In his new book, “See You on Sunday: A Cookbook for Famiy and Friends,” Sam Sifton, the genius writer, editor, critic and cook who wears several hats at the New York Times and works non-stop, addresses entertaining a crowd. The idea is a casual gathering with platters of well-made but unfussy food. Social distancing and an outdoor setting easily accommodate the concept. These fish cakes are just the ticket for the occasion. Though fish cakes are often the payoff for leftover fish, here Sifton, who was a lively guest on Stirring the Pot, has you start from scratch, poaching fish like cod. He also suggests black fish (tautog); black sea bass or striped bass would also work. If you do not plan to entertain as many as eight people, the recipe, which I have adapted slightly from the book, can be halved. And a smaller quantity could be made with leftover fish; you’d need a good two cups of it. Did somebody suggest salmon? Sifton, who does this kind of cooking at his home in Greenport (and also does his own fishing) would say to keep it local. And if the day comes when real Zoomless cocktail parties can again be on the calendar, you can use this recipe to make a good 4 dozen mini-cakes to serve with drinks.
Serves 8 to 10
2 bay leaves
1/2 lemon, sliced, plus 2 lemons, in eighths
2 pounds skinless fillets of cod or other flaky white fish
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 celery stalks, trimmed and diced
2 medium yellow onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 heaping tablespoons mayonnaise plus more for coating
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
4 large eggs
Kosher salt or sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
2 “sleeves” saltine crackers, crushed (about 2 ½ cups), or oyster crackers or panko
1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
½ cup grape seed, canola or sunflower seed oil, approximately
Pour an inch of water into a pan large enough to hold the fish in a single layer. Add the peppercorns, bay leaves and the lemon slices and bring to a slow simmer. Add the fish and gently simmer 6 to 8 minutes, until the flesh has just lost its translucence. Carefully remove the fish to a platter, draining it well. If you don’t have a pan that’s large enough for all the fish, you can poach it in 2 batches.
Melt the butter over medium heat in a medium-size sauté pan. Add the celery, onion and garlic and saute until the onions are translucent and the vegetables have softened. Transfer them to a large mixing bowl. In another bowl combine the mayonnaise, the mustard, eggs, 2 teaspoons of the salt, the pepper and Old Bay, then add to the vegetables in the large bowl and mix. Add the crumbs and parsley and mix again.
Use a fork to crumble the fish into large flakes and fold into the mixture in the large bowl. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt if needed. Form the mixture into 8 to 10 large hamburger-size patties. Transfer them to a baking sheet or platter and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.
Heat oven to 200 degrees. Lightly brush the fish cakes some extra mayonnaise. Place a large sauté pan over high heat and add the oil. Saute the fish cakes over medium-high heat until they are golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes on each side. Transfer the fish cakes to a rack and place in the oven to keep warm, up to 20 minutes, until ready to serve. Garnish with the lemon wedges.
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