We have a permanent quandary in the cafes: Should we give our punters lots of variety or should we concentrate on consistency? Would you like to be surprised by Goan fish curry or would you like to be comforted by perfect salmon fishcakes? On the whole chefs like to pursue novelty and variety but as time goes by I’m becoming more interested in something being perfect than I am in it being new or different. So, having flirted with many fish dishes and, indeed, many different kinds of fishcakes, we have now plumped decisively for these stunningly delicious salmon fishcakes with home-made tartare sauce. They’re on the menu at both Michaelhouse and All Saints every day. I eat them fairly often and they’re great every time.

A perfect crust, quite a moist inside, only just enough egg to nearly set the mixture when it cooks, with a balance of smoked and fresh salmon and plenty of fresh dill. Equally important: home-made tartar sauce i.e. mayonnaise with capers and gherkins and (in our case) lots of chopped parsley.

You’ll note that I specify the numbers of grams of salt. This might seem pedantic and even a bad idea given that smoked salmon can vary in its saltiness. However, in the context of this mixture the saltiness of the smoked salmon is a small variable and in our experience at the cafes you get a much better result by weighing the salt accurately than by seasoning, mixing, adjusting, tasting, seasoning, tasting, adjusting etc. That’s partly because you don’t want to overmix the fishcake mix and also it’s hard to evenly distribute a small addition of salt to a relatively thick mixture. Also, not everyone not wants constantly to taste a mix with raw egg in it.

In Hereford we use smoked salmon trimmings from the Black Mountains Smokery – a remarkable and somewhat leathery product with a strong smokey flavour that’s absolutely perfect for this dish although slightly overwhelming eaten raw on its own.

We serve the fishcakes and tartare sauce with a simple green salad and for me that makes a perfect meal.

These quantities make 20 fishcakes i.e. enough for 10 people – if you aren’t cooking for that many people then freeze some prior to the final cooking.

800g salmon fillet (offcuts are fine but they must be very fresh)
50g butter
400g smoked salmon trimmings
1.5kg potatoes
2 dsp English mustard
2 eggs, lightly beaten
60g (one good-sized bunch) fresh dill, roughly chopped
5g salt – a full teaspoon
150g fresh white breadcrumbs

  1. Cook the fresh salmon in foil in the oven until barely cooked (i.e. the middle of the fillet is just going opaque – about 15 mins at 180C). Any juices remaining in the foil should be mixed in with the fishcakes. Discard any salmon skin.
  2. Meanwhile, boil the potatoes until tender, drain and put through a potato ricer (or mash with a masher if you don’t have a ricer).
  3. Melt the butter in a pan and warm the finely chopped smoked salmon trimmings in the butter.
  4. Mix the riced potatoes with all the other ingredients except the breadcrumbs.
  5. Make into fishcakes about 120 grams each (before being breadcrumbed) about 10cm diameter. Lightly breadcrumb each fishcake. A full portion would be two fishcakes.
  6. Fry the fishcakes for a couple of minutes on each side to brown them and then transfer to a very hot oven for a further 6 minutes or so until piping not right through. Serve straight away with a dollop of tartare sauce.

Tartare sauce

We use pasteurized egg yolks for this as we feel cautious about serving uncooked fresh egg in the cafes, but at home I would use ordinary fresh eggs. If you can find the pre-sliced gherkins designed for sandwiches they make your life a bit easier as they need to end up very finely diced – about 1mm cube.

These quantities make 600ml of tartare sauce which will keep happily in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

50g pasteurized egg yolk (equivalent of 3 egg yolks)
2 tbs white wine vinegar
1 tsp English mustard
600ml sunflower oil
50ml tepid water
150g capers, drained
150g gherkins, very finely diced
150g flat parsley, chopped

Put the egg yolks vinegar and mustard in the blender and whiz until smooth. Keep whizzing whilst slowly adding the sunflower oil and then the water. Add a bit more or less water until you have the desired mayo consistency. Stir in the capers, very finely diced gherkins and finely chopped flat parsley.