Apparently, I’m still on a root vegetable kick. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I am still feeling overwhelmed by my winter CSA. My kitchen is currently filled with potatoes, sweet and ordinary. It’s filled with turnips and rutabaga. It’s filled with carrots, parsnips, and radishes. And this past week brought us two particularly knobby, particularly ugly celeriacs.
I say that the celeriacs are knobby and ugly, but here’s the thing: I actually kind of love them. For a long time, I only knew how to do the one thing with them, and that was salad. The classic French preparation for celeriac is to cut it into slivery matchsticks, arrange the matchsticks over a bed of lettuce, and dress the whole thing with a remoulade sauce. It’s delicious. But there’s only so much mayonnaise-based dressing you want in your life. It’s — let’s say — a definite sometimes food.
And then Sarah hit upon fish cakes. I don’t know if she found the recipe online or what, but I came home from work one night a couple of months ago to find her in the kitchen, surrounded by the fragrant aromas of root vegetables, tinned fish, and fried. What are you making? I asked. To which she responded with a platterful of little, round, lightly browned patties that we pretty much destroyed on the spot. With gusto.
So this recipe is an evolution of Sarah’s work. She provided the kernel of the fish cake concept: the celeriac and the tuna. And to that, I have added a few embellishments I think you’ll like. The green onions add a little bit of a piquant bite to an otherwise smooth, almost creamy flavor. You probably won’t be able to distinguish the shiitake mushrooms in the fish cake, but they increase the umami factor in a way that’s surprisingly effective. The pulverized almonds make a nice, crunchy coat. And the tarragon — well — canned tuna needs tarragon. No doubt. Try it and you’ll see what I mean.
The recipe is below, but before you scroll on down, a couple of notes. First, you’ll want to be aware that these fish cakes are very delicate creatures, and need to be handled with care. Out of a batch of about two dozen, I only had one fall apart on me this time around. But dredging, frying, and flipping these things requires a light touch, so be warned.
Second, though most similar recipes I’ve seen online say that you can replace the celeriac with potato, I wouldn’t recommend it. Celeriac has a very distinctive flavor, that is distinctively delicious with tuna. I can’t imagine potato serving as well.
But the bright side of that is that for all it’s weird ugliness, celeriac is actually pretty easy to find. Though the folks at the supermarket checkout stand may have to ask you what it is, the people in the produce aisle will definitely know. So just ask, and they’ll point you in the right direction.
Tuna-Celeriac Fish Cakes
3 Cans of Tuna (I used 5 oz. cans, so 15 oz. in total)
2 Celeriacs, skinned and cut into cubes
2 medium Turnips, skinned and cubed
1 1/2 cups Unsalted Almonds, pulverized
8-10 Shiitake Mushroom Caps, finely chopped
1 bunch of Scallions, sliced
3 tbsp Lemon Juice
2 tbsp Thai Fish Sauce
2 tsp Tarragon
Vegetable Oil for frying
To a medium mixing bowl, add the tuna, mushrooms, scallions, lemon juice, fish sauce, tarragon, and ample black pepper, and mix thoroughly. Then add the drained root vegetables, mix some more, and mash the whole thing together with a potato masher. You could put it all in a food processor, but I’d recommend against it. Part of the charm of these fish cakes is their variable texture.
When your mixture is done, heat a cast iron skillet (or a saute pan) over a medium flame. Add about a quarter of an inch of vegetable oil.
From the mixture, form your fish cakes. They should be about a quarter of a cup of material each, and you may have to squeeze them together to get them to hold their shape. They will be delicate (and remain delicate throughout the cooking process), so handle them carefully.
Four at a time, dredge the fish cakes in the pulverized almonds and cook them, 3-4 minutes to a side, in the oil. When the fish cakes are golden brown and just moving toward toasted, remove them to a paper-towel lined tray to drain. Sprinkle with a little salt. Then move them to a warm oven to keep them at temperature until the batch is done.
Serve immediately and enjoy!