20 November 2018

Hake cakes, NC-style

As I wrote yesterday, I decided it might be good to have the leftover poached hake made into fish cakes. Back in the 1970s, an Englishwoman I knew made fish cakes with canned tuna and mashed potato, and they were good. But I didn't necessarily want potato in the fish cakes.

Crab cakes came to mind, and I started searching — where else? — on the internet. Crab cakes made with blue crab meat were a frequent seafood dish we ate when I lived in North Carolina back in the 1960s and '70s. My mother made them. If you've never eaten blue crabs, you haven't lived.

The North Carolina recipe for crab cakes that caught my eye was a mixture of bread crumbs, bell peppers, green onions, crab meat or, in this case, flaked cooked fish, and spices, all bound together with a beaten egg and some mayonnaise.

The N.C. recipe for crab cakes called for two ingredients I can't easily find here: green onions and a spice blend called Old Bay Seasoning. For the green onions I substituted onion powder, but you could also finely dice an onion or a shallot, cook it lightly in olive or vegetable oil, and use it in the fish cake mixture.

I looked up Old Bay Seasoning to see what spices go into that blend. Then I made my own spice blend using many of the same ingredients. I found this list of powdered spices: celery salt, paprika, black pepper, cayenne pepper, dry mustard, mace (or nutmeg), cinnamon,  cardamom, allspice, cloves, and ginger.

It was easy to put in pinches of some of these. The recipes called for just one teaspoon of the spice blend. I just chose what I liked — smoked paprika, for example, mustard powder, allspice, cloves, etc. It's your choice. I didn't have celery salt, but I had some celery leaves I could add to the mixture. Chopped basil or parsley leave would also be good.

Otherwise, the recipe is pretty simple. You mix together all the dry and wet ingredients to make a sort of paste, and then you carefully fold in the flaked fish or crab meat. I think I might make the same with some cooked, chopped shrimp soon. I used panko (Japanese bread crumbs) that I can get at local Asian markets, and I used commercial mayonnaise (Maille). And I used a commercial N.C. hot sauce called Texas Pete, but Tabasco or other hot sauce would work just fine. Oh, and I didn't have a lemon so I put in a teaspoon of white wine vinegar instead (Maille Chardonnay vinegar, which I think is very tasty).

I made up the "cakes" or patties with that mixture. (I didn't actually use bell peppers because I didn't have any.) There were four of them, each a generous portion, and froze them for later. We cooked a couple a few days ago. I just took them out of the freezer, put them in a non-stick skillet with some oil in it, let them thaw for an hour or two, and then turned on the burner and browned them. Here is the recipe adapted to my ingredients and tastes.

NC-style Crab or Fish Cakes

1 lb. flaked cooked fish or crab meat
½ cup bread crumbs
½ cup (or less) chopped bell pepper, red or green
¼ cup mayonnaise (or more)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning
1 tsp. hot pepper sauce
1 tsp. white wine vinegar
1 pinch garlic powder (or more to taste)
1 tsp. onion powder
¼ cup vegetable oil (for frying)

In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients except for crab meat and vegetable oil. Then gently fold in the crab meat or fish. Form into patties, using about ½ cup of mixture for each patty.

Heat oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium or medium-high heat. Carefully place crab cakes in skillet. Fry approximately 3 to 4 minutes on each side or until golden brown.

Place the cakes on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb any excess oil. Serve immediately.

As you can see, we had the fish cakes with hush puppies, a salad with a mustardy yogurt-mayonnaise dressing, and French-fried potatoes.


  1. A post to keep. I usually put mashed potatoes but your recipe looks lighter and tastier. I'll make a similar salad too and going to look up hush puppies . We often have left over fish. Husband is a fisherman

    1. Here's the recipe for hushpuppies as I make them. It comes from a restaurant in my home town in N.C.:

      Sanitary Fishmarket Hushpuppies

      250 g finely ground corn meal
      1 egg
      1½ tsp. salt
      1 Tbsp. sugar
      1 tsp. bicarbonate of soda
      125 ml buttermilk (or plain yogurt)

      Stir, adding small amounts of water, to thick consistency. You need to be able to form the hushpuppies and have them hold together. You can shape it into logs or balls. Drop into hot oil (375ºF / 190ºC). Serves 2 hungry or 4 not so hungry people, replacing bread. Eat with butter!

      The dough freezes well, so you can make a bigger batch by doubling all ingredients except the egg. One egg for a double recipe works fine. Here's a link to the original hushpuppy recipe.

  2. Replies
    1. The fish cakes were very good. All the rest, especially the hushpuppies (fried) and potatoes (fried), are optional. Since we never go out to restaurants any more, we make French fries at home several times a month.

  3. that looks tasty...I've made similar using cod since good crabmeat is hard (and $$$) to find

    1. Wonder if flounder would be good? Does that cost a fortune these days?

  4. Those fish cakes and trimmings look delicious like all the dishes you cook and post! Some of the best crab cakes I've ever eaten in a restaurant was at the Spouter restaurant in Beaufort a few years ago. They were made with back fin crab meat with just a smidgen of filler to hold it together. I tried them as an appetizer because usually restaurant crab cakes are more filler than crab, but Spouter's were outstanding!

    1. Another place that has (or did have last winter) good crab cakes is the Time Out Tavern in Newport.

  5. This does look delicious, and I think can be used with different sorts of fish.

  6. No green onions? Can you grow them there?
    The fish cakes look delicious.

    1. We find them once in a while. Of course we could grow some. Good idea.


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