…
There are different versions of fish cakes around the Caribbean with some using garlic, mashed potato or fresh parsley in their mix, and they have different names. In Jamaica they are known as Stamp and Go and in Martinique as Accras de Morue. Interestingly in Portugal where people are very fond of dried salt cod, they make a non spicy fish fritter called Pasteis de Bacalhau.
Making fish cakes is a labour of love and there can be little argument that they are best appreciated on the beach with an ice-cold beer, rum punch or a freshly made lime squash.
The following recipe ought to be used as a guideline only, so do please adapt the seasonings to suit your own personal taste.
The Recipe - Bajan Fish Cakes
Makes 60-70 small fish cakes.
400g/14oz of *dried salt cod or similar fish such as cusk - will make approx 200g/7oz once prepared
1 bunch of spring onions finely chopped (including some of the green tops - not the ends)
1 fresh hot chilli or ½ **scotch bonnet pepper, de-seeded and finely chopped
½ heaped teaspoon of finely chopped fresh thyme
1 medium egg, lightly beaten
Approximately 90ml/3floz of milk
100g/3½ oz of plain flour (approx half flour to weight of prepared fish)
1 heaped teaspoon of baking powder
Freshly milled black pepper
Barbados hot pepper sauce (yellow pepper sauce with a mustard base) or similar such as Encona's Creole Pepper Sauce, to taste - optional
Sunflower/ground nut oil for deep frying
Method (Takes approx. 2 ½ hours including preparation).
Rinse the fish in cold water to remove the encrusted salt. Then place in a bowl of clean fresh water, cover and soak (change water at least once) in the fridge or a very cool place overnight. Rinse again and place in a pan with hot water and simmer for about 30 minutes. Then drain and allow to cool. If you are using boneless, skinned salt fish, simply rinse off the salt thoroughly, soak for 30 minutes and then simmer for about 5 minutes and flake when cooled.
Remove all the skin (you can peel it off by hand or use a knife) and the bones. This can be a bit of a messy job, as the skin will now be quite thick and gelatinous underneath, so make sure to scrape all the blobby bits off. Flake the fish with your fingers and remove the finer bones. Then you have the choice of manually shredding the fish or giving it a few quick bursts in a food processor. The latter is quicker and will also blitz any fine bones you have missed.
Weigh the prepared fish and adjust the amount of flour (should be half flour to fish). Then put the prepared fish into a mixing bowl and add a few good grinds of black pepper and the chopped spring onions, thyme and hot pepper (you can put all three in the blender for speed). Give it all a good mix. You can also add a few dashes of hot pepper sauce at this stage, but if you are not keen on hot spice then I suggest you leave it out.
To make your batter, put the flour in a large bowl, make a well in the middle, add the beaten egg and some of the milk and mix in the flour, slowly adding the milk (you may not need to use all of it) until you have a smooth thick batter of dropping consistency. Stir in the seasoned fish and just before you are ready to start frying mix in the baking powder.
For frying, you need a good size, deep sided pan (I use a wok) half filled with oil and with sufficient room for each batch of fish cakes to bob around as they cook. Once your oil has heated up, drop teaspoon-sized dollops of the mixture into the oil (for a nice bite size and quicker frying time) and fry until they are a deep golden brown. This will take 3-4 minutes. I suggest checking the first one or two to gauge how they are doing and to ensure the centre is cooked. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.
Continue to cook in batches, topping up your oil as required. Do not overcrowd the pan as there needs to be room for the fish cakes to bob over once one side is cooked. You may need to give them a nudge.
You now have a choice of serving the fish cakes right away whilst they are still fairly hot or leaving them to cool down. Fish cakes freeze perfectly well and quick to re-heat from frozen in the oven. Serve on a large platter decorated with fresh parsley and lemon wedges, on cocktail sticks if you are offering them hot.
Special Dipping Sauce
2 heaped tablespoons of mayonnaise
1 tablespoon of tomato ketchup
Barbados hot pepper sauce to taste
¼ fresh lime or lemon juice
Mix the mayonnaise with the ketchup in a small bowl until smooth (it should be a pale salmon colour), add a few dashes of hot sauce and finally mix in a couple of squeezes of lime/lemon juice (not too much or it will become watery). Taste and adjust ingredients to suit. Serve in a small bowl alongside the fish cakes for dipping.
Notes on Ingredients
* Salt fish - You can buy dried salt cod/fish in most of the large supermarkets in the UK which have a World Foods section. These normally tend to be the skinless, boneless packs of fish which cuts down your preparation time. If you live in an area with a West Indian community (though the Spanish and Portuguese also use salt cod), then you might be able to buy dried salt cod from a fish monger or a market stall. This is probably the best way as they often have whole sides of salted fish and will cut off the amount you need, plus it will probably be of a better quality. Look for fish with firm, whitish flesh that has not completely dried out and which has a dry salt crust and skin.
**Scotch bonnet peppers - These are extremely hot and in this recipe I would never use the seeds (which have a searing, white-hot heat, so be warned). Scotch bonnets are the most widely used pepper in the Caribbean and they are fairly easy to get hold of in the UK or USA. Avoid handling them with your bare hands at all times.
More Caribbean Recipes can be found on our Rum 'n Recipes Page