11 September 2011

Louisiana Bacalhau Cakes with Corn Relish

If there were a book about my eating life in Portugal, the first chapter would undoubtedly be called, "Jen versus Fish Bones."  

In the US, I had only ever eaten fresh fish in fillets.  They were every bit as fresh as the fish I get here, but they were prepared.  As in, let the fishmonger do his job and make the fishes all pretty and easy to cook at home.  As in, let the restaurant fillet your fish so that they do not risk provoking a lawsuit when you swallow a rogue bone.  As in, why let the fish stare at you with that fishy head and eyes if you don't have to?

I have since made peace with the espinas of the peixes here in Lisbon, and can now eat a grilled whole fish more or less neatly in a restaurant setting.  Because BB is a huge fan of grilled whole sea bream I cook that for him whenever I am feeling particularly sweet.  But at my core, I am always more comfortable when I can enjoy a fish dish without picking through bones.

In other words: it is not accidental that these Louisiana Bacalhau Cakes are the second fish patty recipe I have posted.

This patty gets its inspiration from some all-American Louisiana crabcakes à la Emeril.  The spicy homemade mayonnaise used to bind it is addictive-- and easier than you would think!  I highly recommend making a double portion and saving some to spread on sandwiches throughout the week.

As if the little fish cakes weren't spicy enough, the corn relish which tops it is delightfully tart and sweet and bright. This relish lets late summer tomatoes and corn really shine.  I had never caramelized corn before, but I will most certainly be doing it again-- the smoky sweetness is irresistible.


4 out of 5 fins
The highlight of this dish is how the Louisiana flavors take bacalhau out of the typical onion-garlic-olive oil flavor profile. Also, the pairing of the tangy bacalhau with the sweet tart corn relish was a very yummy surprise.

(AND the shredded bacalhau poses only a tiny threat of bones at the dinner table.  Yay!)

Louisiana Bacalhau Cakes with Corn Relish
serves 4

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium chopped onion
Creole Mayo, recipe follows
1 1/2 cups dried fine bread crumbs
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 pound (450g) bacalhau, desalted
1/2 cup flour
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Corn Relish, recipe follows

1. Set a large pot to boiling and cook the bacalhau for 5-10 minutes, until cooked through.  Remove from water and set aside to let cool.  Once cool, shred into pieces-- making sure to remove all bones.

2. Heat the olive oil in a saute pan and once hot, add the onions and cook until sizzling and just barely browned, about 3 minutes.

3. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the onions, the mayonnaise, 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs, and the spices.  Fold the shredded bacalhau into the mixture. 

4. To prepare the coating: lay out 3 deep plates.  One for the flour; one for bread crumbs; one for the egg and milk whisked together.

5. Form small cakes with the batter, using your hands.  Dredge both sides in the flour, then the egg wash, then the breadcrumbs.  (Once finished, let the cakes sit in the fridge for a few minutes while you clean up and get the corn relish ready-- this will help them keep firm for sauteeing.)

6. Heat the vegetable oil in a saute pan over medium heat.  Cook the cakes until golden brown, about 4 minutes on each side.  Drain on paper towels.

7. Serve warm, smothered with warm corn relish.

Creole Mayo:
1 egg
1 tbsp whole grain mustard
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp Tabasco or other hot sauce
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1 cup olive oil

1. Combine all the ingredients except the oil in a food processor or blender.  Blitz briefly to mix.  With the machine running, pour the olive oil in through the top opening in a very small, steady stream.  Process until the mayo thickens, probably just as you are running out of oil to stream in.

Corn Relish:
4 tsp olive oil
1 1/2 cups corn kernels, fresh if possible
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne
1/2 cup quartered cherry tomatoes
3 tbsp minced red onions
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped finely
1 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar

1. Heat 1 tsp olive oil in a skillet.  Saute the corn over a medium-high heat, stirring until it turns brown and starts to caramelize, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic, salt, and cayenne and stir until fragrant and the corn is completely caramelized, another 3-4 minutes.

2. In a bowl, combine corn and remaining ingredients.  Toss together and add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve warm to get it at its best.