60 ml clear rice vinegar
2 tablespoons boiling water
55 grams caster sugar
2 red bird’s eye chillies, chopped
1 telegraph cucumber, peeled and halved lengthways
4 small red Asian shallots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 candlenuts, chopped
1½ cm piece fresh galangal, chopped
1 cm piece fresh ginger, chopped
800 grams boneless, skinless snapper, john dory or any other white-fleshed fish fillets, cut into 5 cm pieces
1½ teaspoons caster sugar
200 grams fresh grated or thawed frozen grated coconut
2 eggs, lightly beaten
150 ml coconut milk
vegetable oil for deep-frying
These Javanese-style fish cakes are simple to prepare, easy to cook and packed with flavour. Any white-fleshed fish will work and, while we’ve gone for snapper, by all means substitute with what’s freshest, sustainable and well priced at your fishmonger or supermarket. No chilli required here – just whip up a batch of cucumber pickles and you’re away!
For the cucumber pickles, combine the rice vinegar, boiling water and sugar in a bowl and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Cool. Add the chopped chilli.
Remove the seeds from the cucumber using a teaspoon, then thinly slice the cucumber diagonally. Add to the vinegar mixture and stand for 1 hour before serving. Cucumber pickles are best served on the day they are made.
Combine the shallots, garlic, candlenuts, galangal and ginger in a food processor and process until a paste forms. Alternatively, use a mortar and pestle. Add the fish fillets and process until the mixture is smooth.
Transfer to a bowl and add the remaining ingredients, except the oil and pickles, and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Heat enough oil for deep-frying in a large wok until it reaches 170°C, or until a cube of bread turns golden in 20 seconds.
Using your hands, form 2 tablespoonfuls of the mixture into balls then flatten into thick discs about 5–6 cm across.
Fry the fish cakes, in batches, for about 12 minutes, turning once, or until deep golden and cooked through. Take care when cooking as the cakes are delicate. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towel to drain any excess oil then serve them hot with the cucumber pickles.
Pantry note: Candlenuts are hard nuts from a flowering tree, which have a high oil content. They are used, ground, to thicken (mainly) Malaysian and Indonesian curries. They are toxic raw, so should always be cooked.