Fish on Fridays, my way – Fr. Z’s “Just For The Halibut” Cakes

It is Friday in Lent, and as the sun sank, I – a traditionalist in my consistency – wanted a cheeseburger.

So, I dug into the freezer and found a piece of frozen halibut which I bought for $1.38.

"What can I do with", quoth I, "this."

I thought immediately of crab cakes… which a long-lost friend likes.

I have no crab in my life, at the moment, so that was out.

And halibut not being crab….

… when life gives you halibut, make halibut cakes.

I started with this.

I have no food processor so I had to do this the old way. (I had a one cup, but it died.)

Lots of chopping of what I had on hand. Parsley, celery, some summer savory surviving on my counter all winter, thyme dried from last summer, generous salt and pepper, a dash of hot curry, and a dash of cayenne.

Chopping the fish. This one is for Damian Thompson, who thinks that preparing food looks disgusting.

I had only Pumpernickle bread, so… two slices of that.

I wanted to add capers, but I didn’t have any. I chopped up some kosher dill pickle instead.

I have never made anything like this before.

But I figured that when I added the mayonnaise this would get pretty loose. I therefore cracked in an egg I got from a local farm to bind it together when it cooked.

Another one for Damian Thompson, who thinks that food prep is ugly. Okay… Damian, I’ll stop now.

I added some mayo… no photo.

Mix mix mix… glop some into a medium hot frying pan with enough olive oil to cover the bottom and flatten the glops.

Fry for a while. I started with five minutes on the first side.

A little longer on the second side.

Here they are on a plate. This is how some of my readers would plate this, because they hate anything that might look like it tastes good.

The light in the previous pic is better, obviously.

Then you add some personality. Tonight, I use some evvvvvillllll parsley.

I made some tartar sauce with mayo and pickle and lemon and shallot salt.

I made four of these.

It took all my will power not to eat the other two while standing over the stove eating directly from the frying pan.

I will be making these again.

Excluding the stuff I had on hand, which you probably have on hand, this cost less than $2.00.  It would have fed two … or me alone, standing over the frying pan.

And the sun goes down on Friday.


Thanks to KK for the moniker Fr. Z’s "Just For The Halibut" Cakes

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Fr. Z's Kitchen, SESSIUNCULA and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. mgarstin says:

    Wow, very nice Padre, never actually knew how to make fish cakes, now I know :)

  2. Nan says:

    You need to have bad lighting to photograph food, don’t you? Or you’d risk it looking like something good to eat.

  3. randomcatholic says:


    And thanks for the recipe!

  4. drwob says:

    Looks good, Father. I think I need to pass this post along to my wife…;-)

    If you had your druthers, would Pumpernickle be your bread of choice? [Oh my. What a choice. If I am in the USA, my hand wavers between Pump, Sourdough, and a Jewish or Russian Rye… but thy have to be really good. Otherwise… who cares.]

  5. mgarstin: never actually knew how to make fish cakes, now I know

    Me too! I didn’t either. First time for everything.

  6. doanli says:

    Looks delicious, Father, and I don’t even like seafood that much! [These were FANTASTIC.]

  7. ejcmartin says:

    Fishcakes are a staple here in Newfoundland. (Being an island which juts out into the Grand Banks helps.) Our family also had fishcakes today, although ours were store bought (but good ones). The mother-in-law’s I must admit are the best. There is a never ending list of fish recipes here so Fridays are always interesting.

  8. ejcmartin: I would be happy for a recipe. I was shooting from the hip here. I made this up as I went. I could use some guidance.

  9. Girgadis says:

    I’ve never made fishcakes either but I have made fishballs in the same way that I would make meatballs, substituting chopped monkfish or scallops for the ground beef, pork and veal. You could probably use any fish, except maybe salmon. Just a suggestion the next time you want to shoot from the hip Father, especially if you have some San Marzano tomatoes on hand and a guest or two coming over for dinner. From what I’ve seen, you do quite well without any guidance. BTW Father, will you be adding a one-cup processor to your wish list?

  10. seanl says:

    Oh how I miss living on the coast….and having a kitchen for that matter! Looks great Father!

  11. markomalley says:

    Looks delicious. Halibut cake! Another good idea!

    And, yes, sufficiently penitential ;-)

    (I had my traditional white pizza after Stations btw)

  12. chironomo says:

    Despite living in the Seafood Capital of the country (well, one of them at least) our Friday Night Lenten dinner this evening was at Long John Silvers….the evening was getting late and our three-year old was getting a bit too cranky to go sit down anywhere! Perhaps next week some fish-cakes would be a better alternative…

  13. JuliB says:

    I try to abstain from meat every Friday. I really really want meat on Fridays during night.

  14. Brian Day says:

    I need to get out more often. ‘Shallot salt’ – sounds delicious.

  15. JosephMary says:

    I think it would be good with salmon, even canned salmon.

  16. Vincenzo says:

    “I think it would be good with salmon, even canned salmon.”

    I’ve made that before. Very good.

  17. introibo says:

    Salmon burgers from canned salmon are quite good (although not all my kids would agree – you can’t please everyone). I cheat and use packaged bread crumbs, add peppers, onions, egg, and a little lemon juice. Rosemary, too, if I feel like it. Pretty tasty.

  18. TomB says:

    Better than a cheeseburger?

    My guess is, yes.

  19. wanda says:

    Great looking meal. You are so resourceful, Father Z. My husband’s Mother and Grandmother were great devotees (and cooks) of Codfish cakes, aka Coddies. They made them small and served them on crackers with yellow mustard.

    Thanks for sharing your meal and pictures. Especially the sunset, beautiful.

  20. Just be creative with what is on hand.

  21. Roland de Chanson says:

    The lingering crepuscular radiance shimmering over the shadowed chapel is a beautiful icon of the Via Illuminativa. You have the eye of an artist.

    I should add that I am delighted that your chapel faces the litugical southeast, towards Roma Aeterna! ;-)

  22. wanda: You are so resourceful, Father Z.

    I am a child of necessity. I grew up on nothing. I had nothing for years. I learned that nothing isn’t nothing.

  23. wanda says:

    Will you write of your life someday, Father? How God has brought you through up to today? Before you were born, He knew you. I imagine it would be quite an inspiration, something the world has need of.

  24. ejcmartin says:

    The Mother-in-law’s Newfoundland fishcake recipe:

    Not sure on the exact amounts, sorry.

    Boil fresh or salt cod (in Newfoundland fish=cod)
    Peel and boil potatoes separately from cod
    Chop up an onion
    Mash up cod and potato (this is usually done to personal taste, I prefer my fishcakes “chunky”)
    Mix in savoury (this is Newfoundland’s official spice it is in just about everything), onion, and pepper to taste, egg is optional
    Form into cakes, fry them up and enjoy.

    Father perhaps you should write up a Lenten fish recipe book!

  25. fredgoverno says:

    Father – I’m thinking of trying out this mouth watering recipe next Friday. I am contemplating the use of “Monkfish” however I’m concerned the texture may be too tough compared to your choice of fish – any thoughts or suggestions would be most appreciated.


    Fred Governo

  26. MrsHall says:

    Great recipe! I have six kids and we are always looking for ways to stretch that fish, chicken, whatever. You could serve them on a bun with cheese to a kid, [Yes, these would have been good on a bun, but I don’t think it needed the cheese.] or on rice pilaf to a grown-up, or in pita bread with gyro sauce (to me, anyway) and everybody’s happy. I agree, Fr., growing up with “nothing” (or very little), definitely has its perks.

  27. Liz F says:

    Father, I love the creativity forced upon you by what you had on hand. In a recent post I said that I was going to have a fish fry for the kids rather than going to one. (It was very successful, btw.)Anyway, yesterday I figured out that it would have cost us something like $67 to take our whole family! (No family price which seemed wrong to me. My mom used to make me charge the same to babysit one child or seven. She was pro-life!) Anyway, I think I fed the whole family for about $8 (There were 9 of us home that night including ravenous teenagers and little people who don’t eat so much.) I love that you made such a delicious meal for not a lot of money!

  28. Liz F says:

    p.s. I might add that the stores are having great fish sales right now. Lent is a good time to stock up. I bought 10 of that particular fish, but I wish I had bought 20!

  29. Liz: it would have cost us something like $67 to take our whole family

    I know. Ridiculous, isn’t it?

    Estimating from the price I paid for that halibut, and if you already had bread and celery and onions and mayo or tartar sauce on hand, you could have made that main course for a family of 6 for under $5.00.

  30. Ed the Roman says:

    I made a tuna sub with a smallish baguette, light tuna (one can in water, one in oil), blue cheese dressing, and garlic powder.

    Also on the sandwich: chopped onion, lettuce, shredded carrot, shredded cabbage, sliced tomato, provolone, and baby spinach.

    I should have used a smaller bread, but it was tasty.

  31. Dr. Eric says:

    I love your resourcefulness and ingenuity on these menus. I can’t join you in love for the seafood, but I admire how you are able to whip up treats for very little money. We as a culture have despised frugality for far too long. I’m waiting for the Easter Season so I can steal some non-meatless ideas from you. :-D

    I didn’t have anything really fancy yesterday. Toaster waffles and tea for breakfast, Foot Long Veggie Sub from Subway (the receptionist got it for me as my colleague and I were having a meeting) for lunch, and cheese pizza that I turned into a veggie pizza for supper.

  32. Charivari Rob says:

    I’ve done the canned salmon burger myself, but this is the type of thing that lends itself well to creativity and working with what’s on hand.

    Necessity is the mother of invention, after all, and there is contextual precedent for the halibut:

  33. Jaybirdnbham says:

    For a Southern variation on the canned salmon burgers/croquettes, instead of packaged bread crumbs, try using cornbread mix or cornmeal. Gives a good consistency and tastes great.

  34. robtbrown says:

    When I was a kid, we used to have salmon patties.

    Now I coat salmon with olive oil, sprinkle on ginger and lemon pepper, then put grill it outside. I make an easy remoulade with mayonaisse (or miracle whip), horseradish, a dash of ketchup, paprika, and cajun spice (shallots if you want to go the last mile–I don’t). Then have Uncle Ben’s Original with it

  35. robtbrown says:

    Forgot to mention snow peas cooked in the microwave with a little butter.

  36. Rob Cartusciello says:

    You should try this well-known Icelandic dish


    3-4 cups cooked haddock or cod, fresh or salted poached in salted water, drained and left to cool
    1½ cup milk
    2 tablespoons butter
    1 medium onion, finely chopped
    2 tablespoons flour
    3-4 cups cubed cooked potatoes
    Curry powder (to taste)
    Freshly ground pepper
    Chives for decoration (optional)

    Pick over the fish to ensure that all bones and skin have been removed & break into flakes.

    Heat the milk in a saucepan, almost to boiling point. Melt the butter in a pan and sauté the onion at medium heat until soft and opaque. Do not allow it to brown.

    Sprinkle the flour over the onion, stir and cook for a minute or two, stirring continuously. Gradually stir in the warm milk, bring to a boil, and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring often.

    Add the fish and stir briskly to break up the flakes. Add the potatoes and simmer until they are heated through. Season to taste with curry powder, pepper and salt.

    Spoon into a bowl and sprinkle with chives, if wished. Serve hot with dark rye bread and butter.

    Some prefer a flaky version, in which case the sauce should be stirred as little as possible after the fish and potatoes have been added.

    Others want their plokkfiskur to smooth & creamy as possible so they mash their potatoes with a fork or put them through a ricer before adding them to the pan. There are even recipes where the fish and potatoes are put through a mincer.

    Many people make a pile of piping hot plokkfiskur on their plate, make an indentation in the top with their fork, and add a large knob of butter.

    The best version of this recipe is served at Þrír Frakkar (Three Overcoats) in Reykjavik.

  37. Torpedo1 says:

    mmm, sounded great Fr. Z. I had a bowl of cereal for breakfast after my morning work-out yesterday, a piece of grilled salmon and an apple for lunch. the salmon I got really excited about, and then some Lebanese food for dinner. Baba Ghannuj on flat bread… yum. It wasn’t as good as Emily’s on University Avenu, but it was good.

  38. Ah, Emily’s. And I remember Jacob’s, now gone.

  39. Liz F says:

    Liz: it would have cost us something like $67 to take our whole family

    I know. Ridiculous, isn’t it?

    Yes, Fr. Z. it is, but the good thing is that it drove me to make our own and ours was better! (Plus, we weren’t tempted by the table of desserts they had. lol.)

    Actually, if I have time I may write a polite letter, gently pointing out that it would be pro-life to have a family price. Billboards are good and all, but supporting big families is important too.

  40. AngelineOH says:

    What a beautiful sunset – a salmon sky for Fish Friday!

  41. Maltese says:

    the everyday little things are what really matter; I put the top off my ’71 Porche 914 (a year older than I am) and took my volunteer daughter (among three) to home depot to buy heat-resisent paint to coat a very old wood burning stove for eventual use in our dining room.

    My point is, people lose sight of the significance of little things. Little gestures, time spent with your children; small kindnesses to waitspeople at restaraunts (the most unappreciated people on earth,) but little kindnesses you do to people have a major (and maybe eternal) ripple-down effect.

    So I try, although I’m a lout, to really rain down some love wherever I go. I greet the housekeeper with as much respect as the businessman; because, before God, there is no distinction. Now, there might be a more holy businessman than a housekeeper, or (as is more often) a more holy housekeeper than businessman, but class distinction is in the mind of man, not God! God loves the humble washerwoman many times more than the proud prick!

  42. rinkevichjm says:

    If you really want that burger taste, the all vegetable Boca burgers are much closer than what you prepared. However, if you want fish, I think canned Salmon with bread, eggs, and BBQ sauce or ketchup would make a good patty.

  43. Penguins Fan says:

    Fr. Z, you ar etrhe “most interesting man in the world” – not that guy who “doesn’t always” drink that Mexican beer.

  44. irishgirl says:

    Looking at this is making me hungry!

    You are quite the cook, Father Z!

  45. Grabski says:

    Fr. Z When is your cookbook, w/ recipes for all the seasons of the Church Year, coming out? I know I’d purchase a few as presents….

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