Eric Akis: Golden meal stars a fine fish

Eric Akis

Three things inspired today's recipe — a walk in my garden, peeking in my freezer to see what was in there, and a desire to eat fresh, in-season, B.C. halibut.

In my garden, the chives were growing like crazy. Time to start using some of them, I thought.

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In my freezer, the first thing I saw was a bag of peas. It’s a budget-friendly ingredient whose colour will always add an appealing, bright-green hue to a spring meal.

With regard to the halibut, it’s not an inexpensive ingredient, with fillets costing $47 a kilogram where I shopped for it. That’s why I sometimes like to use a smaller amount of the fish in a dish, and dedicate the funds I saved by doing that toward other ingredients that will complement its flavour.

In today’s recipe, which yields four servings, I did that by simmering a 200-gram halibut fillet, which cost $9.40, in milk, which added additional richness to the fish. The fish was cooled, flaked and added to freshly mashed, then cooled, potatoes, along with snipped chives from my garden, thawed frozen peas and few other flavours.

The mixture was formed into eight cakes, which were then breaded and pan-fried.

Once plated, these crisply coated, savoury halibut potato cakes were served with a tangy mayonnaise flavoured with lemon, parsley and capers. Make a nice dinner serving the cakes with a green salad or with steamed asparagus.

Halibut Potato Cakes with Peas and Chives

Savoury, golden, crisply coated cakes with a hot fish and mashed- potato centre dotted with peas and snipped chives.

Preparation time: 40 minutes

Cooking time: About 28 minutes

Makes: four servings

For the fish cakes

1 1/4 lb. (560 grams) baking potatoes (about 2 medium), peeled and quartered

1/2 tsp salt, plus some to taste

1/2 cup frozen peas

1 (200 gram) halibut fillet

1/4 cup homo or 2 per cent milk

2 Tbsp snipped fresh chives (see Eric's options)

1 large egg, beaten

1 Tbsp all-purpose flour

• white pepper, to taste

Place potatoes in a medium pot and cover with two inches of cold water. Add 1/2 tsp salt to the pot. Set pot over medium-high heat and bring potatoes to a boil. Now reduce heat until potatoes simmer. Simmer potatoes until tender, about 18 to 20 minutes.

Drain potatoes well, and then set pot back on the heat to evaporate any liquid left in the bottom of it. Now remove pot from the heat and thoroughly mash the potatoes (you should have about 2 cups). Spoon potatoes into a medium to large bowl and cool to room temperature.

While potatoes cool, line a plate with a piece of paper towel. Set frozen peas on the paper and let them thaw there (the paper will draw excess moisture from them).

Place milk in a nine-inch skillet, set over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. Set fish in the skillet, skin-side up. Return milk to a simmer and then adjust heat so that it just gently bubbles. Cover the fish and cook six to eight minutes, until just cooked through. Lift fish out of the skillet and set on a plate, skin-side up. Let fish cool to room temperature; discard the milk or save and add to chowder or other creamy seafood soup.

When potatoes and fish have cooled, carefully pull the skin off the latter and discard. Flake fish into small pieces. Add them, and the peas, chives, egg, 1 Tbsp flour and salt and pepper, to taste, to the mashed potatoes and mix well to combine.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. With lightly cold-water-dampened hands, form 1/3 cup amounts of fish/potato mixture into eight cakes, each about three inches wide, and set them on the baking sheet. Coat and cook cakes as noted below.

To coat and fry cakes

1 cup panko (see Note)

2 Tbsp all-purpose flour

1 large egg beaten with 2 tsp milk

3 Tbsp vegetable oil

• lemon parsley caper mayonnaise (see recipe below)

• lemon slices and pea shoots or chive slices, for garnish

Place the panko in a sided dish, such as a pieplate. Place flour is a second dish and the egg/milk mixture in a third.

Coat each halibut potato cake in the flour. Dip in the egg mixture, ensuring each cake is thoroughly coated. Now coat the cake in the panko, pressing it on to help it adhere. Set coated cakes back on the baking sheet as you go along. (Cakes can be coated a few hours in advance of cooking. Cover and refrigerate until ready to do so.)

To cook cakes, pour oil into a large skillet set over, or on an electric griddle set to, medium, medium-high heat.

When the oil is hot, fry the cakes until golden brown and piping hot in the centre, about four minutes per side (see Eric options). Check the bottoms of the cakes as they cook and lower the heat if they are browning too quickly.

Set two cakes on each serving plate with a good of dollop of the lemon parsley caper mayonnaise. Garnish with lemon slices and pea shoots (or chive slices) and serve.

Note: Panko is coarse Japanese-style bread crumbs. It’s sold in the Asian foods aisle of most supermarkets.

Eric options: If you don’t have chives in your garden, or can't find them at the store, you could replace them with two green onions, thinly sliced.

If eight halibut potato cakes are too many for you, freeze the ones you won’t eat now to reheat and enjoy at another time. To do so, after frying the cakes, cool the ones you won’t eat now on a parchment paper-lined plate. Set plate in the freezer and freeze the cakes solid. Now transfer cakes to a freezer bag and keep frozen until needed.

When needed, set the halibut potato cakes you want to cook on a baking sheet. Bake, from frozen, in a 375 F oven for 20 minutes, or until hot.

Lemon Parsley Caper Mayonnaise

Tangy, easy to make, flavoured mayonnaise you can spoon alongside the halibut and potato cakes.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: none

Makes: about one cup

3/4 cup mayonnaise

1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest

1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 Tbsp capers, coarsely chopped

1 Tbsp chopped parsley

• splash Worcestershire sauce

• salt and white pepper, to taste (optional)

Combine all ingredients, except salt and pepper, in a small bowl. Taste and season the mayonnaise with salt and pepper, if needed. Cover and refrigerate mayonnaise until ready to serve with the fish. Can be made a day before needed.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear Wednesday and Sunday.

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