Monday, July 29, 2013

Creamy feta fish cakes on buttered cabbage

These pilchard fish cakes were the surprise hit of the Freshly Blogged competition so far with my family. A surprise because I’d never served them pilchards before and never would have thought the kids would eat them. I think the image problem is to do with the name – ‘pilchard’ just doesn’t sound very appetising – it’s not until you realise that they are actually just big sardines that you can start to get enthusiastic about them. Or maybe that’s just me?!

I’d been thinking about making fishcakes recently anyway, but hadn’t got around to it, so this was a great opportunity to experiment. They worked out so beautifully that they are going to be on the family recipe list from now on – a brilliant way of making a meal that tastes luxurious, rich and creamy, but is actually very cheap to make... and it can be one of those emergency store-cupboard meals for those times when you haven’t been shopping for a week and feel like something more than just pasta again.

And cabbage is another humdrum vegetable that too often gets a bad name served boiled into oblivion. Here it is gently braised with butter until soft and sweet with plenty of black pepper as a foil, and it is a whole other food stuff that you might even persuade kids to like!

The challenge ingredients this week were: Lucky Star pilchards, cabbage, brown rice, green beans, feta: They are all quite humble ingredients that conjure up 50s Britain for me, a culinary desert according to many, but also a time of traditional nursery comfort food, which when done well is delicious. Done badly and featuring as school dinners... well that’s another story! Luckily these turned out unlike any school meals that I can remember.
We could add two fresh ingredients (I went for lemon and parsley) and any spices.

Please go and see and vote for my recipe here on the Freshly Blogged site. Voting is open until 11am Monday 5th August.

The recipe and inspiration as posted for the competition follow:

Creamy feta fish cakes on buttered cabbage

Pilchards may be a store-cupboard staple, but too often they sit on the back of the shelf, ignored and waiting in vain for a chance to shine. These fish cakes are that chance, giving them a starring role that will certainly have me buying them regularly now, in fact my husband liked them so much that he insists on it!

The fish cakes are inspired by the best of British comfort food; think of all those once exclusively nursery dishes that have been re-invented as gastro-pub favourites. These are made with rice rather than the more usual mashed potato and flavoured simply with parsley and lemon zest, to complement the richness of the oily fish, a surprise creaminess added by melting feta. Cabbage braised in butter (and oh so sweet) seems to go down well even with kids who don’t usually touch the stuff, and then there is the fresh lemony crispness of a green bean salad to round everything off.

This is an incredibly economical and delicious meal that you could serve up to royalty and make them very happy!

Fish cakes
1 cup PnP brown rice
2 ½ cups vegetable stock
1 tin Lucky Star pilchards in tomato sauce
Zest of 1 large lemon
6 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
100g PnP feta cheese
1 egg, beaten
3 tablespoons flour and more to coat
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil for frying

Green bean salad
500 g green beans topped, tailed and halved
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
50g PnP feta cheese

Buttered cabbage
1 medium  cabbage
30g butter
3 tablespoons water
Salt and pepper

Fish cakes
Cook the rice in the stock in a covered pan, until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender but still retains a slight bite. Spread on a plate to cool.
Break the pilchards into fairly small pieces, removing any spine cartilage as you go. Put aside the excess sauce from the tin.
Break the feta into small pieces.
Once the rice is fairly cool, mix in the lemon zest, parsley, feta and pilchards. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.
Add the beaten egg and 3 tablespoons of flour and mix gently. Form the mixture into patties and dip into the extra flour to coat them on both sides. At this stage the patties fall apart very easily so handle them carefully. Makes about  10.
Put the fish cakes in the fridge to firm up until everything else is ready.

Heat enough oil to cover the base of a frying pan. Gently slide in as many cakes as will fit without crowding. Leave to cook for 2-3 minutes until a crust has formed underneath. Turn very carefully and cook on the other side for another 2-3 minutes. Remove onto a warm plate covered with kitchen paper, while you cook the next batch. Serve hot.

Green bean salad
Bring a pot of salted water to the boil. Add the prepared green beans. Cook until al dente, tender enough to bite through but still crisp. Drain and cool under cold tap for a few seconds. Put them in a bowl and sprinkle with lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Just before serving add crumbled feta cheese and finely chopped parsley.

Buttered cabbage
Shred the cabbage into fine strips. Put it into a heavy based pot with a lid. Add the water and butter. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally. During the last five minutes, remove the lid so that the last of the water boils away. The cabbage should be tender and buttery, with no excess liquid.

If you like the sound of this recipe you can vote for it on the Freshly Blogged site until Monday 5th August...thanks so much for your support! xx


  1. On the menu for tomorrow they sound fantastic. Will keep an eye on this P & P site it looks good. Thanks Have a great week Diane

    1. There are loads of fantastic recipes coming out of this competition - lots of great SA food bloggers - hadn't realised how many of us there are until we started! Hope you enjoyed the fish cakes, if you made them, Diane.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks, Diane, I appreciate your support!

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks, Tandy - classic but they go so well with the pilchards that I didn't want to try and be too different!

  4. I've voted for yours in the past - because it's you as much as for the recipes - but this one definitely deserves half a dozen votes. I'm salivating at the thought of it. (That's posh for dribbling and drooling...)

    1. Thanks, Scriptor, both for the support and for the enthusiasm. They were a surprise hit with my family - I never thought they'd even eat pilchards before this!

  5. Pilchards - as you say, they have somewhat of an image problem - in my family compounded by the fact that when we ran out of cat food, in an emergency my mom would feed pilchards to our cats....! My mom also used to make fishcakes with them but I've never tried - maybe it's time?? I think I have seen Glenryck here in the supermarkets... Love your recipe!

    1. Thanks, Jeanne. Our cats also love pilchards - I just never thought I would, but these fish cakes surprised me with their edibility and have gone the rounds of my sister-in-law's office, with them all trying and adding on to the recipe!!


Thanks for your comments - I appreciate every one!