Buying fish in Brixton isn’t a particularly relaxing experience. If you end up in the wrong place you’re likely to be jeered at and bullied into buying a limp old snapper with cloudy, bloodshot eyes and a forlorn expression – in fact the aggressive front of house salesmen will insist you buy three. My tip is to avoid the fishy mongers on Electric Avenue and head into the covered markets. In Brixton Village, next to the fantastic Colombian butchers, you’ll find Dagon’s Ltd. Ask for Gareth and he’ll go out of his way to find the fish for you. Across Atlantic Road*, next to the famous Franco Manca on Market Row, is the less famous Jeffries whose awning proudly proclaims ‘Best Fish in Brixton’ followed by a mobile number. There is usually a little light jeering at Jeffries but they do it kindly and with a smile. The smoked haddock in these delicious fishcakes came from their secret stash ‘out the back’ reserved for picky customers who ask too many questions.
Turn your oven to max. Peel two medium sweet potatoes, chop into evenly sized chunks and boil for about 10 minutes. While the potato boils, heat some groundnut oil in a frying pan and slice a large white onion. Fry the onion in the oil until starting to soften then throw in a teaspoon each of smoked paprika and zahter (a Middle Eastern blend of marjoram, thyme, sesame seeds & sumac seeds) or any of these herbs/seeds you have to hand if you can’t find the blended version. Once the onion is soft and translucent turn off the heat and set aside. Chop one large smoked haddock fillet into very small chunks and add to the onions.
Drain the sweet potato and leave in the colander for a few minutes to steam dry. Return to the pan and mash until smooth. Add the fried onion and chopped haddock, the leaves from two fresh thyme sprigs and some pepper (no need for salt with smoked fish) and allow to cool.
Now for the messy bit. Prepare a shallow bowl of flour, another of 2-3 beaten eggs and a plate of breadcrumbs. Regular breadcrumbs are fine here but if you can get to an Asian supermarket I highly recommend Panko breadcrumbs for a super crispy fishcake. Once the fishcake mix is cool enough to handle, take a handful and shape into a cake with your palms. Coat both sides with flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs – the trick is to work quickly and lightly before the fishcake starts to crumble in your warm hands. Repeat this process until the mix is used up.
Heat a slug of groundnut oil in a shallow baking tray in the hot oven for 5 minutes. Remove the tray and carefully slide in the fishcakes – they should sizzle. Put the tray back in the oven and bake the cakes for 10 minutes on each side or until golden brown and crisp. Serve with your favourite green leaves and a cold beer.