Made like a classic, breaded, Maryland-style crab cake but with fish, these Maryland fish cakes taste like sitting out on a pier on the Chesapeake. They use easy-to-find tilapia along with saltine crumbs and Old Bay Seasoning for authentic Maryland flavor. A quick tartar sauce is included along with the recipe.Yum
Having tackled making Maryland "crab" cakes with kani (imitation crab), which I hacked by baking them in the oven, I wanted a more traditionally breaded, pan-fried "crab" cake. Flipping through Mama Dip's Family Cook Book (see the kani post for more on Mama Dip), I saw that this doyenne of Southern cooking proffers a recipe for just the thing I was in search of: Maryland-style fish cakes! The mix for the fish cakes is almost identical to the one for crab cakes, but the flakiness of the poached tilapia allows for the fish cakes to adhere well, meaning they can be breaded and pan fried.
A key to successful (and non-frustrating) crab , "crab," or fish cakes is resting them for half an hour on a sheet pan in the fridge after forming the patties from the mixture. This really helps them keep their shape, all the better for plunking on a bun, if that's your thing. So plan the extra time, during which you can prep the rest of the meal, before pan frying.
Poaching the fish
I'm not sure what the technical difference is between poaching and boiling, but as a former academic, the siren call of jargon is hard to resist. Basically, we're just talking about cooking stuff in boiling water. Before forming the fish cakes, you'll slide the fish fillets into a pot of boiling water and cook until the fish is cooked through and flakes easily, about 10-15 minutes.
Making the mix for Maryland fish cakes
While the fish is poaching (fancy fancy), you can mix together the binding ingredients for the fish cakes: mayo (even if you hate it, ahem), Dijon mustard, an egg, a squeeze of lemon juice, s&p, and the aforementioned, all-important saltine crumbs and Old Bay seasoning. Could you do this without those key ingredients? You could get away with regular bread crumbs if you had to, and seasoning salt or just smoked paprika in place of the Old Bay, but for full-on Chesapeake, you're going to want to put saltines and Old Bay on your shopping list. The fresh parsley is optional here, but really not, because it's so good and you should do it. That being said, a lack of parsley should not stand between you and fish cakes.
And a quick tartar sauce
"I don't like tartar sauce," said my husband, while furtively dipping his fish cake in some and declaring, "I guess I do like tartar sauce." Hear hear. I don't generally like mayonnaise, but the combination here is fantastic. If you've got pickle relish and capers in the fridge and a shallot in the pantry, you're about a minute away from the perfect accompaniment to your fish cakes. And if not? Sour cream or Greek yogurt work, too.
Looking for more fish ideas?
- Pan-Fried Trout with White Wine-Braised Leeks (dairy) - an easy, and delicious, thing to do with trout.
- Teriyaki Salmon (parve) - With a Quick Homemade Teriyaki Sauce - this one is a crowd-pleaser that's a lazy-cook-pleaser, too.
- Alton Brown's Tuna Croquettes - old-school splendor with the revival.
Maryland Fish Cakes (parve)
- 4 tilapia filets - poached & flaked
- 2 eggs
- 2 Tbs mayonnaise
- ½ Tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp Old Bay seasoning
- ⅓ cup saltine crumbs
- 1 Tbs minced fresh flat-leaf parsley - optional
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- Salt & pepper
- ⅓ cup crushed saltines
Quick Tartar sauce:
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- 1 Tbsp sweet pickle relish
- ½ tsp Dijon mustard
- ¼ finely minced shallot
- 1-2 Tbsp lemon juice - to taste
- Salt and black pepper - to taste
Poach the fish:
- Poach the tilapia filets in a shallow pot of water, about 10-15 minutes.
Mix tartar sauce:
- Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl. Cover and chill until ready to serve.
Shape and rest the fish cakes:
- Line a quarter baking sheet pan or baking dish with parchment paper for easy clean-up.
- In a large bowl, combine the eggs, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire, Old Bay, bread crumbs, and parsley in a large bowl and mix well. Squeeze lemon over the mixture, season well with salt and pepper, and stir again to combine.
- When the tilapia is poached, flake it with a fork and allow to cool slightly. Add to the bowl and mix gently to combine.
- Shape mixture into six cakes and place on prepared sheet/pan. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Bread and fry the fish cakes:
- Place the saltine crumbs in a shallow dish. Dredge the chilled fish cakes in the saltine crumbs.
- Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add patties; cook 3 minutes on each side or until golden.