Mahimahi Patties w/Lemongrass & Lime Leaf

We love a good fish patty. This is playing with your food in the best way — you can use fresh, dried or canned fish; potatoes, rice or tofu to bind; and any number of herb and spice combinations to evoke flavors of Asia, the Americas, Africa, Europe, wherever you wish! One of our favorites is a deep-fried fish patty, bright with the tangy flavors of wild lime and lemongrass. In an effort to make them healthier so we could have them more often, I pan-fried them with olive oil instead of deep-frying. Still tasty, but honestly, it wasn’t soul-satisfying the way the deep-fried version is. So, I guess, like so many things, you have to choose your poison …

This recipe starts with fresh fish (this time we used frozen mahi), but if saltcod were not so expensive here, I would love to try this again with that. The two mostprominent aromatics in this — the wild lime leaves and lemongrass — are available in many groceries now (as well as ethnic markets), and they freeze very well. So buy them when you see them, and freeze until needed. Just wash and dry the leaves, and store in a zippered plastic bag in the freezer. The lemongrass can be washed, and the tough outer leaves removed and trimmed, then zippered and frozen.

The double-lobed wild lime, or makrut, (in top photo) is more widely known by the unfortunate moniker, “kaffir” — which evidently carries quite a bit of historical baggage as a derogatory and offensive term for black Africans, or to denote something as inferior. From The Oxford Companion to Food, University Press, 1999. page 424:

“Kaffir: an epithet which has been used, especially in southern Africa, of certain plant foods, for which it is now preferable to use names less likely to cause offense… In southern Africa the term came to mean what would now be called ‘black African’, sometimes applying to a particular group and sometimes in a general sense. In most contexts it now has a pejorative sense, to such an extent that its use can be actionable in S. Africa … Since the fruit in question is of some importance in a number of SE Asian cuisines, it is in books about them that one is most apt to find references to it … it would be a reasonable assumption that the term has its origin in southern Africa and may have reached Malaysia and Indonesia from there through the Cape Malays, and then travelled westwards to Thailand.”

The description of the the lime itself is listed in the OCF under “Makrut Lime.” We use the term “wild lime,” borrowed from Alford & Duguid’s Hot Sour Salty Sweet.

Whenever we want to have these or any type of fish patty, I’ve always had to plan to have mashed potatoes around, which can be a hindrance if you don’t want to take the extra step of mashing potatoes just for this. On a whim once, I substituted cold cooked rice for the potatoes and the results were really good. I prefer the potatoes because I like the creamy texture they provide, but T prefers the rice texture, which was firmer. These are a bite-size version that make a great buffet dish or appetizer. You can shape them larger, for an entree- or bun-sized patty; but for a “burger” size, I would add 2-3 teaspoons of the sweet chili sauce (used as a dip here) into the mix before shaping and cooking.

Makes 24-30 appetizer patties

1 lb. (455g) mahi fillets, or any firm white fish, bones and pins removed
small handful (about 4 oz/110g) of snow peas, de-veined and julienned
1/2 small carrot, peeled and finely grated (optional)
1 stalk lemongrass, peeled and minced
1 wild lime leaf (2 lobes), de-veined and minced
1 bird’s eye chili (donne or boonie pepper), seeded and minced
1/4-1/2 tsp. raw sugar (will depend if fish sauce used already contains sugar, check label)

Roughly chop 3/4 of fish, and place in small food processor bowl. Chop remaining 1/4 of fish into pieces no larger than 1/2 inch. Add half of snow peas and carrots, and all of lemongrass, lime leaf and chili to processor, and very briefly pulse to combine. Remove contents of processor to mixing bowl, and add remaining finely chopped fish and vegetables.

1-2 TBL. fish sauce (will depend on brand and country of origin, Vietnamese brands are saltier and more pungent than Thai, Filipino or other brands)
few sprigs of cilantro, finely minced (about 1 TBL)
1 cup (210g) mashed potatoes, or cooled cooked rice
1 large egg, beaten

Add fish sauce and cilantro to mixed fish, and knead well to combine flavors. Add mashed potato and egg, and knead through again. Set aside for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat skillet over medium-high heat. Pre-heat toaster oven to 300F.

Shape mixture into 2” oval patties. Add 2-3 TBL. olive oil to coat pan well, and fry patties about 3-4 minutes on each side. Keep warm in toaster oven until all patties are cooked.

You can also deep-fry these patties, but dust them with corn or potato starch before frying.

Serve with fresh lime and sweet chili sauce (available commercially, or try this version from Recipezaar). With potatoes in the mixture, these do not freeze well since the potatoes develop a mealy texture when thawed. Haven’t tried freezing the version with rice yet…