The orange feast did not dim my appetite for lunch, which consisted of fish cakes with hot Indian pickle and a salad of grated carrot, radishes, watercress and bean shoots. (I went through a period of grated carrot with everything, but recovered.)
The Sea, The Sea, Iris Murdoch
I make the vast majority of my meals for one. I am single and, while I've always lived with flatmates, our conflicting work schedules and social lives have meant that I've more often than not been cooking dinner just for me. I have always loved it. An hour spent preparing exactly what I fancy for dinner is the way I unwind, especially after a day spent in front of a computer screen. Though I am partial to a tin of baked beans, an omelette, or cheese on toast (or an Indian take-away, for that matter), when I have a free evening I do relish the chance to spend time putting together something slightly more complex.
As much as I enjoy cooking for one, shopping for one can be expensive. I therefore rely heavily on full-flavoured store-cupboard ingredients. A spoonful of capers, a pinch of chilli flakes, or a tin of anchovy fillets really do punch above their weight, elevating otherwise simple suppers into something really special. At the end of the month, they can turn some potatoes, or even leftover mash, into a delicious dish; adding a handful of spring vegetables from the greengrocer won't be unwelcome either.
This book is one of the ones (alongside most of Murakami and the Redwall series) that I get a lot of emails about. I've been meaning to read it for years, and finally did a couple of months ago. As expected, I loved it; I'm already seeking out more of Murdoch's books. In the first hundred pages of The Sea, The Sea, our notoriously unreliable narrator, Charles Arrowby, relates countless solitary meals he eats; it is his diary, after all. I read the book twice, overwhelmed the first time by the sheer culinary possibilities - an egg poached in hot scrambled eggs! After innumerable attempts at getting this to be anything other than a very disappointing way of cooking eggs, I conceded defeat (for now), and began to look elsewhere.
Eventually, I decided to go with my stomach. Re-reading the section above, I immediately wanted some fish cakes. My mum made them often, and they're a perfect dinner for one (or more, if you have extra mouths to feed). Living by the sea, I know Arrowby would have access to fresh fish, but fish cakes were such a store-cupboard staple growing up that I just can't imagine using fresh. I'm also making the executive decision to replace the bean sprouts in the salad described with something that pairs a little better with the other ingredients (apologies, Iris Murdoch, but your eggs have made me question your culinary judgement somewhat).
Fish Cakes and Salad
Serves 1 generously (or 2 as a starter)
200g potatoes* (Maris Pipers are best here)
125g tin mackerel fillets in springwater (drained)
6 anchovy fillets
1tbsp dill fronds
1tsp capers, drained
Lots of ground pepper
50g plain flour
1tbsp oil and 1tbsp butter
1 medium sized carrot
Half a crisp green apple (or bean sprouts, if you insist)
1tbsp olive oil
1tsp cider vinegar
Generous pinch English mustard powder, or half a teaspoon English mustard
Pinch of salt and pepper
Hot Indian pickle
Mayonnaise (if you fancy)
Potato ricer or masher
Mandolin or vegetable peeler
*It's certainly worth mashing potatoes for this, but it's also a brilliant dish to make with leftovers. If you have butter, milk or cream running through your potato, that'll be lovely. The fish cakes will be a little more delicate though, so handle with care.
1. Peel the potatoes and chop them into even cubes, about 2cm wide. Put in the saucepan, cover them with cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer until a fork easily skewers them. Drain and leave to cool a little.
2. Meanwhile, prepare the rest of the fish cake mix. Drain the tinned mackerel and mash it up with a fork in the bowl. Finely chop the anchovies, and add these too. Add the capers, dill, and the pepper.
3. Once it has cooled, press the potato through the ricer, or mash. Add the mash to the bowl of fish and stir to combine. Beat the egg a little, and pour half the beaten egg into the mix. Stir until all ingredients are evenly distributed.
4. Form the fish cakes with your hands - about 8cm in diameter is quite a nice size. Dip each fish cake into the remaining half of the beaten egg, and then into the flour. Ensure each fish cake is coated completely, then transfer them to the fridge while you make the salad, or have a bath, or read a couple of chapters of your book - do leave them about half an hour or so, as they'll stay together in the pan much more easily.
5. To prepare the salad, slice the radishes, peeled carrot and half of the apple very finely, using a mandolin if you have one, or a vegetable peeler (or sharp knife) if not. Put the paper thin ribbons/discs in the bowl with the watercress.
6. Mix all dressing ingredients together, whisking briskly with a fork or whisk to combine. Toss enough of it through the salad to ensure all ingredients are coated. The rest will keep in a jar for a few days until you need it.
7. Warm the oil and butter in the frying pan until foaming. Place the fish cakes into the pan, and cook for a couple of minutes until golden brown underneath. Carefully flip the fish cakes over and cook for a couple of minutes on the other side too.
Serve immediately with the salad and pickle (and, going quite literally off book here, some mayonnaise too).