Any person who feeds children knows that they are almost universally deranged. So when you find something they love to eat, it’s worth its weight in gold, especially if it’s something that you love to eat, too. Years ago, when my son was in preschool, he came home raving about school lunch. He didn’t know what it was called, so he described it—a kind of meal charades—and when I finally guessed it (fish sticks!), he asked if we could have them at home.
I have a long history of making things harder than they have to be, especially when it comes to cooking. I could have gone to the store and bought a box of fish sticks. He would have been thrilled. Instead, I challenged myself to develop a fish cake recipe that was just as crunchy and irresistible as the store-bought version but, you know, better.
I started with halibut because it’s firm and mild (though I’ve also used cod and haddock with great results). An old trick of blending some of the fish with cream, egg, and bread crumbs into a sticky paste helps the cakes hold together. For supreme crunch, they’re dipped in beaten egg, coated in panko, then panfried. Try though I might, I’ve never gotten my kids to like the tartar-ish sauce I make, with mayonnaise, cornichons, herbs, hard-cooked eggs, and capers. (You could make something similar, or try a simpler sauce—maybe thick yogurt with chopped herbs and a squeeze of lemon.) Instead they dip their beautiful, golden, homemade fish cakes in—you guessed it—ketchup. —Jessica Battilana
- Prep time 1 hour 15 minutes
- Cook time 30 minutes
- makes 12 fish cakes
medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
celery rib, roughly chopped
kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
boneless, skinless halibut (or cod or haddock), cut into ¼-inch cubes
freshly ground black pepper
2 3/4 cups
finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
finely chopped tarragon leaves
Extra-virgin olive oil, for panfrying
- In the bowl of a food processor, combine the onion and celery and pulse until finely chopped. In a medium frying pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onions, celery and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring frequently, until softened but not browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and let cool completely.
- Combine ½ cup of the diced fish, the cream, mustard, pepper, and 1 teaspoon of salt in the bowl of the food processor (no need to wash it first) and process into a smooth paste. Transfer to the bowl with the cooled vegetables and add the remaining diced fish, ¾ cup of panko, 2 eggs, the parsley, and the tarragon. Mix to combine. Firmly form the mixture into 12 cakes, each about ¾ inch thick and 2½ to 3 inches wide. Transfer to a plate or baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.
- When you’re ready to cook, heat the oven to 300°F.
- In a shallow dish, pour the flour. In a second shallow dish, whisk the remaining 2 eggs. In a third shallow dish, pour the remaining 2 cups of panko. Coat each fish cake in flour, shaking off the excess, then dip in egg, letting the excess drip off. Dredge in panko, turning twice and patting to adhere. (Note: It’s useful to designate one “dry” hand, to turn the cakes in the flour and panko, and one “wet” hand, to turn the cakes in the beaten egg. This way, you avoid breading your fingers, too.) Set on a plate. Place a wire rack over a rimmed sheet pan and set nearby.
- In a large frying pan, heat ½-inch depth of olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot (a piece of panko should sizzle), add as many fish cakes as will comfortably fit in a single layer and fry, turning once, until golden brown on both sides and cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes total. With a spatula, transfer the cakes to the wire rack and keep warm in the oven while you fry the remaining fish cakes, adding more oil to the pan as necessary.
- Transfer the fish cakes to a platter and season with salt. Serve warm.