Monday, February 20, 2012

Fish and Rice Cakes

Pan-fried deliciousness from everyday ingredients.

iPhone photo on this Mostly Meatless Monday 

As a youngster, a kid growing up in the Midwest, fish was not on my list of favorite foods. No way, not even at the bottom of the list. Fresh fish meant picking through gazillions of bones for each mouthful of dry, flaky, fishy-flavored flesh. Dad's favorite canned salmon croquettes were another unpopular (to me) dinner item. For years, fish cakes of any kind were mentally linked to those dreaded croquettes. 

Seafood slowly crept into my diet during my Southern California preteen years. Fish sticks with ketchup or bottled tartar sauce were tolerated at home and at school - probably because they didn't really seem like fish. Tuna fish sandwiches were an okay lunch choice, and tuna melts were an improvement.

Seafood love finally struck me as a teenager with my first restaurant-ordered shrimp Louis or crab Louis salad. Iceberg lettuce, thousand island dressing and mountains of shellfish - what was not to like? And oh how I loved those cute little shrimp cocktail appetizers served in small juice glasses. Fish? I know I ate fish and chips, but it was probably the crust and the fries that thrilled me.

Now, all these years later, I'm crazy about a variety of fresh, local seafood. Fresh and local are key words here. Public disclosure: here in the Pacific NW, where fresh seafood is so readily available, I've also discovered a latent fondness for fish cakes. Whether cooked fresh fish or canned fish, both work for me in patty form. Go figure!

The Daring Cooks' February Challenge was all about patties, and it refocused me on canned tuna and sardines. The various fish cakes I prepared made for delicious lunches and light suppers, not as rich as crab cakes and certainly more affordable. When we're cruising I'll continue to revel in fresh seafood as often as possible. For my seafood cakes or patties I'll first use cooked seafood , fresh or left from another preparation, but I will also stock a few cans of tuna and sardines, just in case

Four main components...

...mixed together and seasoned,

measured and formed into patties,

breaded and chilled,

are pan-fried until browned and crisp.

Mmmm, betcha can't eat just one!

Fish and Rice Cakes

1 can water-packed chunk tuna
2 cups cooked rice, chilled (leftover rice works well, it's drier)
1 large egg, beaten with a fork
2 or 3 tablespoons Panko or breadcrumbs
1 handful flat-leaf parsley or cilantro, chopped
2 green onions, chopped
1 cup cooked kale or spinach, wrung dry
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon Cajun Sunshine or other sweet hot sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

Breading Mix: Panko, parsley, dry Parmesan from the can and a sprinkle of Chipotle chili powder or Spanish smoky  paprika (pimenton)

Canola oil for frying
Tartar sauce, raita or other sauce to accompany, optional

  1. Mix the tuna, rice and egg in a bowl. Add breadcrumbs, a tablespoon at a time, until a small ball of the mixture holds together when pressed. 
  2. Add the parsley, onions, kale, lemon zest and hot sauce and mix thoroughly.
  3. Use a well-seasoned iron skillet and heat a tablespoon of oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Cook a tiny sample fish cake until browned on both sides and taste for seasonings. Add salt, pepper, etc. as needed to the blend.
  4. Use a 1/4 cup measure to scoop up a portion of the fish cake mixture. Pack it firmly and unmold into a pie plate that holds the breading mix. Cover both sides of the patty with breading mix and set aside on a platter. Repeat until you run out of fish mixture.
  5. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for an hour or so - it will make the fish cakes easier to turn when you cook them. 
  6. Reheat that well-seasoned iron skillet with another tablespoon or two of oil. Gently place some fish cakes in the pan with an inch or two of separation between them. This way they fry instead of steam, and it makes it much easier to turn them over.
  7. Cook over medium heat until nicely browned on side one, then carefully flip and cook on side two until a crispy golden brown crust forms. 
* If you decide to freeze part of the batch, stop before breading the extras or you risk soggy crust when you do fry them up. It's better to defrost the patties, then apply the breading. I know, it's obvious, but it does make a difference.
* Change up the flavors by substituting oyster sauce, or Thai sweet red chili sauce. Use corn or chopped green beans instead of spinach or kale. Get creative and see how a few different ingredients can make a huge difference in taste. 

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