Fish and potato cakes, served here alongside beans and a garden salad, are a perfect way to use up leftovers. Credit: Courtesy of Sandy Oliver

It used to be a regular Saturday meal in old New England, and of course, Maine. Salt codfish or slack-salted fish — like hake treated with a little less salt and not dried as hard as a shingle — simmered up and served with boiled potatoes, and fried pork scraps scattered over the top.

Leftovers were perfect for fish cakes. Sometimes fish cakes met up with baked beans on Sunday, Saturday being the baking day and a bean pot left in the old brick oven to use up the last bit of heat to produce succulent beans in a rich gravy of molasses and pork fat.

Fish cakes still usefully employ leftovers, if you’ve baked haddock, cod, pollock or any other white fish and still have some uneaten. A few boiled potatoes might become home fries, but if you mash them into the leftover fish, form patties out of the mix, then dip them in beaten egg and cornmeal to fry them until crunchy, that is a fine meal. If you have baked beans, serve some, of those, too, and because it’s the 21st century, after all, offer a green salad on the side.

Of course, you can make fish cakes from scratch, which I did this week. The main thing is to make sure you have a sufficient ratio of potatoes to fish to make the patties sticky enough to hold together. I used three-quarters of a pound of fish to 1 pound of freshly boiled potatoes. Equal parts of fish and potatoes is a minimum requirement.

I cooked the potatoes and reserved the cooking water in which to simmer the fish. I drained and discarded the water from the fish but if I thought that chowder was in the very near future, I might save the cooking water to use for that.

If you have leftover mashed potatoes, already smooth and capable of holding together, then more potato might not be necessary. Since part of the point is to use up leftovers, or at least not to make more, round up to the nearest whole potato. Mess around with this until it suits your taste. I always add finely chopped raw onion.

Plain ketchup is a sufficient condiment. You might like a zippier sauce and will use one of dozens of available salsas or hot sauces. I like to make a homemade cocktail sauce of ketchup with grated horseradish stirred into it. Put a couple tablespoons of ketchup into a small dish, add a teaspoon of horseradish, taste and add more of either to meet your expectations.

Homemade tartar sauce is easy to put together: a blob of mayonnaise with cucumber relish added to taste. If you are new to assembling homemade condiments, tinker back and forth until you can tell by sight when you have achieved your preferred blend. There is really no reason to buy premade tartar or cocktail sauces as long as you have the basics on hand.

An ice cream scoop, by the way, is super handy for forming the fish cakes.

My niece Sarah loves fish cakes. She remarked that she’d like to eat the crunchy crust of a fishcake and then put it back on the fry pan to make another crust. Well, you know, you could do that in the privacy of your own kitchen. No one would blame you.

Fishcakes

Makes 9 3 1/2- inch patties about three-quarter inches thick

1 pound of potatoes, peeled and boiled

¾ pound of white fish, simmered until it flakes apart

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 egg, beaten

Salt and pepper

Cornmeal

Vegetable oil

In a medium bowl, mash the potatoes and add the fish, flaking it apart with a fork.

Mash in the fish.

Add the onion and blend everything together well. Add salt and pepper, to taste.

Form patties and place them in the beaten egg on each side, then dip them into the cornmeal.

Heat a fry pan and generously spread it with cooking oil.

When the oil is hot enough to sizzle, place the patties on the pan.

Keep the temperature at medium high. Cook at least five to 10 minutes, turning them when the bottom is a deep golden brown and pressing the patties lightly with the back of a spatula.

When crusty and brown on both sides, serve.


Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working...