OK, so I’ll get back to the heavy stuff sooner or later.  Until then, here’s something delicious.  I’ll give props to my UK friend Plum for suggesting I make fish cakes with some of the skate I got at the Union Square Greenmarket 2 weeks ago.  I don’t think I’d ever had a fish cake that wasn’t of the Thai variety (I’d like to try my hand at making something like that too) and I was suddenly obsessed with the idea, thinking of fish cakes morning, noon and before sleeping until I finally made them.

My friend had suggested using leftover “mash” (potatoes) and leftover cooked skate–a quick review of British recipes online called for that and not much else, maybe some parsley and a coating of breadcrumbs.  One had the egg and breadcrumbs mixed into the cake itself.  I decided not to go that way though it would be easier and require less cleanup.  I had a vision of a crisp, golden brown exterior yielding to a soft fishy center.  And of course I couldn’t leave it alone without spicing it up a little.  I was on a New Orleans kick, so green onion and a few shakes of Tabasco went in, then while mixing it all up I had a stroke of brilliance and added a dash of smoked paprika.  That unidentifiable hint of smoke flavor in the finished dish really made it–surprisingly for a lowly fish cake, it was one of the most delicious food items ever to come out of my kitchen.  I bet you could try Sriracha to stand in for both the Tabasco and smoked paprika, or even a bit of adobo from chipotles, but just a dash–you don’t want to be able to pick out the flavor.

A note on the choice of fish: skate may or may not be an ethical choice where you live.  After I’d bought mine, I got the Seafood Watch app for my new iPod, and damn, saw it on the red list.  Since I’d already bought it I used it up between two meals, but next time I’ll ask the fishmonger before making a decision.  I find it hard to believe that skate is overfished since it’s not really that desirable for most people and you rarely see it in a standard fish market.  I guess it has something to do with bottom-trawling; it may get picked up while fisherman are looking for something else.  I’d think the Union Square people would be pretty careful about sustainability but who knows.  As far as substitutions, I’d go with an opaque, soft-fleshed sweetish white fish, not a flaky one like red snapper, because I tried that the next time and it lacked something.  Or even scallops, as skate is sometimes used to make faux scallops.

A note on my recipes.  Most of them are scaled for two people, since that’s the way I cook.  But the other person I cook for is a human vacuum, so the portions are quite generous.  An exception is when I make soups or stews, which I’ll make extra of for leftovers.

Tara’s Fish Cakes

½ pound skate or other fish, leftover or poached lightly
2 medium russet potatoes, or an equivalent amount leftover mashed or boiled potatoes (I cooked mine in the microwave, then peeled the skins off, which worked perfectly as the flesh stayed moist)
salt & pepper, to taste
½ – 1 chopped green onion, depending on size and taste
few shakes of Tabasco
dash of smoked paprika
1 egg, beaten
breadcrumbs, seasoned w/ s&p and a bit of regular paprika or seasoned salt
oil for frying

Mix the ingredients through the smoked paprika in a bowl, flaking the fish.  Form fat little patties (this should make about 6), then beat the egg in a bowl and lay out the breadcrumbs on a plate.  Dip in egg, coat in breadcrumbs, and shallow fry until golden brown and crispy.  Serve with lemon wedges.

I think this would be great as an appetizer with some greens dressed with lemon juice or verjus, or with a bit of aji sauce drizzled overtop (the type with slightly chunky veg swimming in vinegar) or a citrus salsa like xec.  Try anything as long as it’s heavy on the acid.

This was everything I’d hoped it would be: crisp but ungreasy on the outside, soft, yielding and luscious on the inside, with a hint of smokiness and a lift from the Tabasco and lemon juice… delicious.  Serve with a soup (perhaps something with tomato/roasted red pepper/lentils, or a fresh pea soup in the spring) and a salad for a complete, refreshingly different dinner.