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Sunday Brunch: Simple Fish Cakes Recipe

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David Tanis often riffs on international classics in his cookbooks, and the recipes in his new cookbook, One Good Dish, are no exception. His sea scallop cakes, inspired by Thai fish cakes, borrow flavors from Southeast Asia without worrying too much about authenticity. Tanis uses scallops for lightness (and, I assume, their ability to whip into a mousse-like texture with ease), blending them with a potent herbal mix of cilantro, scallion, garlic, ginger, and fish sauce. Instead of deep frying the cakes, he gently fries them in coconut oil to add a hint of sweetness. Topping off the dish is a nutty dipping sauce—rich, sweet, and sour, it’s the perfect finish to the scallop cakes.

Why I picked this recipe: It was hard to pass up the prospect of light, fragrant seafood cakes.

What worked: While I loved the light, herby scallop cakes, the real winner here is the nutty and sweet dipping sauce.

What didn’t: I needed to cook the cakes over much lower heat (medium-low) in order to cook them through without burning them. Pay careful attention to the heat on your stove, and consider cooking a test cake before frying a whole batch.

Suggested tweaks: You could use an equivalent amount of white-fleshed fish like cod here instead of the scallops. If your cast iron skillet isn’t well-seasoned, you’ll want to use a non-stick skillet to cook the cakes. I served these with lettuce cups, a few lime wedges, and chopped herbs.

Reprinted with permission from One Good Dish: The Pleasures of a Simple Meal by David Tanis. Copyright 2013. Published by Artisan Books. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.

  • Scallop Cakes
  • 1 pound sea scallops
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon white or black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 2 small garlic cloves, smashed to a paste with a little salt
  • One 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
  • 6 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped serrano or jalapeño chile, or to taste
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves and tender stems, roughly chopped
  • 2 small kaffir lime leaves, thinly slivered
  • 1 small egg, lightly beaten
  • Coconut or peanut oil for shallow-frying
  • Dipping Sauce
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 or 3 tiny red or green fresh Thai chiles, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped or crushed unsalted roasted peanuts
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger
  1. To make the scallop cakes, put the scallops in the bowl of a food processor, add the salt, pepper, fish sauce, garlic, and ginger, and process to a fine paste, about 1 minute. Add the scallions, chile, cilantro, kaffir lime leaves, and egg and pulse a few times to combine well. Transfer to a bowl. The scallop mixture can be refrigerated for up to a day.

  2. To make the dipping sauce, combine all the ingredients in a small serving bowl.

  3. Pour coconut oil to a depth of 1/4 inch into a wide cast-iron skillet and turn the heat to medium-high. When the oil is hot, carefully add the scallop mixture in large spoonfuls (fry in batches to avoid crowding), adjust the heat if necessary to allow the cakes to brown gently, and cook for about 3 minutes. Flip them, flatten them gently with a spatula, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more, until browned. Drain on paper towels and serve hot, with the dipping sauce.

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