How to Make Fish Cakes with Homemade Tartar Sauce | Step-by-Step

Learn how to make fish cakes, a New England Lenten classic made with firm white fish, mashed potatoes, and tangy tartar sauce. Just add lemon!

By Aimee Tucker

Mar 13 2017

How to Make Fish Cakes

Add lemon and serve hot!

Photo Credit : Aimee Seavey

Lent is the season leading up to Easter when many Catholics fast and abstain from meat, and fish cakes are a popular Lenten dish. Did you know that New England had the largest Catholic population in the country during the early 20th century? To learn more, head on over to the full Fish Cakes | Recipe with a History March/April 2015 Yankee Magazine feature, but if you’d like to see how to make fish cakes with homemade tartar sauce, you’ve come to the right place!

Just want the recipe? Hop on over to the Fish Cakes with Homemade Tartar Sauce Recipe.

How to Make Fish Cakes
Homemade Tartar Sauce | How to Make Fish Cakes
Photo Credit : Aimee Tucker

Because I love a good dipping sauce, I wanted the recipe to include a quick and tasty homemade tartar sauce to serve alongside the fish cakes. You’ll also use a small amount of it in the cakes themselves, so we make that first, using a combination of mayonnaise, horseradish, relish, scallions, parsley, lemon juice, and hot sauce to taste. If you know you do a lot of dipping, feel free to double the recipe and really slather it on.

Many fish cakes are traditionally made with cod, but since local cod stocks have taken a major hit in recent decades, we opted not to use it. Hake is an inexpensive, sustainable white fish that works well in chowder and fish cakes, so that’s what we used, but you can feel free to substitute any firm white fish. Brush it with a little olive oil and bake until cooked throughout.

How to Make Fish Cakes
Baked Hake | How to Make Fish Cakes
Photo Credit : Aimee Tucker

While the fish is baking, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Peel and chop the potato; then boil until tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Drain and let it rest in the colander a moment or two; then return the potato to the pot over low heat to dry out, mashing and stirring to prevent sticking. Reserve one cup of mashed potato in the pot (discard the rest, or save it to eat later).

Add the lemon zest, parsley, scallions, salt, pepper, and cayenne to the pot (or a bowl as I did here), plus a little bit of the tartar sauce, and mix, tasting until the seasoning is right. Then, flake in the cooled fish and gently stir until just combined (you want to keep those chunks of fish relatively whole).

How to Make Fish Cakes
Mixing the Ingredients | How to Make Fish Cakes
Photo Credit : Aimee Tucker

To shape the cakes, I like to start by rolling “meatballs” so I can see that they’re all the same size without too much handling. Flour your hands if you feel like the mixture is sticking, but not too much! Then, gently pat the ball into an even cake, being careful smooth the sides. Ragged sides are prone to crumbling, and you don’t want your cakes falling apart in the pan.

Once shaped, the cakes get a brush of egg before a coating of breadcrumbs. My favorite are the crunchy Japanese-style Panko crumbs.

How to Make Fish Cakes
Shaping the Cakes | How to Make Fish Cakes
Photo Credit : Aimee Tucker

Coated and ready, I like to chill the cakes (wrap them in plastic first) for at least 30 minutes or even overnight to help them hold their shape. When it’s time to eat, warm the vegetable oil over medium heat until hot, then gently pan-fry the cakes, about 5 minutes per side, or until crisp and golden brown. Allow them to drain on a paper towel for a moment after cooking, then season to taste and serve hot.

A few spoonfuls of tartar sauce and a wedge of lemon is all you need to make these fish cakes shine.

How to Make Fish Cakes
The Final Result | How to Make Fish Cakes
Photo Credit : Aimee Tucker

And that’s how to make fish cakes!

Are you ready to make your own batch? Use the links below to get to the full recipe, which has all of the steps listed above, plus the measurements for ingredients, and then let us know how they turned out.

Fish Cakes with Homemade Tartar Sauce

This post was first published in 2015 and has been updated. 

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