Above: smoked mackerel fish cakes. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin for the Observer
You could measure my life in fish cakes. Golden patties of crumbled fish and mashed potatoes, of herbs and crumbs, spices and spinach, flattened into patties and fried until crisp. Over the years there have been old-fashioned cakes of cod with calming parsley sauce; chilli-hot balls of prawn and lemongrass and flat cakes of spiced brown crab. I have rolled them in breadcrumbs, polenta or salt and pepper-flecked flour and offered them up with sauces of spinach, tomato, parsley or chilli.
But the cakes I like best are those made with smoked fish. I particularly remember one made from kippers that made a somewhat splendid Sunday breakfast. Mackerel, smoked on the bone until its blue-and-silver skin turns a rich burnished gold, makes a fine addition to a fish cake. The smoky flavours and soft textures within seem particularly right for autumn and winter eating.
Horseradish, the traditional accompaniment of smoked eel, works well with smoked mackerel, too, and I grated some into this week’s fish cakes along with some coarsely shredded beetroot for sweetness. If ever there was a fish cake for a cold evening, this sweet, smoky version is it.
A lighter, more vegetable-heavy version can be made with salmon and courgettes. I served these this week because of an overload of small squashes that came my way, grating them and squeezing out the excess juice first to create a fish cake that was quite open in texture and therefore light and crisp.
On the side, try a little sauce of yogurt, flecked with dill and parsley, or a dipping sauce of lemon, orange and lime juice mixed with a little olive oil or perhaps a small bowl of mayonnaise into which you have folded chopped tarragon, capers and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Smoked mackerel fish cakes
I prefer to use whole smoked mackerel for this, the flesh being more moist and thicker than the pre-packed fillets. But they have plenty of flavour, too, and come a close second.
potatoes 500g, floury
chives 4 tbsp, fresh, chopped