by Sheila Connolly
I know, you've heard my rant before: here I live in spitting distance of the Atlantic Ocean and I can't get a decent piece of local fish to save my life (unless, as one fishmonger suggested, I drive an hour and stand on the docks waiting for the fishing fleet to arrive. Yeah, that's going to happen.)
I harbored a flicker of hope when a new supermarket opened here in town, taking the space formerly occupied by an aging Stop & Shop. I visited the new place (Trucchi's, part of a small regional chain) and loved the physical improvements—it's really quite elegant (you know, granite floors, indirect lighting, niches for custom popcorn and gelato). So I had to check out the fish section.
It was nice, but not special. The most noteworthy thing was that they were proud to carry hake with the skin on. I couldn't get any of the salespeople to explain why that was a good thing, but I'll admit it was pretty. Otherwise it was the same old, same old cod and haddock and salmon and so on. What surprised me was that the fresh (i.e., never frozen) cod was exactly twice as expensive as the previously frozen cod. That should tell you something, although I'm still working through what.
Okay, I give up. I bought the cheaper cod. If I'm honest, I really can’t tell the difference between cod and hake and haddock and pollock—they're all fairly sturdy white fish that don't have a lot of oomph on their own, but they serve as a blank canvas for whatever you want to do with them. Cream and mushrooms? Sure. Sun-dried tomatoes and olives? Why not?
But! I have found a recipe that will accommodate any of the above fish (frozen or otherwise) and really doesn't care what kind it is. And it tastes good, and it's a bit unusual, and it's quick. (Admission: I scavenged this from Epicurious.com, which I love, but I had some issues with how they did things, so I added a few twists. Yanno, I used to hate it when my mother did that, and yet, here I am doing the same thing. Recipes are only for inspiration!)
FISH CAKES WITH CUMIN AND CORIANDER
3 garlic cloves
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
½ tsp. ground coriander
¾ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp salt (aw, heck, use sea salt—this is fish!)
1/3 cup fine dry bread crumbs
1 large egg
2 Tblsp mayonnaise
1½ lbs skinless white fish (not flounder, which is too delicate), cut in 2" cubes (more or less-doesn't need to be precise)
Panko or dry bread crumbs to coat patties
With the motor running, drop the garlic into your food processor and process until finely chopped. Add the onion and pulse until it is also finely chopped. Add the coriander, cumin, salt, bread crumbs, egg and mayonnaise and pulse until combined. Add the fish chunks and pulse just until coarsely chopped (don't over-process!).
Line a baking sheet with wax paper or a Silpat. Form the fish mixture into half-inch-thick patties, about 3" across. Place on the lined sheet as you form them (they'll be sticky).
Heat oil in a nonstick skillet (or a flat grill, which gives you more maneuvering room, which helps because the patties are kind of fragile) over moderate heat.
When you are ready to cook the patties, dip them in panko or more dry breadcrumbs—this will give you a nice, crusty brown finish. Place in the pan or on the griddle. Cook four minutes, then turn (carefully!) and cook for another two minutes on the other side. Serve while hot.