I am not what one would call an imperturbable air traveler. I don’t like flying at all. I especially hate flying in small planes – you know, the little puddle jumpers that creak and whirr and bump like thrill rides at the merest wispy suggestion of a cloud. I keep trying to get over it and just embrace the experience, but I haven’t managed yet. And, I can’t seem to stop myself from freaking out when in a little plane, all attempts at mindfulness and meditation be damned! (Flying is convenient, sure, but it’s just so unnatural! Were we born with wings? No. I love the part of the movie French Kiss where Meg Ryan’s character says, “I will get around as nature intended…in a car.” Except I’d probably amend that and say on a bike.) With every clunk or scrape I become convinced we’re going down. “This is it,” I think to myself grimly. “I can’t believe my last meal on earth is going to have been a horrendous airport salad with flaccid lettuce, chicken (was it even chicken?) with chemically induced grill marks, and dressing that could well serve as a stand in for petroleum jelly…”
I know I’m more likely to get hurt in a car accident than airplane crash, but oh it is such a joyful occurrence to deplane and get back on the ground. It signals time to immediately seek out a medicinal glass of wine to prevent the knots in my neck from becoming indelible, and some real food.
I always get the urge to eat something really good and real (in the “seriously non packaged/processed” sense) after traveling. It’s some sort of karmic food payback circle thing, maybe. This time fish cakes fit the bill. Perhaps non-Scandinavian types don’t have the same level of fondness for fish cakes that we have cultivated in my family (though I know they’re also very popular in many Asian countries), but with us they’re a favorite. They take the simple slightly-sweet but also somewhat non-descript meatiness of your more boring types of whitefish (ie. survival food) and elevate it to a flavorful, toothsome cake, almost creamy on the inside and butter-crisped on the outside. I think it’s one of the tastiest things a person can do with white fish (or salmon or tuna, for that matter). It just involved lightly poaching the fish, then whipping it up with some mayo, bread crumbs/mashed potato, and flavorings, and finally frying. Serve them up with potatoes, vegetables and a mayonnaise-with-your-choice-of-flavor-added sauce, and it’s good enough for a king’s welcome.
Basic Fish Cakes (serves 6)
- 1 ½ lbs. mild white fish fillets (whiting, cod, tilapia, catfish…preferably something being sustainably caught – check the Monterey Bay Aquarium website)
- about 1/2 – 3/4 cup mayonnaise
- about 1/3 – 1/2 cup panko (or regular) breadcrumbs
- ¼ cup flat leaf (Italian) parsley, stems removed
- ½ red bell pepper, sliced
- 1 shallot (or half onion), peeled and chopped
- Butter, for frying
- For a sauce use mayonnaise or sour cream mixed with a tsp. or two of wasabi powder, Thai red curry paste, curry powder, minced garlic and lemon juice, minced pickles and some capers, or whatever herbs you please.
- Preheat the oven to 425F. Place the fish fillets in a baking dish and add water to partially cover the fish. Cook in the oven until the fish is no longer transluscent, but just barely poached, around 10-15 minutes. Allow the fish to cool slightly.
- In a food processor, finely chop together the parsely, bell pepper, and shallot (or chop them extreeeemely finely by hand). Then, in a standing mixer or with a handheld mixer, whip together for a couple of minutes the fish (removed from the water), the vegetable/herb mix, mayonnaise, and bread crumbs, along with just a little sprinkling of salt and pepper. The fish mixture should be a sticky, thick consistency that you can form into patties with your hands. If it is too wet to stick together, add a bit more bread crumbs, if too dry add a bit more mayo.
- Form the fish into patties about the size of small burgers. In a large frying pan, melt a Tbs. or so of butter over medium heat. Put as many of the fish cakes as you can fit without them crowding each other into the pan. Fry for several minutes on each side, until dark brown and crispy on the outside. Add more butter and fry the rest of the fish cakes until finished. Serve warm with potatoes, vegetables, and a spreading sauce/aioli that suits whatever flavor you are in the mood for at the moment. Fish cakes will go with nearly anything.