Eating to Belong: Connecting to Nova Scotia by way of Fish Cakes

Having recently moved to Nova Scotia, I am still working to adapt to the local culture and customs of the Maritimes. A recovering Torontonian, I fear my brutish ways may offend, and that my habits could strike locals as odd.

So I’ve tried hard to shed my swelled sense of self-importance and snobbery and embrace the kind-spirited simplicity of the East Coast. I wave at passer-bys and say hello to strangers. I cede way to pedestrians when driving, even if they might not be crossing the road. I attend Strawberry Socials and eat shortcake. I excel at washer toss and step dance with the best of them. But yet, I still reek of away, as sure as the sea tastes of salt.

Among my other efforts, I’m also trying to eat like a local. So one of the obvious choices for overcoming my unfortunate pariahdom, and truly belonging, is mastering the local cuisine. Having received a couple of pounds of cod from my Off the Hook fish share – I figured the time had come to fine tune my fish caking skills an set about making this local favourite. After spending weeks hopping wharf to wharf, scouring remote fishing villages for the perfect recipe, I finally arrived at the seminal Cod Fish Cake recipe found below. Coincidentally, a very similar recipe can also be found online at:


Fish Cake Ingredients:
2 large potatoes peeled and diced.
1 pound cod fillets, cubed
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon grated onion 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 egg
½ cup of bread crumbs.
3 tablespoons oil for frying


*Ingredients don’t need to exactly the same. Feel free to experiment and substitute parsley with chives, cilantro, basil or other compatible herbs. Some recipes included parmesan and asiago cheese as flavour inducers. Be less liberal with your experimentation with the ratio of potato to fish, as it will affect the consistency of the cake.

Horseradish Mayo Ingredients:

½ Cup Mayonaisse
2 tbsps prepared horseradish.

1 tbsp lemon juice.
Salt and pepper to taste.


Put a large pot of water on to boil. While waiting for water to boil, dice potatoes, and finely chop onions and parsley (or parsley substitute). Place the potatoes in a large pot of water and allow them to cook until they are almost tender.

Add the fish to the pot and let the fish and potatoes cook until they are both soft. It seems strange, but it’s just a chance for the two to get to know each-other. Adding the fish to the pot infuses the taters with their fishy goodness creating a superior cake in the end. Drain the medley well and transfer the potatoes and fish to a large mixing bowl.


Add butter, onion, parsley, and egg and bread crumbs to the bowl. (At this point Parmesan or Asiago could be added if so desired). I used panko bread crumbs, a Japanese style bread crumb, but you can use pretty much any variety of bread crumb or make your own from dried breads you might have laying around at home. Gluten alternatives do exist – for our wheat free friends.

Mash the mixture together, adding kosher salt, cracked pepper and lemon to taste. Form the mixture into small patties, roughly 3.5 inches across. Just as you would make a burger, ensure that the patty is well constituted and balanced. Form the edges to have flat side walls and make sure your patties aren’t falling apart before they’ve even hit the pan. If they are, you may need another egg.


Heat oil in a large skillet over a medium-high heat. Make sure to use a high smoke point oil such as canola or grapeseed oil. Fry the patties on both sides until golden brown. Resist over-flipping as it will cause breakage – 1 flip per side. Over-flipping is a classic rookie move, and something no true Nouveau Scotian wouldn’t be caught dead doing. Once nice and golden brown, place on an oven pan, or on paper towels before serving.

Having prepared your fish cakes, you now have to whip up your horseradish mayo. Simply combine the ingredients and portion out into small containers to sit aside the fish cakes on the plate. If serving as an appetizer, simply add a wedge of lemon, and some greenery for garnish and your set. If making a meal of it, I chose to pair the cakes with some steamed local green beans and beets, both with generous servings of butter, salt, cracked pepper, done on the barby.


And there you have it, a dish sure to make you feel at home, even if you’re from away!


Author: Will Fawcett Hill. Community Food Programmer, Ecology Action Centre.

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