It’s Manisses codfish-cake time!

September 2007

By Mike Martel

This recipe, named after Block Island’s Hotel Manisses, is good for a cold, wet day in an away-harbor when the wind is up, and it’s cloudy and raining and you’re swinging on a hook or a mooring and it’s too early yet to go ashore to the bars.

Every well-found vessel, whilst cruising, should have some salt cod aboard and a bag of potatoes just in case you accidentally get blown out to sea halfway to Portugal. Speaking of which, you might also want a jar of Portuguese crushed red peppers aboard in the icebox, if for no other reason that you’ll need them for this recipe.

Put one pound of salt cod in a plastic bowl and cover with fresh water the night before. Tank water is OK as long as it’s drinkable. No need to refrigerate. Change the water twice more – once before you go to sleep, the next time when you get up for the morning watch.

Now get a fish, something around three pounds. I like using local ingredients. It can be just about any type of white fish, from flounder to cod (best) to tautog or striper. Get fillets if you cannot get a whole fish. No oily fishes such as blues or mackerel; those are for the grill.

If it’s a whole fish, clean, scale, rinse, put aside. If fillets, well, just put them down and let them sit there, they won’t swim away.

Put the salt cod in a pan, add fresh water just to cover, and bring nearly to a boil, but not to a rolling boil. You want to poach the rehydrated fresh cod for about 20 minutes or until it flakes easily. Then strain it and set aside in the plastic bowl to cool.

Meanwhile, if your mate has begun to look wistfully at the spirits locker, put him or her to work peeling about eight or nine medium-sized potatoes. It’s not time for cocktails yet.

Now put the fresh fish in the same poach water and poach it until done. It will not take as long as the salt cod did. Remove and set aside to cool.

Now put the potatoes – peeled and quartered – into the poach water (some call this ‘stock,’ but it’s not the same as that part of the rudder)) and bring to a boil. Cover and cook until done. Don’t overdo them – you’ll make mashed potatoes.

While the potatoes are cooking, take the meat off the fish – careful about the bones – and put in the same bowl with the cooling salt cod. The ratio should be about 1:1, but it doesn’t matter too much.

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Your Mate is heading for the spirits locker again. Get your mate to break two (2) eggs into a separate little bowl. These should be nice fresh eggs from a farm ashore if you can find one; otherwise, use the store-bought kind. Beat the eggs and add a generous heaping tablespoon of those crushed red Portuguese hot peppers that you bought in Faial when you were blown off course a week earlier. Mix it up. Do not add salt; there will be residual salt in the salt cod, more than sufficient.

Now there are two other items you should not be without on the boat – garlic powder and onion powder. Add a half-teaspoon of the garlic powder and a full tablespoon of the onion powder to the egg mix. Add some black pepper, too. Stir it all up.

Ooops! The potatoes are done. Drain them in a colander, and drain them well! It is very important that the batter that you are going to make be as dry as possible. Let them cool for a few minutes, but not too long; they need to be granular, not gooey, when you start to break them up.

Now you’re going to mash up the well-drained potatoes and add the fish, and finally the egg and spice mix. Get your hands into it, mix it all together very well. No big potato chunks. Fish-to-potatoes ratio should be about 1:1, but a little more potatoes than fish – not the other way around – is OK too. Drain the cooled fish before mixing. NO WATER or broth should enter the mix.

Now you have a big bowl of pinkish batter. It should be very thick and not too wet and sticky. If it is a little wet, add some instant mashed potatoes. The old-fashioned powdered French’s instant mashed potatoes are best. Add and mix until the batter does not stick to the side of the bowl too readily.

Now roll the batter into little balls between your palms. They should be slightly smaller than golf balls. Set them aside on a plate like cannonballs on a brass monkey. They should hold their shape and be smooth, not rough. Be mindful to wash your hands well before eating, since you’ve been handling raw eggs.

Every boat should also have some frying oil aboard. Capt. Joshua Slocum salvaged shipwrecked tallow in the Strait of Magellan, stuffed it into the Spray, and used it to make doughnuts for the natives of Juan Fernandez, but I suggest that it’s easier to ship a jug of cooking-oil or pick one up at the island grocery store.

Now get that oil hot; you’re going to deep-fry. Keep your mate rolling that batter into little balls. Use a cast-iron pot if you can, and don’t get burnt.

Start with one fish cake. If it separates or comes apart in the hot oil, the batter is too wet. Strain the remains out of the pot and add more instant mashed to the batter to make it drier.

If the first one cooks just fine without separating, put only a few fish cakes at a time into the pot – don’t crowd them – once the oil is hot, and cook in batches. They are done in about three minutes, or as soon as they turn golden brown. Remove with a strainer and set aside on paper towels.

Fish cakes go great with fish chowder. Use the canned kind – such as Snow’s – since by now you will be tired of cooking and looking at the pile of stuff to be cleaned in your galley sink. So make a pot of canned chowder, the just-add-milk kind, and sit down for some warm fish cakes, hot fish “chowdy,” and tea (if you’re civilized), a cold beer, or whatever you like. The pots and pans can wait! Once you’ve got that ballast hoisted in, you’re ready to call the launch and go ashore!

Bristol, R.I., resident Mike Martel is Points East’s Rhode Island advertising representative. He and his family spend most of their time cruising Rhode Island Sound and the waters between Cape Cod and Montauk.