Bowl by David Walters
This recipe is my attempt to reproduce some little fish cakes - not only dainty and delicate, but also quite divine - that I tasted recently at The Common Room, a newish restaurant in Franschhoek operated by Susan Huxter of Franschhoek's esteemed Le Quartier Francais group, with a menu designed by the talented Margot Janse.
I've seen this restaurant described in reviews as a 'tapas' restaurant, but this term really doesn't do justice to the swooningly delicious dishes on The Common Room's ever-changing menu. Okay, the menu format is similar to that of a tapas bar ( in that the portions are snack-sized appetizers) but the quality of the ingredients, the refined presentation and the deliciousness of the food are several stratospheres above what you might expect in the average tapas bar.
My mother, who took me out for this meal, warned me that the food was good, but I didn't expect my socks to be thoroughly knocked off (and I'm still hunting for them in the vicinity of the Great Grey-Green Greasy Limpopo, so far were they blasted). Every dish was a little gem; every mouthful a sensation. As a person who is sent into agonies of indecision when choosing from a menu (I always choose something that isn't as nice as everyone else's, and have severe attacks of menu envy) I loved the fact that I could order a whole range of dishes and taste a bit of everything.
My mum and I shared six dishes, which filled us to the brim. I won't describe them to you - this isn't a restaurant blog - but if you ever go to The Common Room, please try the confit duck (served in a small jar, with apricot mebos 'marmalade').
The food is pleasingly affordable, with the average price of each dish hovering between R20 and R35.
But back to the fish cakes. What I loved about The Common Room's cakes is that they tasted of pure salmon. Not dill, not parsley, not chives, not onion, not potato, nor any of the delicious ingredients you'd commonly expect to find in a good fishcake. I asked the waiter what was in them, and he came back to report that they contained onion, potato, fresh salmon and smoked salmon. I think - although I can't be sure - that the 'smoked salmon' used in the cakes was a superlative locally produced smoked salmon trout from Three Streams.
These fish cakes were served with a 'deconstructed' tartar sauce - all the usual ingredients, but left in bigger pieces and attractively strewn on the plate, with dabs of olive oil and mayo - but I think they're good enough on their own, perhaps with with a squeeze of lemon juice. And were mine as good as the originals? Of course not. But close.
Delicate Double-Salmon Fish Cakes
300 g fillet of fresh salmon, skinned and boned
½ cup (125 ml) white wine
two small sprigs of thyme
a bay leaf
a thumb-length strip of lemon peel
flaky sea salt
milled black pepper
water to cover
200 g smoked salmon or salmon trout
1 cup (250 ml) very finely chopped fresh leeks, white parts only (about three medium leeks)
3 T (45 ml) butter
1 tsp (5 ml) finely grated fresh lemon zest
one large free-range egg, lightly beaten
flaky sea salt and milled black pepper
sunflower oil for frying
For the mashed potatoes:
3 large potatoes (enough to make a cup and a half of mash)
2 T (30 ml) butter
a little hot milk
½ cup (125 ml) flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup (250 ml) fresh breadcrumbs
First make the mashed potatoes. Halve the potatoes and put them in a pot of cold water, with a big pinch of salt. Turn on the heat, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes, or until they are quite tender. Drain in a colander until cool enough to handle. Slip the peels off the potatoes and place them back in the pan. Add the butter and hot milk and mash until smooth and fluffy. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and set aside.
Put the salmon in a pan just wide enough to contain the whole piece. Add the white wine, one thyme sprig, the bay leaf, lemon peel and a generous pinch of sea salt. Now add just enough water to cover the salmon. Set the timer on your stove to 9 minutes, turn the heat on under the pan and bring gently up to just below boiling point. Now cover the pot and simmer for 9 minutes. Remove the lid and, using the tip of a knife, poke a small hole through the salmon. If it's still raw on the inside, poach it for another few minutes, or until it is just done. (How long this takes will depend on the thickness of your salmon piece; the important thing is that you don't allow the water to boil.)
While the salmon is poaching, cut the smoked salmon crossways into shreds about 3 mm wide, and set aside. Remove the fish from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool slightly. Discard the cooking liquor (or save for a fish stock).
Rinse and dry the pan in which you cooked the salmon. Turn on the heat and add the butter. When the butter has stopped foaming, tip in the chopped leeks and the remaining thyme sprig. Turn the heat right down to its lowest setting and cover the leeks with a circle of greaseproof paper (or cover with the lid of the pot). Gently stew the leeks and butter, without allowing the leeks to brown, for about 10 minutes, or until the leeks are soft. Discard the thyme sprig.
Pull the cooked salmon into flakes the size of your thumbnail and place in a large mixing bowl. Measure out a cup and a half of mashed potato, and add this to the mixing bowl, along with the smoked salmon shreds, the leek/butter mixture, the lemon zest and the beaten egg. Stir thoroughly to combine. Season the mixture with more salt and pepper, if necessary. Place the mixture in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour, so it can firm up.
Now prepare the coating. Place the flour on one large plate, the beaten eggs on another, and the breadcrumbs on the third plate. Remove the fish mixture from the fridge. Pinch off pieces of the mixture (each about the size of a large litchi) and roll them between your palms to create little balls. Flatten each ball into a disk about 10 mm thick. Coat each disk in the flour and shake to remove the excess. Dip the disks in egg yolk, then in the bread crumbs, patting down gently so that the breadcrumbs stick. Arrange the fish cakes on a large platter or tray.
At this point, you can put the fishcakes aside, or refrigerate them for up to 8 hours. (If you are going to put them in the fridge, keep them uncovered, as this will allow the crumbs to dry out).
To cook the fish cakes, pour enough sunflower oil into a large non-stick frying pan to coat it to a depth of 1 mm. Heat the oil over a medium flame. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add the fishcakes and fry them on both sides until golden brown and crispy. These cakes brown very quickly, so don't allow the oil to overheat: if the oil is too hot, you'll end up with a dark-brown crumb coating and a cold centre.
Drain the fishcakes on a paper towel. Serve immediatley, with lemon wedges and salt.
Serves 4-6 as a snack Print Friendly