Fish cakes are Norwegians answer to fast food. Just pick up a packet at the grocery store, warm them in a pan, little bit of brown sauce and boiled potatoes and Bob’s your uncle: Dinner’s ready.
Yuck – I never liked them because you can’t see or smell the fish, which, come to think of it, might be why they are so popular with kids. I was lucky enough to get some proper homemade fish cakes once and they were excellent but I can’t wait for that to happen again, so I needed to find another way.
In January, a solution presented itself. We were stalking a group of Delta Pilots in Amsterdam, wait that sounds weird, let me explain this better. Sometimes, I get homesick, so when I hear an American or a group of Americans talking, I lean in. Try to hear what they are talking about, get an impression of what I am missing over there. I know you other expats do the same thing, don’t judge. So,when you are traveling abroad and someone seems exceptionally nice – don’t assume they are native.
Anywho… we were staying at the NH Galaxy Hotel in North Amsterdam so we could do a junk run at the flea market at IJ Hallen the next morning. I had forgotten to make reservations at the groovy Sushi place a few kilometers away and they just laughed when we showed up. Table for two TODAY??? So, we went back to the hotel because we thought we saw a place around the corner. That place turned out to be a biker bar, which we though best about visiting – then we spotted the pilots. They were on the other side of the street and seemed to walk with a certain determination. They were either going to dinner or had just robbed someone and we decided it was the former. About half a kilometer later, they slid into a shop. When we got there there were two alternatives right next to each other, a traditional Dutch coffee shop with darkened windows or a Thai restaurant, we tried the Thai place and were happy to see the pilots had also chosen it.
We ordered a menu and the first course were these amazing fish cakes. So good that I was still dreaming about them a week later. Who knew that fish could be so tasty. There are special items in this recipe that are almost impossible to replace, so do your darndest to get your hands on Kaffir Lime leaves – they are edible in small amounts and give an amazing flavor. Fresh coriander and shrimp paste are also key elements.
3 green onions
1 knob of ginger
3 cloves garlic
fresh chili according to taste and tolerance
1/2 kilo fresh cod
6 kaffir lime leaves, cut in thin strips
3 Tbsp. coconut milk
2 Tbsp. fish sauce
1/2 tsp. shrimp paste
1/2 Tbsp. chili powder
1/3 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. brown sugar
Salt the fish for 10 minutes, rinse and pat thoroughly dry. Be sure to check for bones and scrape to remove skin, in other words – make it pretty and slice into chunks.
In a food processor, place green onions, ginger, garlic and chili. Pulse until well chopped. Add the rest of ingredients and run the machine until you have a thick paste.
Using a large soup spoon scoop out the paste and make little patties, 2 – 3 inches wide and not more than an inch thick. I usually wear plastic gloves because the paste is very sticky. Stack your patties on a plate and refrigerate for 10 minutes to set up.
Fry patties until golden brown in heavy skillet on medium to high heat in about one inch of rape seed or other neutral oil. Drain on a paper towel and cover to keep warm, if serving immediately. The patties can also be frozen for a quick meal later.
Serve with cucumbers slices, lime wedges, fresh coriander, Thai sweet chili sauce, Sriracha sauce and Carrot Ginger Salad (recipe below) or arugula.
Carrot Ginger salad
3 Grated carrots
1 knob of finely sliced ginger
tossed in Japanese rice vinegar
Oh, in case you were wondering, pilots are a gossipy bunch – especially when they think no one can understand what they are talking about.
Adapted from this recipe.