MAKING ST HELENA FISHCAKES | Sharon Henry
Eating hot 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.