I was a Fish O’ Filet addict. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, (I suspect you do), a FOF is the seafood offering found on the McDonald’s menu. It’s a thickly-breaded square of white, flaky fish, deep-fried to a golden hue, served on a soft, white-bread bun topped with another square of American cheese, and a generous squirt of tartar sauce. My very first real job, at 16, was inside a local McDonalds (River Edge, NJ), when McDonald’s still looked like futuristic little bubble-buildings dropped down from the sky by aliens, squeezed in between two-story golden arches that were most likely the landing pods for the alien mother ship. Or something like that.
When I got a break from making milkshakes—we made them with big metal cups that slid onto actual spinning mixers back then, the kind you’d see in old-fashioned soda fountains. No soft serve dispensing machines yet. My blue polyester uniform would be covered in the thousands of milkshake dots that flew off the spinners each time I’d remove a smoothly spun shake. Three hours into my shift, I’d get the nod from my manager to grab something to eat and take a break. I’d fashion myself a double Fish O’Filet sandwich with extra cheese and sauce and nothing, nothing could have been more delicious to me at that moment in my life. We weren’t the majority—us FOF lovers. Most went for the Quarter Pounders and Big Macs—there were no Nuggets or Happy Meals—but those of us who loved that sandwich really loved it. When I was 30 years-old and pregnant with my first child, after 10 years of living a mostly organic and whole-food lifestyle, I craved those sandwiches and indulged in them more than once during those nine months.
Now, when I have that fried, golden-hued, fish-and-sauce jones, I turn to something I can wrap my cheffy, fresh-food-eating, gluten-intolerant brain and stomach around, and these cakes, bursting with flaky cod and smoked trout, coated in cornmeal and splashed with a kicky red pepper coulis is just all a former FOF junky could want.
I roast the peppers for this to get that maximum charred flavor I love , but a shortcut would be to use jarred roasted peppers. If you do, make sure you rinse them well of the slimy liquid they come in.
Peel and de-seed them…
They are so sweet and aromatic you have to stop yourself from just slicing one up eating it with a hunk of dry-aged cheese, some good olive oil, torn-off piece of crusty bread. Save it for the sauce.
The cod is lightly seasoned and pre-baked for a short time.
I used a smoked trout for this that my local fishmonger does in-house, but you can find smoked trout in the deli section of most grocery stores. The recipe can be made with crabmeat too for a more traditional preparation. I like what the trout brings…a smokey richness.
Make this cake gluten free by substituting the breadcrumbs with a cornmeal/corn flour mixture, like I did.
You form the cakes, roll them in bread crumbs, or cornmeal (again, your preference, but I love the crunch and texture of cornmeal here, even if I wasn’t going gluten-free), and pan-fry in a small amount of oil.
Remember, small batches. You don’t want to crowd them and bring the oil temp too far down. You’ll end up with oil-sogged cakes. And you don’t want to have the oil too hot, or they will quickly burn without the inside being warmed through. I prefer to just lightly fry them on each side to the color I want, then pop them in the warm oven to finish warming through while I fry up all the batches.
Put your sauce in a squirt bottle and knock yourself out making it fancy on a plate. Or, get yourself a soft, white-bread bun, a square of cheese and make it the best FOF sandwich you’ve had in a long time.
Cod and Smoked Trout Cakes with Roasted Pepper Coulis
For the coulis:
2 medium red bell peppers
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 small red onion, coarsely chopped
1 small jalapeño, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
For the cod cakes:
1 pound skinless cod fillets
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 pound lump crabmeat, picked over (or smoked trout)
1 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs (or coarsely ground corn flakes, or pre-ground corn flake crumbs)
2 tablespoons minced red bell pepper
2 tablespoons minced celery
2 tablespoons minced scallions
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 cup plain dry bread crumbs (or medium ground cornmeal mixed with 2 T of corn flour)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons high heat veg oil (canola, grapeseed, safflower)
1 For the coulis: Preheat the oven to 400°. Place the whole bell peppers on a baking sheet and roast for about 20 minutes, turning once or twice during the process until the skin is charred in several places. Add the rest of the vegetables to the pan and continue to roast for 20 more minutes until everything is tender. Remove from oven. Leave oven on but reduce heat to 325. (You will use the warm oven to hold the finished crab cakes as you cook them. Place the bell peppers in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 10 minutes.) The steam from the peppers will help to loosen the skin and make it easier to peel. Peel and seed the bell pepper. Transfer all the vegetables and any accumulated juices, along with the oil and vinegar to a blender or food processor and puree the vegetable mixture until smooth. Season with salt to taste. Hold aside.
2.Season the cod fillets with salt and pepper and arrange them on a lightly oiled nonstick baking sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the flesh flakes easily. Let cool.
3. Flake the cod into a large bowl and add the crabmeat (or smoked trout), fresh bread (or corn flake) crumbs, red bell pepper, celery, scallions, lemon juice, mustard and 2 tablespoons of the parsley. Season with salt and pepper.
4. On a plate, toss the dry breadcrumbs (or cornmeal mixture) with the remaining 1 tablespoon of parsley and season with salt and pepper. Divide the cod and crab mixture into 12 parts and shape each into a 1-inch-thick cake. Coat each cake well with the seasoned breadcrumbs (or cornmeal mixture).
5. If needed, gently re-warm the coulis in a nonreactive saucepan. Heat 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet. Add 4 of the cod and crab cakes and cook over moderately high heat until golden and crisp on the bottom, about 3 minutes. Gently turn the cakes and cook until golden on the other side, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Do not crowd the pan. Make sure the oil is not smoking hot or else you will get burnt cakes with a raw inside. Cook them crispy golden brown and don’t worry if they are warmed through (remember the fish is already pretty much cooked.) Transfer to a platter and keep warm in a low oven where they can finish warming all the way through. Fry the remaining cakes in 2 more batches, using 2 tablespoons of oil for each batch.
6. Spoon the red pepper coulis onto 6 large plates. Set 2 cod and crab cakes on each plate and serve.
Make Ahead: The cod and crab mixture as well as the coulis can be made ahead and refrigerated separately for up to 8 hours. Do not form cakes ahead. Make cakes and roll in the crumb mixture just before frying or else the coating will become too saturated.