Thieving Anglers

I always have the most dreadful time keeping hold of freshly cooked, in advance, food as it cools off in readiness for the freezer. My family have squirrel tendencies and, when I’m in cooking mode, seem to develop a compulsion to walk in and out of the kitchen, filching the odd morsel on the way in and another on the way out.

Bite sized items are the most convenient for thieving anglers, of course, and I always end up making twice as many sausage rolls, meat patties, fairy cakes… than strictly necessary, just to accommodate my starving and transient visitors.

‘These are nice,’ said number one son, Dave, recently, on one of his scrumping forays. ‘What’s in ’em?’ Elbow deep in a mixing bowl, I was manufacturing fish cakes at a rate of knots. The conveyor belt system was working pretty well but I’m at a funny age – any kind of interruption and I’m flummoxed. The concentration goes and I’m no use to man or beast until I’ve had a strong coffee and a lie down.

‘What’s in ’em?’ he wants to know. By the time I’ve reached the frying/cooling off stage, I’ve forgotten the construction department. ‘I can’t remember,’ I told him. ‘Prob’ly what I found lurking in the fridge when I started.’ I began to reel off a list of possible ingredients to Dave’s nodding approval – until I reached the main component – bass.

His eyebrows rose by several inches and a number of expressions flashed across his face within seconds, he was incredulous, disapproving and betrayed. Then I received one of his injured looks. ‘We’re spoiling you,’ he said, sadly. ‘I never thought you would use bass for fish cakes!’ – as if I had committed one of the seven deadly sins.

What was his problem, for goodness sake? I hadn’t stolen the bass. I was not the one who had murdered it. There was no adultery involved – sadly – with it’s procurement and they were not my neighbour’s coveted fillets.

‘Are they O.K.?’ I asked him as he ‘tasted’ yet another one. They were ‘wicked’ apparently, but nevertheless I found myself apologising for using a small sea bass in such an unworthy manner. Next time, I said I’d stick to whiting or cod. I will too. I was made to feel really guilty and it was only a small bass, after all.

‘You’d better give me the recipe anyway,’ said my tormentor. So, here it is, Barham. Explained in simple terms so as not to overtax your culinary skills…

First, catch a small bass, or steal one from your mother’s freezer.Wrap it very tightly in foil and shove it – preferably into your oven which has been pre-heated to medium. Leave it alone for twenty minutes then take it out and leave it to cool off while you make up a couple of rigs. Better stand guard or some hungry-gutted angler might eat it.

As you pull back the foil, David, all the scales, skin and outside bones should come off with it. If they don’t, help it along with a knife. Remove the fish from the top half of the fish, strip off the backbone and fish out the rest of the fish. Hurl it all into a large mixing bowl and mix it with a couple of cooked, mashed potatoes, a microwaved, or fried gently, finely chopped onion, one squashed clove of garlic, – or about an inch if you’re still using that stuff from a tube – and a couple of tablespoons (that’s a very big one, not the one you eat your breakfast with) of leftover, cooked vegetables which you probably have festering in the bowels of your fridge. Sweetcorn and peas are good.

Sling in a handful of porridge oats, two eggs, salt, pepper and a good pinch of thyme. Hands in and mix thoroughly. Remember Play-Doh? – Shape into cakes and fry in hot oil for a couple of minutes each side. No flour or bread crumb coating, please, you want designer fish cakes not freezer shop, tuppence a ton, specials.

If you can possibly control your impulse to ‘taste’ them before they cool off, you can freeze them for when you can’t be bothered to cook in the evenings. Serve with mashed, creamed potatoes, sliced green beans from the freezer shop and a sauce made like this:

Buy a white sauce mix, follow the instructions on the packet and then add a teaspoonful or two of horseradish from a jar, salt and pepper. Taste it before you throw it all over the bass cakes and adjust seasoning.

Dave will make bass cakes, I guarantee. He’s a very good cook. Even toyed with the idea of going to catering college when he left school until it was pointed out that he wouldn’t be allowed to eat what he produced. His culinary masterpieces would be served to paying punters in whichever restaurant he worked. Put him right off, that did. That’s why he writes for a living and cooks as a hobby, instead of the other way around.


In order to exact cruel revenge for 20-something years of kitchen pilfering, Rosie sent in this picture of Dave Barham. Next time you pick up a copy of Boat Fishing Monthly and see photos of him proudly holding his prize catch aloft, just remind yourself of this little gem!!