Foraging and Comfort Eating: Tuna and Wild Fennel Fishcakes
This recipe was born of necessity and opportunism. Having stumbled across a few patches of wild fennel growing a short walk away from where we live, we collected a few chunky fronds, and took them home to see what we cook with them. The need to use store-cupboard ingredients during these trying times reminded me of the fishcakes my Mother used to cook using tinned tuna.
I had made these for Sam many years ago at the beginning of our relationship, while hunkering-down for a harsh winter in my Mother’s cottage in between tenants. The comfort of hot fishcakes was just what we needed to stave off the blistering cold outside, and to fill us with comforting goodness.
Now we have other worries on our doorstep, this recipe has been updated to suit our changing comfort needs. The delicate hint of aniseed from the foraged wild fennel fronds adds colours and a nod to the approach of summer, whilst the capers (that jar you always have lurking at the back of the fridge) gives the tinned tuna an altogether more sophisticated flavour.
Wild fennel – with its unmistakable aniseed scent – is a little less powerful than the cultivated variety so you may need to use a little extra, but remember not to take any more than you need. Wild fennel doesn’t have a large bulb, but a small stalk with a few bushy fronds attached is more than enough for these fishcakes.
The choice of salad is obviously mostly down to you, but I highly recommend a few lovage leaves if you are growing them. Their potent celery-like flavour adds a sharper dimension to the comforting fishcakes. A few chive flowers from the garden add a pop of colour.
Makes 8 small fishcakes: Serves 2
Prep time: 10 minutes (+ 30 minutes chilling)
Cooking time: 45 minutes
400g Maris Piper potatoes, peeled and halved
1 can of tuna in sunflower oil
1 ½ tsp capers, roughly chopped
1 ½ tbsp wild fennel fronds, finely chopped
1 tbsp mayonnaise (or enough to bind)
plain flour, for dusting
olive oil, for frying
salt and pepper, to taste
1 small can of sweetcorn
rocket (or watercress) and lovage
extra virgin olive oil
a few chive flowers
Bring water to the boil in a large saucepan. Add your potatoes, boiling for around 20-25 minutes, or until suitably soft enough to mash. Drain, and return to the saucepan.
Mash thoroughly, and as it begins to cool, add the drained tuna, drained sweetcorn, wild fennel fronds and capers. Mix together to ensure everything is combined, and then add your mayonnaise. I suggest a tablespoon, but add enough mayonnaise to help the fishcakes combine.
Flour a large baking sheet or tray and, with floured hands, scoop up a small handful of the mixture (about the size of a peach) and roll it into a ball in your hands. Coat the mixture in flour and place on the tray, patting it down slightly to create your fishcake. Repeat with the remaining mixture, and you should have 8 fishcakes. Place in the fridge to cool and firm up for at least 30 minutes.
To cook, heat the oil in a large, wide, low rimmed frying pan on a medium heat (if you don’t have one and need to use something smaller, you may need to cook the fishcakes in batches). Add your fishcakes gently, allowing them to cook on each side for about 8 minutes, turning them over half way. Once they are fully-cooked, they should be golden, with a crisp outside. If they need a few minutes more, turn the heat down to make sure they don’t burn.
Serve on a bed of rocket and lovage, drizzled with a little extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar (we like to use our homemade elderberry balsamic: the sweetness complements the fishcakes beautifully) and the chive flowers.