Fish Cakes with Tarragon Mayo

DinnerFish Cakes

Make leftover fish sing with these fish cakes seasoned with fresh herbs, capers, mustard, and scallions. Don't skip the tarragon mayo -- it's the perfect sauce for these cakes. Leftovers never looked so good!

Photography Credit: Sally Vargas

It’s been a while since I’ve made fish cakes, and I have resisted them because, well, they don’t sound all that sexy. (Am I allowed to say that?)

Surprise, surprise! These were a huge hit! And why not? My all-time favorite ingredient (potatoes), plenty of fresh herbs, mustard, capers, and scallions give them tons of perky flavors. They are crisp and golden on the outside and flaky-moist on the inside. What’s not to like?

These fish cakes make a good case for using up leftover cooked fish – especially the cod used in this recipe – but from now on, they are going into my rotation as a purposeful dish, not a leftover afterthought. Tarragon mayonnaise, mayonnaise spiked with another fresh herb, or tartar sauce are literally the icing on the cake.

WHAT’S THE BEST FISH FOR FISH CAKES?

I used cod for these because I like it, but having said that, you could substitute another white fish like haddock, hake, whiting, halibut, or veer off into salmon territory if you like.

You can purchase skinned fish, but if it has not been skinned, cook it with the skin on. It’s easy enough to flake it either way.

Broiled Fish Cake - fish cakes with herbs and lemon

MAKE AHEAD FISH CAKES

You can make all the components of these fish cakes up the day before you plan to assemble them—cook the potatoes and fish, prep the herbs and capers—or you could also OHIO (only handle it once) and mix and shape the patties ahead of time.

Once the patties are shaped they will keep for at least one day in the refrigerator before needing to be cooked.

If you like, you could freeze the patties, cooked or uncooked, for up to 2 months for optimal freshness. Wrap them in plastic wrap and foil, and defrost them in the fridge before cooking or reheating in a pan.

HEALTHY FISH CAKES

Traditionally, codfish cakes are fried, but eight patties do not fit in one pan, and that is a deal-breaker for me. I experimented with the broiler, which I found quite satisfactory. Even though you are not frying them, they still need oil in order to brown, so don’t skimp on the oil when you broil them.

To keep the patties from falling apart as they cook, chilling them for at least one hour beforehand is essential.

LOVE FISH CAKES? TRY THESE RECIPES

Fish Cakes with Tarragon Mayo Recipe

  • Prep time: 25 minutes
  • Cook time: 12 minutes
  • Chill Time time: 1 hour
  • Yield: 8 cakes

Ingredients

For the Tarragon Mayonnaise:

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 or more tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon, or fresh herb of your choice

For the cod fish cakes:

  • 2 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 onion, 1/4-inch slices
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme, or a pinch dried thyme
  • 1 pound cod fillet
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs such as basil, cilantro, dill, or tarragon
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons drained and chopped capers
  • 4 scallions, finely sliced
  • 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons olive oil

Method

1 Make the mayonnaise: In a small bowl, stir the mayonnaise and tarragon together. Cover and keep in the refrigerator until ready to serve with the fish cakes.

2 Cook and mash the potatoes: Place the potatoes in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Bring the potatoes to a boil, adjust the heat to a simmer, and cook for 12 to 14 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife.

In a colander, drain the potatoes and return them to the pot. With a potato masher, coarsely mash them. Set aside.

3 Poach the fish: Sprinkle the fish on both sides with salt and pepper. In a wide skillet, place the onions, bay leaf, and thyme. Place the fish on top of the onions. (If your fish still has the skin on it, place it skin side up.) Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and enough water to barely cover the fish. Cover with a lid.

Over medium heat, bring the water to a simmer. Simmer the fish for 2 to 3 minutes. The fish may be done at this point, but if not, set it aside, covered, for 5 to 6 minutes, or until it is opaque. The cooking time will vary according to the thickness of the fish. Transfer it to a plate to cool. With a fork or your fingers, break the fish into large flakes.

Broiled Fish Cake - fish in poaching liquid Healthy Fish Cake Recipe - poached fish

4 Make the fish cake mixture: In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Add the pepper, lemon zest, lemon juice, parsley, additional fresh herbs of your choice, mustard, capers, and scallions. Mix to blend them. Add the mashed potatoes and stir until the ingredients are combined. Add the fish and panko, and stir to combine.

Healthy Fish Cake Recipe - ingredients in a silver mixing bowl Healthy Fish Cake Recipe - ingredients in a bowl

5 Form the patties: Divide the mixture into 8 portions and shape them into patties that are about 3 inches wide and 1-inch thick. Refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap, for at least 1 hour or for up to 1 day.

Freezer Friendly Fish Cakes - fish cakes with herbs and lemon

6 Cook the fish cakes: Set a rack 4 inches from the broiler element and preheat the boiler. Line a baking sheet with foil and brush generously with oil. Place the patties on the baking sheet and brush the tops with oil. Broil for 5 to 6 minutes, or until golden brown.

Remove the pan from the oven and flip the patties over. Brush the tops with more oil. Broil for another 5 to 6 minutes, or until browned. Serve hot with tarragon mayonnaise or tartar sauce.

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Sally Vargas

Sally Pasley Vargas is a freelance writer and the author of three cookbooks (Food for Friends, The Tao of Cooking, Ten Speed Press, and The Cranberry Cookbook). She currently writes the column The Confident Cook for The Boston Globe along with seasonal recipes for the Wednesday Food Section.

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