A couple of years ago, I was later asked to do a stint on a BBC programme, Inside The Factory, on tinned food , and went for the day to a four-star hotel to play head chef to unsuspecting diners, who believed they were trying out the upmarket hotel’s new menu. This was their starter, and they all enthusiastically loved it, even when the ‘big reveal’ at the end proved that it had been made with value range tinned potatoes and a 40p tin of sardines. At the time of filming, these fishcakes worked out at 17p per head – prices change all the time, of course , but they remain a nifty, inexpensive, filling little number. And good enough for a roomful of self-styled food connoisseurs, too.
(I’m currently trialling a partnership program with the budget supermarkets that I shop in for my recipes. If you click the links in the recipes I may earn a small commission, but don’t just click for the sake of it as they’re wise to that! As ever, I don’t promote anything I don’t genuinely use and love myself, but if you do online shopping at either of the Big Two, you might want to check out my recommendations)
MAKES 6– 8, from 17p each
a handful of frozen spinach, or chopped fresh parsley, 11p
2 tbsp bottled lemon juice, or fresh if you are so inclined, 6p
The potatoes will have been pre-cooked in the tin but the best fishcakes are made with super-soft spuds, so bring a pan of water to the boil and tip them in. Reduce to a simmer and cook for around 10 minutes, until they fall apart easily. If using frozen spinach, pop it in a sieve and balance it on top of the pan as the potatoes cook, to defrost it. Prod it with a fork to break it up and help it along.
Drain the spuds and tip them back into the pan.
Open the tins of sardines and carefully pour the oil in and mash the potatoes to a pulp with either a fork or a masher. Give it a brisk beating – a wooden spoon can help matters along if they won’t play ball.
When you have achieved a rough mash, tip in the sardines. Flake them with the side of a fork, bones and all, as the bones are full of calcium and goodness. If you are concerned about them – and some people are – then just remove any visible ones to put your mind at rest. They generally tend to be soft and mashable and not pose a danger, but you do what is best for you.
Mix the lot together, with the paprika and defrosted spinach or fresh parsley, the lemon juice, a pinch of salt and a generous amount of pepper. If you don’t tend to have paprika lying around (it’s more for colour than flavour, to temper what looks like a greying mass), add a squeeze of tomato purée or ketchup instead.
Beat in 1 tablespoon of flour until the mixture is stiff, not sloppy. Test it by scooping some on your spoon and holding it upside down. If it stays in place, you’re good to go. If it slops off, you need a little more flour.
Pop the mixture in the fridge for at least half an hour to firm; this stops the fishcakes falling apart in the pan. If you’re in a huge hurry you can add an egg and another tablespoon of flour at this stage and skip the fridge, but it really does make a difference. I get it though, sometimes you just want dinner and you want it now, or there’s hungry toddlers tugging on legs, or similar.
When they are good to go, preheat the oven to 180 ° C/ 350 ° F/ gas 4. Lightly grease a baking sheet and, with floured hands, take 2 generous tablespoons of the mixture. Roll it into a ball and flatten gently, then pop on the baking sheet. Repeat until all of the mixture is used up, making 6– 8 fishcakes.
Brush them with a little oil to help them crisp, and pop in the oven for around 15 minutes, or until golden. And ta-dah, gourmet dinner, from a tin.
TIP You can also make these into small meatball-sized balls instead, which I do sometimes; my Small Boy hooted with laughter the first time I told him we were having Fishy Balls for tea!