Coconut fish cakes

• MAKES ABOUT 25 •

These Javanese-style fish cakes are simple to prepare, easy to cook and packed with flavour. Any white-fleshed fish will work and, while we’ve gone for snapper, by all means substitute with what’s freshest, sustainable and well priced at your fishmonger or supermarket. No chilli required here – just whip up a batch of cucumber pickles and you’re away!

4 small red Asian shallots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 candlenuts, chopped
1.5 cm (1⁄2 in) piece fresh galangal, chopped
1 cm (1⁄2 in) piece fresh ginger, chopped
800 g (1 lb 12 oz) boneless, skinless snapper, john dory or any other white-fleshed fish fillets, cut into 5 cm (2 in) pieces
11⁄2 teaspoons caster (superfine) sugar
200 g (7 oz/2 cups) fresh grated or thawed frozen grated coconut
2 eggs, lightly beaten
150 ml (5 fl oz) coconut milk
vegetable oil for deep-frying
Cucumber pickles to serve

Combine the shallots, garlic, candlenuts, galangal and ginger in a food processor and process until a paste forms. Alternatively, use a mortar and pestle. Add the fish fillets and process until the mixture is smooth.

Transfer to a bowl and add the remaining ingredients, except the oil and pickles, and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Heat enough oil for deep-frying in a large wok until it reaches 170°C (340°F), or until a cube of bread turns golden in 20 seconds.

Using your hands, form 2 tablespoonfuls of the mixture into balls then flatten into thick discs about 5–6 cm (2–21⁄2 in) across.

Fry the fish cakes, in batches, for about 12 minutes, turning once, or until deep golden and cooked through. Take care when cooking as the cakes are delicate. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towel to drain any excess oil then serve them hot with the cucumber pickles.

Cucumber Pickles  (Makes about 12 1/2 oz/2 cups)

60 ml (1 fl oz/ 1/4 cup) clear rice vinegar
2 tablespoons boiling water
55 g (2 oz/ 1/4 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
2 red bird's eye chillies, chopped
1 telegraph (long cucumber), peeled and halved lengthways

Combine the rice vinegar, boiling water and sugar in a bowl and stir until the sugar dissolves. Cool to room temperature then add the chilli. 

Using a teaspoon, scoop out the cucumber seeds then finely slice the cucumber on the diagonal. Combine cucumber with the vinegar mixture in a large bowl, tossing to coat the cucumber well. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and stand for 1 hour before using, to allow flavours to develop and cucumber to soften a little. Cucumber pickles are best served on the day they are made. 

East: Culinary Adventures in Southeast Asia
By Leanne Kitchen, Antony Suvalko