The first Friday of Lent. The perfect excuse to post a fish recipe. Growing up in a Catholic household my mother made sure we always observed the no meat on Friday rule, taking the opportunity to serve up fish for dinner. Almost religiously (excuse the pun). Not just on Fridays through Lent but every Friday of the year.
Rumour has it that the no fish on Friday rule was originally introduced by a powerful medieval pope to support an ailing fishing industry. Thus beginning a religious observance of abstinence practised by millions of Catholics world wide, over many generations. It is hard to believe in this day and age that anyone could introduce a rule that could have such a profound and long reaching effect on global economics. I remember hearing this story from one of the nuns at school, so to my childish ears of course it had to be true. The rules were relaxed centuries later, sometime after Vatican II in the 1960’s. Sometimes, however, old habits die hard. By then the fish on Friday rule was so well and truly ingrained in the routines of so many households, including ours, it continued to live on despite any changes in Church rules.
Personally, I love seafood and somehow don’t manage to get it to the table as often as I would like. Not surprisingly Lent is the perfect excuse to now put more fish on my family’s plate. For old times sake I’m aiming to do this every Friday up until Easter. Looking back through my blog I noticed I adopted a similar approach last year and have already posted most of our favourite family recipes
Fish on Fridays. Pan-Fried Flathead Fillets By The Plateful. Simply Dressed With Lemon and Parsley.
More Fish on Friday.Tray Baked Blue Eye Cod Wrapped in Prosciutto With Sun Dried Tomatoes and Basil.
Sustainable Seafood. Hawkesbury River Squid. Calamari Fritti with Rocket and Lemon.
Eating Seasonally. Seared Snapper with Provençal Sauce.
To kick-start this year’s Fish on Fridays challenge? Spicy Thai Style Fish Cakes. Served with a Nam Jim dipping sauce and a very simple Cucumber and Bean Sprout Salad. This meal looks impressive but is very quick and easy to make with the help of a trusty food processor. The fish cakes are simply blitzed in the food processor, shaped into balls and rested in the refrigerator before shallow frying. I also prepare my Nam Jim dipping sauce in the food processor although I am sure that traditionally it is pounded with a mortar and pestle.
Be warned. On its own the Nam Jim dipping sauce definitely has a powerful kick. Fortunately, however, when paired with the fish cakes it is subdued a little. Our palates are well accustomed to spicy food so heat is not a problem in our house. An easy compromise? Just use a little less chilli when making the dipping sauce, and allow diners to adjust the heat to personal taste by serving any remaining minced chilli on the side. The salad makes an interesting accompaniment to round off the meal. So refreshing, crunchy and light, it’s often a regular fixture at barbecues and family gatherings.
Spicy Thai Style Fish Cakes
Makes 18-20 small fish cakes
750g white fish fillets (I used snapper), skinned, boned and roughly chopped
3 tablespoons red curry paste
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon shaved palm sugar or brown sugar
4 kaffir lime leaves, finely shredded
finely grated zest of 1 lime
2 long green spring onions, finely sliced
½ cup green beans, finely sliced
peanut oil, for frying
PLACE the fish fillets, curry paste, egg, fish sauce and sugar into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the mixture becomes smooth and sticky .
TRANSFER the mixture into a medium bowl and add the very finely sliced beans and spring onions, shredded lime leaves and finely grated zest of one lime. Stir well to combine.
LINE a tray with baking paper.
SCOOP out a quarter cup measure of the fish mixture at a time. Using damp hands divide the scoop of mixture in half and roll into two evenly sized ball. Repeat until all the fish mixture has been used. You should have 18 – 20 balls. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or until needed.
HEAT about 2 cm of peanut oil in a wok. The oil is ready for frying when a small cube of bread dropped into the oil sizzles immediately.
REMOVE the fish cakes from the refrigerator. Gently flatten each ball into a disc and fry in batches over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes each side, until crisp and golden. Drain on paper towels.
SERVE with Cucumber and Bean Sprout Salad and Nam Jim Dipping Sauce.
Cucumber and Bean Sprout Salad
2 large Lebanese cucumbers, sliced into long thin ribbons with a vegetable peeler
3 cups bean sprouts, trimmed
2 long green spring onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup small fresh coriander leaves
1/4 cup small fresh mint leaves
1 long red chilli, deseeded, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons palm sugar, shaved (or substitute brown sugar)
2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon peanut oil
PLACE the cucumber, bean sprouts, spring onion, coriander, mint and chilli into a large bowl.
WHISK together the palm sugar, rice wine vinegar, lime juice, fish sauce and peanut oil in a small bowl or jar until well combined.
ADD dressing to the salad and toss to combine. Serve immediately.
Nam Jim Dipping Sauce
6 long red chillies, seeded and roughly chopped
1 red birds eye chilli, seeded and roughly chopped
2 long green spring onions, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 coriander root, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon shaved palm sugar or brown sugar
freshly squeezed juice of 4 limes
1-2 tablespoons fish sauce
PLACE the chillies, spring onion, garlic and coriander root into the bowl of a food processor and pulse to a fine paste.
STIR through the palm sugar, lime juice and fish sauce. Taste for a balance of sweet, sour and salty flavours, adjusting as required.
I love fish cakes, and yours looks delicious. It’s funny, I was just discussing the fish Friday thing with someone this morning, and the official word from the Church is that Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are the only two days of absolutely no meat, but everyone we know still sticks to fish Friday’s throughout Lent. But we manage to have it a few times a week throughout the year anyway, so I guess we don’t really stick to it as such.
Must be the good old fashioned Catholic guilt kicking in. The fish markets were extremely busy this morning. I clearly remember our Canadian grandmother paying us a visit when I was eight or nine years old and roasting a joint of beef for dinner one Friday night. She obviously did’n’t subscribe to the no meat on Friday theory that had been rammed into me. I was almost hyperventilating and my mother took me aside and told me my grandmother had cooked it so I’d have to eat it. My children find the whole notion quaint and amusing.
I’m so glad you posted this! When I saw it on IG I knew it was something I wanted to try. We grew up never eating meat on Friday (ever), which was due to my mom’s Italian, Catholic heritage. I rarely serve meat on Fridays because of it! 😉
Both my husband and I enjoy fish cakes and he loves a spicy sauce to accompany them! Is the red birds eye chili dried? I’m not sure I’m familiar with it. Also, could I substitute fresh coriander leaves for the root? I’ve never seen coriander root here, unless it’s common in Asian cooking then I may be able to find it in our Chinese market.
Thank you for sharing the recipe!
It’s amazing how many families still observe the no meat on Friday rule, especially through Lent. I guess that’s what happens when you grow up with a calendar full of traditions and rituals. The nam Jim sauce uses fresh chillies. The red birds eye are a small, very hot Asian style chilli sometimes alslo called bullet chilli. I’d substitute any variety of fresh hot chilli or failing that use more long red chillies. Coriander is sold over here by the stem with leaves and roots attached. The stems have loads of flavour and are often chopped finely with the roots to add flavour to Thai and Vietnamese style dishes. Perfectly OK to substitute the leaves if you cant source roots or stems.. The Asian markets should sell fresh coriander by the bunch. They should also have the red Thai curry paste. I guess because we are part of the Asia Pacific and have such a huge multicultural society we take all these ingredients for granted. They’re available in every supermarket over here. These fish cakes are a staple menu item in our Thai restaurants and take aways. I do hope you get to try them.