The peas should be broken up a little when you mix them into the mash. Photograph: Jill Mead/Guardian
On New Year’s Eve we cooked an eight-course tasting menu, and that night the kitchen staff were allowed to stay in one of the hotel rooms before cooking lunch the next day. We were overtired and overexcited, and we set upon the mini-bar with terrible abandon. The next morning I woke shaking, liverish and a translucent shade of green. Bruno, sensing trouble, gave me a nice easy job, making pommes amandine: mashed potatoes cut into neat rectangles, coated with flaked almonds and fried.
Then the restaurant filled up with 50 unbooked walk-ins. A billion pommes amandine were suddenly needed, but I made the mash too soggy, and the dainty rectangles started to fall apart as I tried to turn them with my shaking hands. Bruno, always preternaturally calm in the kitchen, had to take over my section while I stood in the corner juddering with nausea and shame.
I learned two useful lessons that day. One: that I was probably not cut out to be a restaurant chef. And two: you can’t fry soggy mash. What is true of pommes amandine is true of any mash-based patty or fritter, including fishcakes. Proceed gingerly when adding milk to your mash.
Another tip: before you shape and refrigerate the cakes, fry off a small piece of the mixture. Taste it, season it to perfection and, if it is too sloppy, add a little bit of flour (you can use a gluten-free one if you prefer).
You probably don’t have a Michelin-starred chef standing in your kitchen waiting to sort out your mistakes, but follow these rules and, with any luck, you won’t need one.
Smoked haddock, pea and leek cakes
Try serving these with a poached egg on top and spinach on the side.
Prep time: 20 mins
Cooking time: 40 mins
Makes 4-6 cakes
500g baking potatoes
1 leek, finely chopped
1 tbsp butter, plus 2 tbsp for frying
200g frozen peas
300g smoked haddock
A small bunch of spring onions, chopped (or chives …or both)
2 tbsp grated parmesan
Salt and black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil, for frying
For the coating
3 tbsp plain flour
2 eggs, beaten with a dash of milk
4 tbsp panko breadcrumbs, or other fine dried crumbs
1 Wash the potatoes well, but leave the skins on and put in a pan. Cover with water, add a little salt and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked through. You can test by piercing one with a knife.
2 While the potatoes are boiling, cook the leek in a shallow pan in the butter for about 5 minutes, until soft. Add the peas and cook for another 5 minutes. Tip into a bowl and mash roughly so some of the peas break up.
Drain the potatoes well. Allow them to cool a little in a colander so that the excess moisture escapes as steam. When you can handle the potatoes, remove the skin with a small knife – it should scrape off easily.