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How about something different for Saint Patrick’s Day fare? There is plenty of corned beef hash with boiled cabbage and potatoes on offer at public eateries, ready to be washed down with green dyed light beer, or Guinness and Irish whiskey. This is the first holiday with many bars and restaurants fully open to celebrate since last March. This year, I’m trying other Irish fare: mackerel fish patties made with potatoes, served with fresh baked Irish soda bread. Cabbage will come in shredded as a bed for the fish cakes.
Mackerel is traditional Irish fare.
We all have a basic awareness of the deep connection between the Irish and potatoes, see Famine. You should also have a notion that an island nation has a strong sea fishing tradition. Think of Irish or Aran (Island) sweaters, knit originally to keep the fishermen warm on the cold Atlantic waves. You have that image in mind because these simple but elegant home spun sweaters caught the eye of Vogue editors in the late 1950s.
As Aran sweaters became available for purchase, the publication Vogue took notice of the intricate and masterful patterns. In 1957 Vogue published a knitting pattern for the Aran sweater.
This feature in the internationally published fashion monolith was a major achievement. Within a few short years, the Aran Sweater was suddenly everywhere.
Celebrities began to wear the signature cable and diamond knit patterns in magazines and film, bringing the Aran Sweater to icon status. Notable faces include Grace Kelly, Steve McQueen and the Clancy Brothers on the Ed Sullivan Show.
The Irish mackerel fishery merited its own history, written by a leading Irish marine scientist, John Molloy. However, mackerels, like sardines, have fallen away from the American popular diet. While they are still found on the canned or tinned meats aisle in grocery stores and discount stores, you are unlikely to find them in the frozen, fresh, or smoked fish section. So, mackerels are unlikely to come to mind here as typical Irish fare.
Yet, the Atlantic mackerel is commonly caught by a fishing pole from the shore, as well as commercially fished with nets. Mackerel is still affordable seafood. Its populations have so prospered and spread that new nations have been drawn into disputes over national commercial fishing rights. This is a good problem to have. The relatively small size, shorter life, and prolific populations are key to this fish being a sustainable food source.
In addition to being affordable and sustainable, mackerel are a great source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. These very oily fish do not last long fresh and so are mostly canned like tuna and salmon or tinned like sardines. Accordingly, the recipes I first found were for ways to eat canned sardines. A note suggested mackerel as a substitute, and I was off to the races.
Irish Mackerel Recipes
Freshly caught mackerel is enjoyed pan-fried, coated with Irish oatmeal. Smoked mackerel can be made into smoked mackerel paté served on crackers or bread, like soda bread. You might even combine two national foods with a few filets of fresh-caught mackerel in a warm mackerel & potato salad. Then there is the traditional Irish mackerel breakfast, consisting of a mackerel fillet and an egg over a slice of toasted Irish soda bread.
But I promised Irish fish cakes, so fish cakes we shall have. An Irish fish cakes recipe immediately cues us to potatoes and fish fillets being the primary ingredients.
1lb of Potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped (I prefer to use the Cultra potato or Kerrs Pinks however any will suffice)
¾ Cod or Hake fillets (or both) – ensure they are fully skinned and boned before cooking
[ . . . ]
1/3 cup of Irish porridge oats
The bulk of the fish cake is a mix of potato and fish. The oats are for coating so the cakes do no stick in the pan. The recipe I adapted was from Chowhound, credit Chris Rochelle. Unfortunately, the staff updated the article to add more recipes but cut out the extra helpful variation by Chris Rochelle for low carb and diabetic cooking. I remember the original article and include this extra information. In addition, I found a recipe for baking fish cakes, making them even healthier.
Here, then, is the combined recipe, my variations in bold.
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes OR 1/2 head cauliflower
2 cans sardines, drained and chopped OR 1 10-oz can mackerel
1 cup spring onions, chopped
1/4 bunch fresh dill, chopped OR dry dill or tarragon
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tablespoons grated lemon peel
panko bread crumbs OR yellow cornmeal for coating
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 egg, beaten
1. Coarsely chop and boil the potatoes until tender. Drain and mash. OR. Coarsely chop and boil the cauliflower until tender. Drain, squeeze moisture through cloth, mash.
2. Add the sardines, spring onions, dill, garlic, and lemon peel. Season with salt and pepper, then mix in the egg.
3. Shape the mixture into six 3-inch cakes. Coat with cornmeal.
4. In a nonstick frying pan, add two tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the fish cakes about three at a time, turning them over until they’re golden brown and crispy. Makes 6 cakes.
3. PREHEAT OVEN 350F
4. Line a baking tin with parchment paper. Using an ice cream scoop, make small (about 2 inch) balls and set them on the baking tin. Slightly flatten the balls with your hands.
5. bake on the middle rack for about 20- 25 minutes or until lightly golden.
I use the Better Homes & Gardens Irish soda bread recipe, substituting sour milk, made with vinegar and skim milk, for buttermilk. Sometimes I toss in some caraway seeds or a bit of Mew Mexico chili powder.
My homemade lemon marmalade, with a little vegetable oil, makes a great dressing for shredded cabbage or mixed greens. Kick it up a notch with a dash of hot sauce.Published in