No but really. Sort of. We celebrated Thanksgiving last week with my family on Friday, so on Thursday we decorated the house for Christmas (got our first real tree!) and putzed around in the baby’s room and since it was Jay’s birthday I asked him what he’d like to eat and he said “fish balls.” I think originally he had something Asian in mind but then started talking about lemon and parmesan and I was all THIS IS WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN.
Also, I did originally plan to make these round, not flat, but I have a hard time keeping balls round – I find they always kind of end up with a flat edge anyway, so I figured why not just beat the flattening to the punch?
So what we have here is this: little mini fish cakes with CHUNKS of cod, not ground up to smithereens, and a leeetle bit of filler for flavor and to hold everything together. Then it’s coated in parm and panko and fried so gently AND THEN we have a tangy but creamy dipper with dill and other yummy flavors. I photographed this as an appetizer first, then tossed some of the sauce with lettuce and made a cod cake salad, and no one in this house was mad. You will adore these.
For the cod cakes, you’ll need a piece of cod (duh), an egg, the zest of a lemon, regular and panko bread crumbs (or just one if that’s all you have, no worries at all), dried dill, onion powder, garlic powder, and parmesan. I think there are people in this world who don’t like mixing seafood and cheese, and I really don’t understand those people so bear with me on this, mmkay? Then for frying you’ll need butter and oil.
Mix everything together with your fingers – the mixture will be wet but should hold together when you mush it into a round shape. If the cakes fall apart, add a tiny bit more bread crumb. Then, use your hands to shape the mixture into 2-inch or so disks. Gently turn the cakes over in the panko/parm mixture, pressing a little to make a nice crust, then put the cod cakes on the plate you already set out. Press the mixture gently but firmly to get it to hold together – it might take a few tries, but I promise it works!
Now, for added insurance for the cakes not falling apart while you fry them, stick them in the fridge for 30 minutes or longer while you wash your dang hands, heat the oil for frying, and make the tarter sauce. For that we need mayo, sour cream, lemon juice, and the same three spices – dill, onion powder, and garlic powder. Easy!
When you’re ready to fry the cod cakes, heat some butter and olive oil in a skillet over medium heat – enough to coat the bottom of the pan but not deep enough to coat the cakes. The butter will foam and start to brown slightly – that’s when it’s ready! Put the fish cakes in the skillet and let them sizzle for 5 minutes or so on each side.
I love the texture there, you actually know that there’s fish involved! It makes the cakes just slightly more finnicky to form and fry, but I promise it’s worth it. Cod is just so BUTTERY, you don’t want to chop it to death before you make these.
OR, you can toss some lettuce with the tartar sauce, drizzle some more on top, and make salads! We loved both versions, really. I’ll say that for a meal the salad is great because the cold watery veggies are a nice contrast to the fried fish, but dipping these in the tangy sauce is just as delicious. You could throw a baked potato next to these and call them dinner for sure.
New holiday appetizer? I say yes.
- FOR THE COD CAKES
- 1/2 pound cod filet, roughly chopped
- 1 egg
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon dried dill
- 1/2 cup plain bread crumbs, plus more if needed
- 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- butter and olive oil for frying
- FOR THE TARTAR SAUCE
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 lemon, juiced (cut the other half into wedges for serving)
- 1 teaspoon dried dill
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- salt, to taste
- For the cod cakes, combine the panko and parmesan in a shallow dish and set out a clean plate for the cakes once they're formed. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a bowl with your hands. If the mixture is very wet, sprinkle in a tiny bit more bread crumb. Form the fish mixture into 6-8 small patties with your hands, pressing to hold the mixture together. Dip the patties into the parm/panko mixture, and place them on the prepared plate to rest.
- Let the cod cakes rest for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
- While the cod cakes rest, make the tartar sauce by combining all the ingredients. Taste the sauce, and adjust the seasonings to your preference.
- When ready to fry, heat equal parts butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat - enough to make about 1/4 inch fat in the bottom of the skillet. When the butter foams and browns slightly, place the cod cakes in the skillet. Fry for 5-7 minutes on each side until golden brown and cooked through.
- Serve immediately with the tarter sauce for dunking and lemon wedges.
- Alternatively, serve over salad greens tossed in some of the tartar sauce.