Saveur (April 2016)
We often imagine other lives we're living.
There's the us that lives in New York City, like Clay once did, where we live in a tiny apartment that has no real kitchen to speak of. We rarely cook, but there's so much good (and affordable!) food around. We're rarely at home, always at work or with friends.When we do cook, it's an event, with lots of friends crammed into our apartment, just to remind ourselves that we can.
The West Coast us worships the sun. In this alt-life, we're living in Los Angeles, and live to be outside, going to the beach every chance we get. We actually have a really big apartment in this version (our L.A. selves are rich!), with a citrus tree in the yard, and a huge, airy, light-filled kitchen. West Coast us is calm, rested, absolutely zen. We are cooking, but it's mostly salads. Very light, very healthy, totally amazing salads. (But then obviously we cheat by going to SQIRL and In-and-Out on the regular).
There are other versions, too. Like another West Coast us who lives in San Francisco and is super outdoorsy and spends every weekend in Napa or Tahoe or Big Sur.
There's an us who lives year-round on Cape Cod (or maybe Maine), in a little rambling house with crooked walls and low ceilings. In summer, we pluck blueberries from the bushes in our back yard and pack slices of our home-grown tomatoes to take to the beach. We freeze through the winters, huddled around a little Franklin stove and dreaming of summer. This version of us cooks a lot of seafood -- hearty fish chowders and stocks.
And maybe even a lot of fish cakes.
Because it turns out, we love a fish cake. And that was not always the case.
We both grew up in houses where some form of fish cakes -- mostly croquettes made of canned salmon -- were a regular staple on the menu. They were simply formed patties with some spices added, and lightly fried in a skillet. They were totally fine, but we wouldn't rank them up there with our treasured childhood culinary memories. (For that, we'll tell you our Fry Daddy stories sometime.)
This recipe is a real departure from those simple fish cakes we remember. First, the Indian flavors (cumin, cilantro and cardamom) are excellent. Second, these fish cakes rely on a good amount of "filler" in the form of potato. We don't tend to think about potatoes in a fish cake -- we're more accustomed to bread crumbs as a filler. (Or, for the fresh Chesapeake crab cakes we get here in D.C., no filler at all. Turns out the D.C. version of us has some perks, too.)
But the potato in these fish cakes make them very substantial and filling.
The recipe suggests topping the cakes with a mint chutney. It's a welcome additional burst of flavor. Surprisingly, we couldn't find mint chutney at our local supermarket, though. We ordered a jar from Amazon.
All in all, these fish cakes were a tasty little dinner. We can imagine all versions of us cooking these.
What's the alt version of your life you dream about? Do you live in some far-flung place? In the midst of millions of people or miles away from a soul? Tell us all about it!
Cooking Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
3 whole cloves
2 green cardamom pods
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
8 oz. skinless cod or red snapper fillets
1 lb. russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1⁄2 cup whole-wheat bread crumbs
2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
2 tbsp. roughly chopped cilantro
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 small green Indian chile or serrano, stemmed, seeded, and minced (optional)
1⁄4 cup vegetable oil
Mint chutney, for serving
In a small saucepan, combine the cloves with the cardamom, bay leaf, cinnamon, and 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Add the fish, return to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and poach the fish until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, transfer the fish to a bowl and let cool. Discard the spices and cooking liquid.
Meanwhile, cover the potatoes with generously salted water in a medium saucepan, bring to a boil, and cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes and let them cool completely.
Add the potatoes to the bowl with the fish along with the bread crumbs, lime juice, cilantro, cumin, and chile, season with salt, and lightly mash the potatoes with the other ingredients until evenly combined. Form the mixture into six 3-inch-wide, 3⁄4-inch-thick patties.
In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, warm the oil over medium heat. Add the patties and cook, flipping once, until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Transfer the fish patties to a serving platter and serve while hot with mint chutney on the side.