Blistering Barnacles! Captain Haddock’s beautiful Belgian fishcakes steal the scene
“She loved her mother’s Bangladeshi food, but found British food thrilling. It wasn’t just the taste: ‘For us it represented freedom. I remember eating fishcakes for the first time, mainly potato, hardly any fish, lots of parsley, and it was just so cool'”
Former Bake Off winner, Nadiya Hussain, interviewed by Sathnam Sanghera in The Times
Much of my not-much French has been built up thanks to Tintin and Asterix. The learning process all happened ‘some time ago’, but recently I’ve been reminded of how much I enjoyed assimilating the language thanks to Tintin because he popped up to brighten a grey, raining day as I was walking down the Rue de l’Étuve in Brussels the other day. I remembered him with such affection that a few months later I went to the Tintin exhibition at Somerset House in London. Next stop on a return trip to Belgium will be the Musée Hergé.
In fact, my affection is not so much for Tintin – a sober and sensible character – as for his irascible sidekick, Captain Haddock. Like his pal, Haddock has a heart of gold and is always willing to help but he’s also prone to sudden fits of temper peppered with creative, politically-correct expletives… ‘Tonnerre de Brest!’ he cries at any unexpected reverse, adding, equally articulately, ‘Moules à gaufres!’…or, when speaking English, ‘billions of blue blistering barnacles’ or ‘ten thousand thundering typhoons’. Haddock’s translator and I both share an unreined delight in alliteration.
In any case, Captain Haddock is a delicious mix of roughness and tenderness and I think he deserves a recipe in his honour.
So here we go. The dish must contain haddock of course, rather more than Nadiya Hussain’s lovingly remembered version. Then for roughness – some panko breadcrumbs… maybe even some chopped nuts. For tenderness… some soft, comfortable mash.
Haddock’s fishcakes make a fulsome lunch or light supper dish served with a green salad or a rough guacamole. They also make a good starter – but in that case make them half the size.
You can make these ahead to the pre-frying stage, refrigerate and cook just before serving.
Recipe for Captain Haddock’s rough and tender fishcakes
- 260g/9 oz skinless, boneless haddock fillets
- 330g/11 oz mashed potato (by far the easiest method is to make How to make your instant mash a state secret – use half the quantity and save the rest to fry for lunch with a fried egg or two) You can make the mashed potato while the fish is roasting to save time if you like. You’ll need instant mashed potato, a stock cube, lots of milk and butter and some garlic.
- 4 tbsp/60g/¼ cup ricotta or thick yoghurt if you have it
- 1 tbsp finely chopped nuts – optional
- 25g/1 oz chives
- 2 eggs, beaten in a wide bowl
- 20g/½ cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 tbsp capers – the type preserved in salt (not brine) and thoroughly rinsed
- 6 tbsp plain flour (about 45g) – seasoned
- smoked salt if you haven’t already added to the mash
- Indonesian long pepper
- butter and rapeseed oil mix for frying
- 1 lemon or lime
- garlicky, lemony mayonnaise – lots
- Preheat the oven to 210°C.
- Wrap the fish fillets loosely in oiled foil, close up and roast for just over a quarter of an hour – until the fish is no longer translucent. Make the mashed potato.
- Stir the ricotta (or yoghurt) and the capers into the mashed potato.
- Snip over the chives, season and stir.
- When the fish is done, take it out of the oven, open the foil packet, leave to cool a little and then flake.
- Stir the fish in to the mashed potato and then a little of the beaten egg – just enough to get the whole thing to bind together.
- Form the mixture into potato cakes and make yourself a production line of cakes, plate of seasoned flour, wide bowl of beaten egg, plate of Panko breadcrumbs and chopped nuts if you are using.
- Coat the first cake in the flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs – repeat for the others. At this stage you can put in the fridge for a day or so until you want to eat them.
- Get a mix of butter and rapeseed oil hot in a big frying pan, fry the cakes on both sides until golden.
- Serve with lemon or lime wedges and the mayonnaise.