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Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2008 10:25 pm

Fish Fridays, Thai-style

Lent doesnÂ’t have to mean fish sticks

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I think I’ve figured out why so many fish eaters consider themselves vegetarians. It’s a Catholic thing, y’all. Lent — the 40-day fasting period leading up to Easter — is under way. For Catholics that means giving up meat, particularly on Fridays and designated holy days. Their definition of meat, however, applies only to land-dwelling animals; therefore fish (and other creatures of the sea) is not flesh and, as such, is considered acceptable Lenten (and, for some, vegetarian) fare.
When I was a kid, Friday night was fish-stick night in the five-or-so weeks before the Easter bunny arrived. At my house it was a box of Mrs. Paul’s rectangles, dumped unceremoniously onto a baking sheet and warmed up just enough to be dunked into a pool of ketchup. These days I don’t observe Lent, but I do like the idea of periodic culinary abstention throughout the year. Giving up what you love makes you stronger, perhaps a little bit wiser — and undoubtedly more creative. If you’re already sick of the fish-stick routine, consider making your own filet o’ fish patties, with a Southeast Asian twist. Friday-fish night will never be the same. Thank the Lord.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O’Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com
Thai Fish Cakes Adapted from The Kitchen Diaries, by Nigel Slater
One small hot red chile, stemmed and seeded    (Thai bird or half a habañero) Three scallions, cleaned and roots removed Two cloves garlic, peeled Six kaffir lime leaves (available at Asian and    Indian grocers), stems removed One small bunch cilantro, roughly chopped 1 heaping tablespoon Thai fish sauce (a.k.a. nam pla) 1 pound white fish (cod, haddock, hake,    flounder, tilapia, turbot), skin removed if necessary One egg, beaten 1/4 cup plain breadcrumbs 1/4 teaspoon salt Black pepper Flour for dredging Vegetable oil for frying
Roughly chop the chiles and scallions and place them in the bowl of a food processor. Add the garlic, lime leaves, cilantro, and fish sauce. Process into a smooth paste and then scoop the paste into a medium mixing bowl.
Cut the fish into chunks and pulse them in the food processor until you have a rough paste. Scoop the fish out of the food processor and add it to the spice paste, mixing until it’s all well combined. Add the egg, breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper, and cover the mixture with plastic. Refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes to allow it set up. Flour your hands and shape the mixture into small flat patties about the size of a gingersnap. Return them to the fridge for an additional 20 minutes.
When you are ready to cook, heat the skillet over medium heat and add at least three tablespoons of oil. Dredge the patties in flour, evenly coating both sides. Place the patties in the skillet and fry them until they’re golden on both sides. With a spatula, turn them gently; the patties are delicate. Drain the patties on paper towels and keep them in a warm oven until you’re ready to serve them with dipping sauce.
Dipping Sauce
Two large medium-heat red chiles, diced (remove    seeds if you like a milder result) 3 tablespoons fish sauce 7 tablespoons water 3 tablespoons rice vinegar 7 tablespoons superfine sugar Thumb-size knob of fresh ginger, peeled, chopped,    and pulverized Juice of two small limes 1 1/4 soy sauce
In a small saucepan, combine fish sauce, water, rice vinegar, and sugar and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the ginger and allow the mixture to boil until it has begun to thicken slightly. Let the sauce cool, then add the lime juice, chopped chiles, and soy sauce.
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