Salmon Fish Cakes

This is my dad's contribution to my recipe bank - a simple dish that he makes regularly and which we both enjoy eating. It's a dish you can prepare in bulk in about half an hour, cook in minutes and eat over the course of two or three days. Alternatively you can just make enough for one meal. All the ingredients can be found in a modern supermarket and the quantities below will make about 16 fish cakes, with three to four per serving being ample for anyone. If you have the time, skill and inclination use fresh salmon. Otherwise good quality tinned red salmon is fine and, although expensive, works out at a very reasonable cost per portion.


1 400 gm tin of red salmon
1 kg of small unwashed new potatoes
1 medium/large red onion
4 shallots
6 spring onions
2 cloves of garlic
1 hot red chilli (I use Scotch bonnet, which may be too hot for your taste)
2 large eggs
1 lime
fine/medium grated polenta (cornmeal)
salt and black pepper
mixed herbs
fresh coriander leaves
a knob of butter
a dash of double cream
a little milk


Scrub the potatoes to remove the dirt, but not so vigorously as to remove the skin, some of which will be mashed with the potato to give extra taste and texture.

Boil in a pan of water with some salt added until ready to mash but still firm. The test of a boiled potato is to insert a sharp knife and find it clean (i.e. no surface starch) when extracted. Do not overcook the potatoes or the dish will be ruined!
While the potatoes are cooking, open the tin of salmon and drain off any liquid. If saline, wash the surface of the block of fish and then dry carefully with kitchen towel.

Then flake into a pan - i.e. break up into small pieces but do not mash into a pulp.

The main ingredient that counterbalances the fish is onion and this recipe uses a variety of onions (strictly speaking a variety of different plants of genus allium) which impart different flavours and textures.
The red onion should be chopped into small pieces but not too fine. The spring onions and shallots should be chopped as fine as you can manage. Also crush and then chop two cloves of garlic.

Now de-seed and finely chop a red chilli. The amount you use will depend on your tolerance to chilli and the variety of chilli you use.

I personally could manage two or three whole red chillies in this recipe, but some people may only tolerate a fraction of this. Whatever you do, remove all the seeds as these will form localised hot spots in the mixture.
Lastly, prepare a chiffonade of coriander (roll some into a tight pack and slice thinly with a sharp knife).

This photo shows my dad's attempt and his lack of knife skills have caused quite a bit of damage to the leaves.

Now put the salmon, onions, shallots, garlic, chilli and coriander into a bowl and mix together thoroughly.

Distribute the ingredients well, but don't overdo the mixing. The final product should contain surprises of texture and flavour.
I like to squeeze a lime into the mixture at this stage. The flavour does not drown the fish, but rather acts as a flavour enhancer.

You can use half a lemon instead, but do not use too much as you do not want to make the mix too wet or too acidic.

Add in a little polenta to stiffen the mix.

Now separate two large eggs and add the yolks. This will help to bind the mixture together and stop the fishcakes from falling apart when cooked.

Finally, season with a little salt, plenty of freshly ground black pepper and some mixed herbs (my dad always uses "herbes de Provence" which gives a wonderful flowery bouquet). Use clean hands to blend the mixture. If you use a blender it will turn into a horrible pulpy mess.
Once the potatoes are cooked, drain off and put the pan back over the heat for a few minutes to get them absolutely dry before mashing.

Mash carefully to integrate the skin and get rid of lumps. Now add a knob of butter and a dash of double cream and stir. The idea is to create a very stiff creamed potato - something much less soft than you would make for a normal mashed potato side dish. Add very small quantities of milk and stir until the potato forms a solid mass which turns as you stir.
Leave to cool. If you mix in the potato when still warm the cakes will go soggy when chilled and fall apart when cooked.

Mix in the cooled potato using clean hands until all the ingredients are well spread through the mixture. Cool in the fridge until you are ready to cook. Then make fish cakes as required, by rolling into balls and patting into pattie shapes.
Roll over in some polenta on a plate (not too much or the end product will be gritty).

These salmon fish cakes can be eaten with a variety of accompaniments, or on their own, but I prefer them on a bed of fresh leaf salad.
Fry the fish cakes in hot vegetable oil in a pan until golden brown.

With a bit of experience you will achieve the right balance between cooking too fast and ending up with crispy but cold-centred fish cakes, and cooking too slowly and ending up with thoroughly hot but soggy fish cakes.

Turn the final product out onto your plate and enjoy your meal.

As I said at the start, this is my dad's contribution, so the fish cakes are a bit lacking in artistry. But believe me, they were lacking nothing in flavour!

If you get the chilli right, you will get a fantastic warming sensation that repeats throughout the meal. If you overdo the onions, the meal may repeat throughout the night!
One last little hint.

You should dress your salad. A green pesto is ideal, but a simple vinaigrette is just fine. But if you are really pushed for time, the infused olive oils now available in supermarkets work really well.

A dash of basil oil on the salad and a dash of lemon oil on the fish cakes can turn this dish from excellent to perfect.