July 1st is Canada Day! It gives me great pleasure to share some reminiscences of my beautiful adopted country and celebrate the day with you. This year will be Canada's 147th birthday. Having grown up in India and lived in England, I always forget how young Canada is. As an immigrant, its certainly been a struggle sometimes; however, my life in Canada has also been amazingly rewarding. As time goes by, I've found my Canadian voice and have experienced the country in its myriad guises.
It's hard to describe Canadian food culture, as Canada is incredibly diverse. Different immigrant groups, along with aboriginal or native people have defined the culture and cuisine of this vast country, and to claim any one type of food as "Canadian" is erroneous.
I was chatting with my mother-in-law about this, and she talked about her time growing up on a small farm in the prairies. Everything was based around farming, and people celebrated food that was fresh, local and seasonal. It's interesting that people here are now going back to seasonal and local foods while adding their own touch to their dishes. As my mother-in-law put it, "...each family in Canada has their own traditions. As we grow as a country, we grow these traditions by adding our own voice and identity to the chorus." She is a wise woman.
When I was trying to find a recipe that epitomized what I believed about Canadian food, I went back to one of my earliest Canadian food memories (and yes, Bloody Caesars were included too). I love these Acadian salt cod fish cakes. Fish cakes were, surprisingly, also a staple for me growing up in India, as I grew up on the West Coast. My (faint) Portuguese heritage meant that salt cod featured fairly heavily in our cuisine, and we had Goan-style fish cakes, or Fofos, on a regular basis.
Acadian cuisine is local to Maritime Canada, and salt cod features heavily in it. These simple, elegant fish cakes are packed full of rich flavor, and represent what Canadian food is all about. As we Canadians come together to celebrate Canada Day, we bring together all our collective experiences and world views, and the one thing that unites us is our pride in our beautiful country. And truly, that is worth celebrating.
Happy Canada Day! (Eh!)
Acadian Salt Cod Fish Cakes
Makes 16 to 18 cakes
250 grams (about 9 ounces) boneless salt cod
1/2 yellow or white onion, diced fine (4 tablespoons)
3 medium potatoes, chopped into chunks (around 500 grams or 17 ounces)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon thyme, leaves picked and chopped
2 large eggs, beaten separately
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper, if required, to taste
1 cup panko crumbs (or dry breadcrumbs)
Neutral cooking oil, to shallow fry
A small handful of arugula, to serve
Lemon wedges and mayonnaise, to serve
Place the salt cod in large bowlful of cold water for at least 12 or up to 24 hours, in the refrigerator, changing the water every 8 hours. Drain and shred finely, making sure there are no pin bones.
Boil the chopped potato until easily pierced with a fork or knife, then drain and place in a large bowl. Add the shredded salt cod, onion, lemon thyme, 1 beaten egg and the flour.
Using a fork or potato masher, mix everything together until combined. Taste and season with a little more salt and pepper, if required.
Shape the mixture into 16 to 18 small patties. Place the remaining beaten egg in a shallow bowl, and the panko crumbs in another.
Coat the fish cakes in the egg and then dredge in the panko crumbs. You can prepare all the fish cakes this way and cook immediately, place them in the fridge to firm up, or freeze the cakes for later.
When ready to cook, heat a couple tablespoons of oil in a pan over medium heat, and fry the fish cakes in batches until golden, brown and crisp, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate, while you finish frying the remaining fish cakes.
Arrange the arugula on a plate and arrange the fish cakes on top. Serve with lemon wedges and a little mayonnaise, if desired.
- Soaking the salt cod will remove most of the saltiness. If cod is still salty after soaking, add fresh, clean water and soak for an additional few hours.
- I like using Yukon Gold or Russet potatoes for this dish. You can use any good mashing potato.
- You can freeze the assembled fish cakes. Freeze in a single layer on parchment paper. Once frozen solid, transfer to a ziplock bag. Defrost before frying.
- I like to serve the fish cakes just warm with arugula, lemon wedges and mayonnaise. They taste great cold too.
(Image credits: Michelle Peters-Jones)