Primal Fishcakes with Lemon Butter & Chive Sauce

by Susan Smith in , , ,

Flushed with success from creating a recipe for Grain-Free Scones with the taste and texture of a traditional wheat-flour scone last week, I was supposed to have taken time out to relax and enjoy my own Mothering Sunday weekend (a one-day celebration doesn’t seem enough for a lifetime’s effort!) However, it wasn’t to be - the best laid plans and all that - because on Saturday morning I woke up ridiculously early (2:30am), with the thought that I had to develop a recipe for low-carb, potato-free, breadcrumb-free fishcakes! This almost impossibly idealistic notion haunted me for the rest of that night and the next four days! 

Whilst authentic Thai fishcakes, those tasty, slightly rubbery morsels that rely on raw fish and egg white to hold them together, do in fact fulfil my criteria for low-carb, no breadcrumbs or potato, I wanted my fishcakes to be of the classic British variety - with a soft fluffy middle and a bit of crunch on the outside. A comfort food that can simply be speared with a fork, smeared with tomato ketchup and eaten as my no-fuss interpretation of fast-food, or perhaps dressed-up for a satisfyingly simple retro meal.   

Trickily, the texture, taste and appearance of mashed potato is unique to (not unsurprisingly) potatoes! How to replicate? I didn’t want the carb count of mashed parsnips or yam, the wetness of mashed celeriac, or the orange colour of sweet potato. Finally, I settled on cauliflower (at least it’s the right colour) and coconut flour (to bind it all together) and…er, that would be a no! Far too dry and crumbly, the fishcakes disintegrated before you could get them into your mouth.

Last evening, tired and weary from a day of helping Mirror Imaging Photography catch up on their admin (or was it two days of non-stop thinking about how to develop my fishcakes?) I finally cracked it! 

Unsophisticated it may be, but nonetheless, the marriage between a light potato-style mash and fish just works, so if you’re a Primal convert and feeling fish-and-chip-shop deprived, this equally delicious potato and breadcrumb-less fishcake is very good news indeed! 

I have teamed them with poached eggs, lightly cooked spinach and Lemon Butter & Chive Sauce (probably a little too ambitious for a family meal at the end of a working day!) but you can decide what other flavour combinations work for you…

With the Lemon Butter & Chive Sauce, a fresh green salad would be perfect for a light supper or lunch. Without the sauce, tomato and mozzarella salad would be good, so would guacamole (spicy avocado dip) or, quite simply, some cooked frozen peas and a low-sugar organic tomato ketchup for dunking.

Easier and quicker to make than traditional fishcakes (because there’s none of the threefold messing about dipping them in flour, egg and breadcrumbs), I think these healthy-looking (the lovely pale green colour comes from an abundance of fresh herbs) and authentic-tasting fishcakes are destined to become a new Primal, low-carbohydrate classic.

Primal Fishcakes with Lemon Butter & Chive Sauce

Ingredients - for the fishcakes (makes 6 generous fishcakes)

500g (1lb 2oz) undyed smoked haddock (MSC certified)

150ml (¼ pint) whole milk 

1 medium-sized cauliflower

2 bay leaves - optional

75g (2½ oz) full-fat cream cheese (I use Longley Farm)

20g (¾ oz) fresh herbs, stalks removed and finely chopped (I used a mixture of parsley and dill)

2 tsp lemon zest, finely grated

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

½ tsp cayenne pepper

55g (2oz) ground almonds, for coating

Clearspring organic sunflower oil, for frying

Lemon wedges and watercress - to garnish


Ingredients - for the lemon butter & chive sauce (serves 4)

30g (1oz) unsalted butter

Lemon, finely grated zest and juice (about 40ml)

150ml (¼ pint) double cream

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

2 heaped tbsp fresh chives, finely chopped



Boil a kettle of water. 

Put the fish into a large flat pan (big enough to hold all the fish in a single layer), pour over the milk and 150ml (¼ pint) water. Bring to a simmer, then gently cook the fish skin-side down for 4 minutes. Take the pan off the heat, turn the fish over and leave to stand, covered with the pan lid, for a further 10 minutes. 

Drain the fish and place on a large flat plate, skin and remove any bones if necessary and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, cut the florets off the cauliflower (only the florets, you don’t need any stalk) and in a food processor blitz them for about 20 seconds into cauliflower grains - a sort of cauliflower ‘snow’. 

Place the cauliflower snow in the top half of a steamer with a couple of bay leaves. Pour the boiling water from the kettle into the bottom pan of the steamer, bring back to the boil then steam the cauliflower for 4 minutes with the pan lid on.

Have a clean towel laid out ready on your worktop. Using a draining spoon, deposit the just cooked cauliflower onto this. Remove the bay leaves and allow to cool down for about 5 minutes.

When cool, wrap the cauliflower tightly up inside the tea towel and wring it out as forcibly as you can to remove as much liquid from the cauliflower as possible. N.B. wet mash is death to fishcakes!

Put the dried-out cauliflower pulp into a bowl with the herbs, lemon zest and cream cheese. Blend together thoroughly with a hand blender to form a smooth mash (this can be done more easily in a food processor) then season well with salt, pepper and cayenne. N.B. The mash needs to taste really flavourful at this stage. 

Break the cooled fish into large flakes and add to the cauliflower mash, combine thoroughly with a fork but make sure you leave a good percentage of the fish flakes intact for texture. The mixture should be soft but firm enough to hold its shape when squashed together. Taste, if the mixture needs extra seasoning, add it now.

Put the ground almonds onto a large flat plate. Mould the mixture with your hands into six even-sized rounds (about 125g to 130g per fishcake and approx  2cm / ¾ inch thick), then carefully dip each fishcake into the ground almonds, coating thoroughly. Place the fishcakes on a clean plate and put in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up.

When you’re ready to cook the fishcakes, heat up 2-3 tablespoons of oil in a large non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Add 3 or 4 fishcakes to the pan and cook for about 5 minutes on both sides, until nicely browned. (N.B. If you overcrowd the pan the fishcakes won’t cook properly and you’ll find it difficult to manoeuvre them when you’re trying to turn them over)

Remove the cooked fishcakes, place on a paper towel lined plate and keep warm in a pre-heated low oven whilst you repeat with the remaining fishcakes.

To make the lemon butter and chive sauce: heat the butter in a small saucepan over a low to moderate heat. When the butter has melted and is just starting to bubble add the lemon zest and juice to the pan and simmer gently for 2 minutes. Add the cream, then gently simmer for a further 4 minutes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Just before you’re about to serve, gently re-heat the sauce and stir in the finely chopped chives.



A medium-sized cauliflower should produce about 500g of stalk-free florets

Don’t be tempted to use whipped, ‘light’ or reduced-fat cream cheese for this recipe - it needs to be full-fat soft/cream cheese to help bind the cauliflower mash together.

I use a ½ US Cup to quickly measure the amount of mixture for each fishcake - pack the mixture down firmly into the measuring cup, level it off and then sharply knock the fishcake out of the cup into the palm of your other hand before shaping, i.e. flattening out, into rounds.

If the pan and frying oil looks dirty after frying the first batch of fishcakes, clean the pan out with kitchen paper and heat up some fresh oil before continuing with the remaining fishcakes.


To make Perfect Poached Eggs - using Poaching Pods, cook your eggs (one large egg per person) for exactly 5 minutes, i.e. the same amount of cooking time required for the second batch of fishcakes after they’ve been turned over.

To cook spinach (serves 4): Remove the stalks from 500g (1lb) young spinach leaves, wash the leaves and shake off as much water as possible (I do this in a salad spinner). Warm 50g (2oz) butter in a large non-stick saucepan over a medium-high heat. When the butter is melted and is starting to bubble, add the spinach to the pan (you may have to do this in 2 or 3 batches - stir-frying each batch of leaves until they collapse down to make room in the pan for the rest).

Cook the spinach for 2-3 minutes, stirring continuously until all the leaves are wilted and tender. Don’t overcook, it should provide a burst of bright green on the plate - not be grey or mushy! 

Take the pan off the heat and drain the spinach in a colander, using a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon to press out any excess liquid. 

Put the spinach back into the still hot pan, loosely break it up with a fork, then lightly season with salt and freshly ground pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. Serve warm.


Carbohydrate 4g Protein 19g - per fishcake

Carbohydrate 2g Protein 1g - per serving of lemon butter & chive sauce

Carbohydrate 0g Protein 7g - per large organic poached egg

Carbohydrate 1g Protein 5g - per serving of spinach

Carbohydrate 3g Protein 1g - per 15g serving of Mr Organic Italian tomato ketchup