Nigel Slater

You’re on a roll if you serve fish­cakes with a herby sauce

The Observer Magazine - - The Observer Magazine - Pho­to­graphs JONATHAN LOVEKIN

Two styles of sump­tu­ous fish­cake, with a herby and a hot sauce

It was a dou­ble fish­cake day. A first batch that was light, fresh and spicy. A sec­ond to send us into a deep, sa­ti­ated slum­ber. For the lat­ter, I peeled po­ta­toes, cooked them in boil­ing wa­ter and mashed them. Had­dock was sim­mered with milk, pars­ley and bay leaves, its sil­ver skin was re­moved and the pearly white flesh bro­ken into fat flakes. I made a sauce from the sea­soned milk, flecked with pars­ley and grated nut­meg. I stirred to­gether the fish and potato and rolled it into balls, dipped them into beaten egg then rolled them in fine, fresh bread­crumbs and, lastly, fried them in deep oil. And then I washed up. Peel­ers and pots, dishes and mash­ers, plates and bowls and the dreaded pan in which I made the pars­ley sauce.

Was it worth it? The peel­ing and mash­ing and poach­ing and crumb­ing? Heav­ens, yes. Crisp balls of fish and potato hot from the pan along­side an ac­com­pa­ny­ing com­fort blan­ket of green-freck­led sauce. A dish of quiet flavours, gen­tle sea­son­ing and the sat­is­fac­tion of a job well done.

The sec­ond batch were those that are on your plate in the time it takes to boil a potato. A sticky sauce hot with fresh chill­ies and shred­ded gin­ger – a neat lit­tle cake shaped and cooked in just 10 min­utes. Flavours that are fresh and bright, clean and vivid. A fish­cake to wake you up.

Peel the po­ta­toes and cut them into large pieces, lower them into a deep pan of boil­ing wa­ter and let them cook for 20-25 min­utes. They are done when they are ten­der enough to pierce ef­fort­lessly with a skewer. Drain the po­ta­toes and leave for 5 min­utes.

Put the fish into a pan, pour in the milk and wa­ter and add the pars­ley, bay leaves and pep­per­corns. Bring the liq­uid to the boil, lower the heat and leave to sim­mer for 10 min­utes, or un­til the fish is lightly cooked. You should be able to pull the flakes apart with rel­a­tive ease. Set the fish aside.

Mash the potato. It should be smooth but not gluey. Finely chop the dill and add to the potato. Re­move the fish from the milk, break into large flakes then com­bine lightly with the potato. Take care not to crush the fish.

Roll the fish and potato mix­ture into 16 balls of ap­prox­i­mately equal size, place on a tray and re­frig­er­ate for half an hour.

Scat­ter the bread­crumbs on a plate. Break the eggs into a small mix­ing bowl and beat lightly. Melt the but­ter in a medium-sized saucepan, add the flour and stir to­gether, cook­ing lightly over a mod­er­ate heat for 4 or 5 min­utes, stir­ring al­most con­stantly. Pour in the re­served milk from cook­ing the fish, dis­card­ing the aro­mat­ics as you go. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat, stir­ring un­til you have a smooth sauce. Chop the leaves from the pars­ley. Pour in the cream, add the pars­ley and cor­rect the sea­son­ing. Cover to stop a skin form­ing and set aside.

Re­move the fish­cakes from the fridge and drop them, one at time, first into the beaten egg and then the bread­crumbs. ‹

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