When I was a kid, codfish cakes were one of my favorite winter breakfasts. I think my mom got the fish from a can. She would slice them into 1-inch circles and fry them up, and I’d gobble them down with ketchup…Heinz 57, of course.
You can eat them for dinner, but for some reason they are traditionally considered a breakfast food. When I grew up and started craving them, I figured out how to make codfish cakes myself. And now my kids (who won’t often eat fish without complaining) will gobble down codfish cakes like they were candy.
This summer I was at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. We often stop there on the way to somewhere else just to get out and stretch, use the bathroom, and browse through the gift shop. I found a book there called A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove: A History of American Women Told Through Food, Recipes, and Remembrances, by Laura Schenone (W.W. Norton & Co., 2004). I bought it because when I opened it up I landed right on a page with a recipe for “fried codfish” that was almost exactly the recipe that I had made from memory. The quote that went with it said, “A classic New England breakfast food that fueled many a mill girl.” The recipe came from a cook book written in 1856. Maybe in a past life I was a mill girl in New England. But I love it when an old recipe works just as well today as it did in its own time.
I’ll give measurements because some people want them, but for this recipe it’s not at all required to be precise in your measuring. The recipe calls for salt cod, but you can use any leftover (or even fresh) white-fleshed fish. Salt cod is often found in stores around the winter holidays because it’s almost a sacred food in many cultures—definitely so in Italian cuisine, for example. Portuguese, too. While I had some in my shopping cart the other day, a man in the bakery department saw it and cooed over it, telling me that in his home country (Puerto Rico) they eat salt cod straight, but it’s best in a salad with avocado and onion.
Cod Fish Cakes
1 fish filet (cod, or substitute another white-fleshed fish)
2 cups mashed potatoes (see note below)
1 Tablespoon butter or olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Take the fish and cut it up into bits, and put the pieces in a bowl. If you are using salt cod, you must soak it in water overnight before using (change the water a few times) to get the excess salt out of it.
2. Add the mashed potatoes and egg. Stir it up well.
3. Heat the butter or olive oil in a sauté pan. Form the mixture into patties and cook until both sides are browned and crispy.
4. Salt and pepper to taste, and serve with Heinz 57 ketchup (organic if you can get it!).
You can use any old leftover mashed potatoes; my recipe for mashed potatoes is simply boiled potatoes, butter, and milk, mashed together with a hand masher. Use as much butter as you like, or whole or skim milk if you prefer (don’t add too much milk, though). Salt and pepper to taste.