Culture / Food and Drink / St Helena

How to Cook St Helena Fishcakes – A Picture Recipe

St Helena fishcakes.
St Helena fishcakes.


Eating hot St Helena fishcakes fresh from the pan is one of life’s satisfying pleasures, especially after you’ve toiled in the kitchen for the past half hour. It’s impossible to resist picking that first one up with your fingers, and as steam escapes at the first bite, munch through the deliciously crispy shell into a fluffy centre. Totally divine.

I’ll go as far to say; I think fishcakes might just be the best thing since sliced bread. Plus, they are truly sensational, eaten with fresh, sliced bread! Even some who claim not to like fish will eat St Helena fishcakes. They are just that good.

Fishcakes have long been an island speciality and the quintessence of St Helena cuisine. Made essentially of fish, potato and herbs this culinary delight is a popular feature on eatery menus and the home dinner table.

Ingredients for St Helena Fishcakes

St Helena food is a tasty ‘fusion’ of our British, Malay, African and Chinese heritage. Traditionally, ‘Saint’ dishes are simple and wholesome; nothing too showy, quick and easy to make using simple ingredients.

Simple ingredients.
Spices and herbs.
Fresh cut of tuna.
Fresh cut of tuna.

As you’d expect of an island community, fish is a diet staple; tuna, wahoo, bonita, mackerel, soldier, grouper (jack), conger eel and crayfish. Although, surprisingly, for an island community, fresh fish is not easily available. We have a flagging fish industry and the Fish Shop in Jamestown quickly sells out of its main product; tuna. Fishing, however, is still a popular hobby.

Recently my mediocre cooking skills were called upon to meet a last minute deadline of a fishcake feature for our ‘Breeze’ e-magazine. I hadn’t made fishcakes for years, preferring to buy from the professionals. The request was to make them just like Mum did back in the day; flat and crispy. Today’s variety is bigger and golden. Out came the St Helena cook book and ingredients were diligently lined up, at the ready.

You do not need to be a Master Chef contestant to makes this local favourite, which means a little taste of St Helena can be created wherever you are in the world.

Shredded tuna, bacon and chopped onion.
Shredded tuna, bacon and chopped onion.

The Fishcake Recipe

Here’s what you’ll need:

1lb (450g) fish. 1lb (450g) potatoes. 1 large onion, finely chopped. 2 rashers of bacon, finely chopped (optional). Chilli, finely chopped (optional). Pinch of thyme. 2 tablespoons chopped parsley. 1 egg, beaten. Salt and pepper to taste. Pinch of mixed spice or nutmeg. Aromat seasoning (optional in place of salt). Powdered garlic.

St Helena fishcakes are traditionally made of fresh tuna, wahoo or mackerel. Canned tuna or salmon can be substituted, but you will become perilously close to taking ‘St Helena’ out of the fishcakes!

Potatoes, boiled and mashed.
Potatoes, boiled then mashed.
Adding parsley to the frying onion.
Adding parsley to the frying onion.
Shredding the tuna.
Shredding the tuna with a fork.  Can also be done in a food processor.
Tomato gravy also on the go
Tomato gravy also on the go

Method: Boil potatoes in salted water until cooked, then drain and mash finely. Place into a large bowl and leave until cool.

Wash fish and shred or mince with a fork until very fine. The finer you shred the fish and mash the potatoes, the fluffier the results.

Heat oil and fry onion, until soft. Add parsley, thyme, chilli and bacon and fry until onion starts to brown.

Remove from heat and combine with the mashed potato. Add the fish, spices, garlic and beaten egg. Mix together well.

Using your hands, shape mixture into patties roughly 1/2 inch thick and 3 inches round. Flatten slightly and dust with flour if necessary.

Fry in hot oil for about 3 minutes on each side until brown.

Adding chopped bacon to the mix.
Adding chopped bacon to the mix.
The onion, bacon and herb mix being combined with the mashed potatoes.
The fried onion, bacon and parsley mix being combined with the mashed potatoes.
Adding fish to the mix.
Adding fish to the mix.
Mixing in.
Adding spices, garlic and beaten egg.
The final mixture being shaped into patties.
The final mixture being shaped into patties.
All ready for the frying pan.
All ready for the frying pan.
Into the frying pan and the now the lovely smells take over!
Into the frying pan and the now the lovely smells take over!
Rice, fishcakes and tomato gravy, it doesn't get more Saint than that!
Rice, fishcakes and tomato gravy, it doesn’t get more Saint than that!

Yields approximately 12 fishcakes.

St Helena fishcakes are traditionally served as a main meal with rice, vegetables and a tomato and onion gravy. They also make a scrumptious sandwich filler.

I opted out of adding chilli or ‘bite’ (Saint speak for spicy), they still taste yummy and a chilli sauce can be added after.

As cooks often do, this recipe can be customised to your tastes. These babies can be frozen (uncooked) for a quick meal when you’re rushed off your feet, after a long day at work or for those times when comfort food is required and you want to taste a bit of St Helena.

A very tempting sight.
A very tempting sight.


  1. Daisy Grey’s fishcakes on Ascension Island.. great. Took some back when I left and then found out my wife to be couldn’t eat ‘hot’ chilli based food, more for me then.

      1. Do wish the RMS would continue its voyage via Namibia to St Helena Island so we could all enjoy a break from this hectic life in the city . Go by air is not OK for us capetonians as we have to travel to Johannesburg to get a flight to St Helena and back. Not good for us to have to travel at more cost via JHBG.

        Maybe one day we will have flights via St Helena to the UK from CT.

        Just come home from a Trafalgar tour of Europe and what a cost to us SA citizens. We visited Berlin Posnan ,Warsaw, Krako. Auswitz, Berknau,Budapest in Hungary where we got caught a5t the border as they had closed the borders alto9gether to prevent refugees coming. To get to Austia (Wein) we had to go vu Slovakia . Viennia was great and so with the Viennese concerts we then went on to BRNO, Rothburg and Frankfurt. Not satisfied with this stren gous journey we took a break for a week at Strasbourg and Boppard on the Rhine before returning home. Plenty of happy memories.

        Relived all the ww2 sites like the berlin wall between East and West ,Brandenburg gate ,Check point Charlie and enjoyed the tour no end. Worth the money

  2. My first and lasting memories are of saturday lunches on the exiles veranda and fish cakes made by the wonderful Ethel Bowers. Any one know if ethal is still on st h. Please give her my love if she is.

    1. Yes the last i know of her she was working with a retail shop in Jamestown 2012.
      I remember you husband having worked with him at the C&W earth station in early 80’s.
      I still got a copy of his signature on my reference he gave me as he was last with the
      Comms office in Georgetown.
      Fond memories!
      Barrie Williams (Now in Glos UK 2015)

    2. Hi Jacquie our apologies for not replying sooner. Ethel is most definitely still here on St Helena and is working in Thorpes Emporium. We will pass on your message.

  3. Ann’s Place does make tasty fish cakes and the Consulate’s are good but the most delicious we’ve ever tasted both on St Helena and in Cape Town are made by Cecily Williams.

  4. Yea I must say Sharon they were very nice I also had some on lovely fresh brown bread, you gave me one dozen. Lovely, very delicious.

  5. What a lovely idea of making fish cakes from the tuna you obtain around the Island. We used to go for the fish cakes at the restaurant alongside the wharf on St Helena Is but some days they were not available much to our dissapointmen t. We brought home 5 x tins of Tuna though from the canning factory at Ruperts Bay.
    One day we ran out of petriol down in the valley near St Pauls church and as luck woul;d have it someone motoring bye realised our plight after seeing me holding up the petrol cap. and returtned with a bottle of petrol in a brandy bottle. I guess the locals thought you South Africans have a lot of faith in our brandy sold at the bottle store …..well we got going again and coasted down into Jamestown and filled up at the Petrol station alongside shady lane

  6. I remember well, all those years ago, the taste, the aroma and the sheer pleasure of eating my fist fish cake made with such loving care by Irene Harris at Harris’ Guest House ……

    1. Yes we too enjoyed a meal or two at the Harrisis’ Guest House but did you know tjhat they actually spent time on Ascension Island for a while prior to starting their Guest House on St Helena. Mr Harris was a baker by trade and we all enjoyed his cooking and deliciousties pastries. The Fish cakes too were great ahnd with a bowl of salad to accompany the dish it went down well. Happy memories of the many dinners we enjoyed at this Guest house.

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