Lemon-Horseradish Fish Cakes

There’s no better word than “infuriating” to describe my attempt to make Lemon-Horseradish Fish Cakes from the October 2006 issue of Everyday Food. Thankfully, the results were worth writing about! This is one of those recipes I’ve been meaning to make for months – and almost have made several times – but it just never seemed to happen. I’ve had crab cakes on the brain, though, and I had a box of saltines in the pantry I needed to use, so I thought now would be the perfect time.

First, I roasted the tilapia I would use to make the cakes. I brushed a rimmed baking sheet with 1/2 tablespoon of oil and placed 2 pounds (6 fillets) of tilapia on it. (The recipe suggested splitting the fish up between two baking sheets, but I was able to fit my fish on one – in a single layer, of course.) I roasted the fish until it was cooked through (about 12 minutes). I let it cool completely, patted it dry with paper towels, and then used a fork to flake the fish into small pieces.

While the fish cooked, I made cracker crumbs by grinding saltines in the food processor. The recipe said that 36 crackers should make 1 1/2 cups of crumbs, but I ended up having to use about 48 to yield 1 1/2 cups.

After I had my fish and cracker crumbs ready to go, I combined 2 eggs, 1/2 cup of light mayonnaise, 1/2 cup of chopped fresh parsley, 1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice, and 3 tablespoons of bottled white horseradish in a large bowl. I folded in the fish and 1/2 cup of cracker crumbs and then seasoned with salt and pepper. I put the rest of my cracker crumbs on a plate to dredge the fish cakes.

Here’s where things went terribly wrong.

I used a 1/4-cup measuring cup to portion out the fish mixture for the cakes. The mixture would kind of hold its shape on a plate, but it my hands, it was as good as liquid. I might as well have been trying to form and dredge cakes made of oatmeal. I figured the only way to make this work was to firm up the cakes somehow, so I portioned 16 mounds of mixture onto two plates and put the plates in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Thankfully, that did the trick! The cakes still weren’t “firm,” but they were in much better shape. They held up even better once I got a layer of cracker crumbs around the outside; I think it was almost like adding flour to a dough that was too moist or sticky. I managed to get all the cakes coated in cracker crumbs, and then half of them went onto a baking sheet and into the freezer.

I was ready to cook the other 8 cakes, so I heated 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. I placed all of the cakes in the skillet and cooked them until they were golden brown (about 5 minutes per side).

I was so frustrated by the time I finished cooking this meal that it was hard to imagine the taste could measure up to the effort I had made. I was wrong! The cracker crumbs formed this perfect, light, crunchy crust on the outside of the cakes and the fish inside was flavorful and moist. (I think the horseradish really kicked things up in the flavor department.) It was just the result I had hoped for. Even better, I have 8 of these babies waiting in the freezer for a quick and easy meal sometime in the next few weeks. This is definitely a case of recipe redemption!

TIPS: My cakes browned pretty quickly on the first side, so I ended up having to reduce the heat to halfway between medium and medium-high. Next time, I’ll probably just start cooking at that level of heat instead of at medium-high.

If you decide to freeze any of the cakes, place them on a baking sheet (after they’ve been coated in cracker crumbs) and freeze them until they’re firm. Wrap each one in plastic (this will ensure they don’t stick to each other when they thaw) and place them in freezer bags. Freeze them up to 3 months, and thaw them overnight in the refrigerator before cooking.

Recipe link: Lemon-Horseradish Fish Cakes

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