In the first few weeks and months after having a baby, the idea that life will ever return to some kind of normality seems utterly ridiculous. It’s as if some teeny tiny person has put your former life in a snow globe, shaken it up good and proper, and there you are standing at the base of the globe catching glimpses of the things you love – sleep, eating dinner at the same time as your other half, sleep, drinking hot coffee, sleep, cooking, sleep, reading, sleep – swirling about above you and waiting desperately and impatiently for them to settle and for there to be calm again. You adore your baby, couldn’t imagine life without them, but at the same time you’re also mourning the life that you once had and all that precious sleep you foolishly took for granted. In the early days of having a baby, when you’re up every 2 hours at night feeding and then desperately trying to get them to sleep anywhere that isn’t on your chest, you’ll hear many well-meaning people tell you that “it does get better”. After 6 weeks of surviving on 2 hours sleep a night the most civil you can get is uttering “does it?” through gritted teeth while in your head cursing them for not offering to pay for you to go on all inclusive tropical holiday while they take on the night feeds for the next six months. People are just so bloody selfish, and sleep deprivation does indeed send you temporarily insane as well as leave you with unreasonable expectations of your friends and family.
So as you can imagine, I am pleased to say that the snow in our globe has now settled. We actually now get real sleep and hallelujah, I’ve got some time in the evening to cook again. Yay me! This combined with the fact that we’ve recently had our new kitchen installed and it’s bloody amazing means I’m now cooking with fire baby (or if it’s accuracy you’re after, an induction hob). After cooking in a dire kitchen for two years and sticking to the same old recipes, I’m now feeling ambitious in the kitchen again and have been delving back into my cookbooks. The Boyfriend bought me Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food book a couple of years ago for Christmas but the recipes involved too many steps and needed lots of equipment which would have been an absolute nightmare to even attempt in our old kitchen, so the book sat quietly in a box until this very week. The Boyfriend sped off to Paris today for work, so I wanted to cook him something very British before entering the city of croissants, steak frites, moules mariniere and escargot. Tom Kerridge’s book of pub food seemed just the ticket, so I went for smoked haddock fishcakes with cheese sauce and fried eggs, which just reeks of Britishness. If you have this book and haven’t cooked this recipe yet, I urge, implore and beg you to do so. It is so unbelievably good. So good in fact that my biggest food critic The Boyfriend could only gush about how amazing the dish was and how it was the best fishcake he had ever had. I even got a text this morning from him while in St Pancras waiting for the train saying how jealous he was that I got to have the leftovers for dinner tonight. The man was on his way to PARIS for goodness sake, the centre of the good food universe, so take from that what you will about this recipe.
I know you’re sitting there wondering how the humble fishcake could be so darn good, but this is no ordinary fishcake. If you don’t know who Tom Kerridge is, he’s the first pub chef to ever win a Michelin star for his pub The Hand and Flowers and he’s on TV a fair bit. He’s a big guy with a proper West Country accent and whenever I see him on the telly he always seems like such a nice guy with no pretensions, he just cooks food that you really want to eat. It goes without saying that I really want to eat at his pub, and that I trust his recipes for British pub food. The fishcakes are packed full of fish, which sounds like an obvious thing to say but so many fishcakes should really be called ‘potato cakes with a sprinkling of fish’ such is the content of them. Tom’s would sail through the trade descriptions act, which is one reason why they are so damn good. There is a small amount of potato in there which holds the cake together, as well as chives, salt and pepper, and sweet baby Jesus, little cubes of mozzarella. This is then coated in flour, eggs and panko breadcrumbs and fried in some oil. The cheese sauce is fairly simple to make too, and this would also breeze through the trade descriptions act with the heart stopping amount of cheese needed to turn a standard white sauce into the cheesiest of all cheese sauces. Peter Andre has nothing on this sauce. Topped with a fried egg (runny yolk, obviously) you have dinner perfection. The fishcakes ooze melted mozzarella and you get that lush effect of the cheese stretching from your fork to the dinner plate when you start tucking in, and then you have big chunky flakes of smoked fish (please buy the undyed haddock if you plan on making this as the yellow stuff doesn’t even compare) and a crunchy coating from the panko breadcrumbs. The cheese sauce is amazing, and well it should be with the crazy amount of parmesan and cheddar (the recipe does call for gruyere instead of cheddar but my fridge was full of cheddar and with this being a British recipe it felt like the patriotic thing to do) contained within. Sure, you could make this healthier by reducing the amount of cheese, and you could remove the mozzarella from proceedings entirely, and I suppose you could poach an egg instead of frying one, but all of this would be hugely detrimental to the dish. Saying all that, I would definitely serve this with plenty of vegetables on the side to assuage your conscience and delude yourself that by having some of your five a day with this that it’s actually a really healthy meal. Tom has turned the fishcake into an absolute masterpiece, and by taking away everything that makes this dish great you’re left with something completely un-special. If all the other recipes in the book are as good as this one then Tom has come up with an amazing book .The flavours in this dish hit you with a massive punch and the devil is in the detail – stringy mozzarella oozing from this fishcake is what made it for me, although the cheese sauce is not to be sniffed at, nor the crispy coating. Food like this shows how far English cooking has come in the last decade or so and that when done right it absolutely can compete with the big boys in France. This recipe has also given me my confidence in the kitchen back and inspired me to keep on trying new things and get me out of my comfort zone. In the words of the West Country boy himself, this dish is proper lush!