Cooking with Nathan : Emergency Fishcakes

It’s early evening. We’ve been out all day flat-hunting and Christmas shopping and, worst of all, I’ve had a disappointing lunch. We could go out for dinner, or I could just go and pick up a couple of pizzas, but neither of us feels like leaving the house. So I’ll have to improvise something from the little food that remains in the fridge.

I have a fillet of salmon, a solitary potato, a carrot, some onions and a head of garlic. The potato is too small for chips, or roasting or baking. But mashed, it might just suffice for fishcakes…

So here is a recipe for Emergency Fishcakes


One large fillet of salmon (perhaps 250-300g)

One smallish potato (150g)

Two medium sized onions

One head of garlic

One sad carrot (for discarding)

Some dill seeds

Some English mustard powder

Perhaps 10 capers

Salt and pepper

Polenta flour



  1. You should know this by know, but prepare a pair of spritzes
  2. Put some music on. I’m still working through my Le Orme obsession, and so I cooked this to their second and third albums Collage and Uomo di Pezza. Caroline, in the other room, listened to Tannhauser in order to drown it out.
  3. Steam the potato for ten minutes, and then add the salmon fillets (skinned) for another ten.
  4. While the fish and potatoes are steaming, examine your vegetables. Try and conceal any disappointment. Peel and chop the onions into 6 segments. Break up the head of garlic, but don’t peel the cloves. Throw into a roasting tin, dress with a healthy amount of olive oil, salt and pepper, and give them a bit of a toss. Put into an oven at gas mark 5 for 20 minutes or so. The timings are quite forgiving…if they’re on a bit too long, the worst you can expect is slightly caramelised onion and garlic, and neither of these are a bad thing.
  5. (You may choose to omit this step). Look at the sad remaining carrot. Realise that it is no longer a fine, upstanding, crisp figure of a vegetable. It is a wizened, floppy thing that can be bent into a U shape without ever threatening to snap. Throw it away. You may feel disheartened but, at this point, it is important to remember that you have a spritz.
  6. Grind up a a teaspoonful of dill seeds in a pestle and mortar. Rinse ten or so salted capers and chop them up.
  7. Put the fish and potatoes in a bowl, and mash them. Add the dill, the capers, a teaspoon of English mustard (French would be fine, but I just felt in the mood for that extra little bit of heat. Also, I’d have had to open a new jar) and season.
  8. Form the mixture into fishcake-shapes, and dredge in polenta flour.IMG_3193
  9. I have never deep-fried in my life and don’t intend to start now. Shallow frying will be just fine.
  10. Serve together with the onions and garlic. Squeeze the garlic out of each clove. It will be an almost toffee-like consistency, rich, unctuous and caramelly. To be honest, it’s actually the best the part of the meal, although the fishcakes were also pretty good.
  11. Red or white wine will work equally well with this. I replaced Le Orme with Tannhauser before sitting down to eat though…

So why are these ’emergency fish cakes’? Well, the proportions are inverted in that there’s twice as much fish as potato, and there’s no egg used to bind it all together. I didn’t find that it made much of a difference.

This may seem to be a very British recipe – and it is – but if you made smaller balls out of the fish and potato mixture, and called them polpette – well, perhaps we wouldn’t find ourselves too far away from Italy after all.

Happy cooking, eating, drinking and listening!

If they look like these – or even vaguely like these – then they’ll be just fine

7 thoughts on “Cooking with Nathan : Emergency Fishcakes

  1. This is how people who know how to cook cook. Not sure how that sentence would work in an English class though.
    Flat-hunting? Exciting or worrying?


  2. delish… conversely I had a similar but reversed moment this week – transforming a couple of sausages and some other stuff in the fridge into Italian style meatballs…


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