The Story

Fish Cakes In Your Future
By Lindsay Sterling

We love our fish cakes in Maine. They’re usually a mixture of breadcrumbs, egg, seafood, and parsley, formed into cylinders and deep-fried. There is nothing wrong with them. They’re delicious. But I’m always on the lookout for something new, surprising, or otherworldly. As we were eating Iraqi chicken and rice at one of my cooking classes in Freeport, a young woman with brown-black hair, dark eyes and a tattoo of a scarab beetle on her forearm shared that she was Puerto Rican. It was in her apartment weeks later I found what I didn’t even know I was looking for: different fishcakes. And a phenomenal use of our own salt cod!
Introducing Veronica Toro-Ruiz’s bacalaitos fritos, to-die-for fried biscuits with small moments of salted fish and cilantro. Here’s how you make them. In a bowl, you put flour, baking soda, and salt. Mix in water to make a batter. Add some ripped cilantro leaves and pulled pieces of salted pollock or cod that you’ve boiled first to remove some of the preserving salt. Then shallow fry large spoonfuls of this batter in oil. While the golden patties rest on paper towels, just try not to eat them! Veronica goaded me on, “Go ahead. They’re best when they’re hot.” I had three before we even sat down. These fish cakes were divine with her simple avocado salad. She cut up a giant avocado from the Dominican Republic, then added shaved raw onion, more boiled and pulled salted fish, a generous drizzle of flavorful olive oil, and a final pinch of salt. That avocado from the Dominican Republic was as smooth and rich as a stick of butter. We’ve got to convince more storeowners to supply these!
I always like to find out what powers to thank for bringing my cooking teachers and their delicious foods from all over the world to me. This time I need to thank a certain bruja (witch) in the Dominican Republic, where Veronica was working on a film. Some local coworkers escorted Veronica to this bruja as fun cultural experience. The bruja demanded that Veronica bring fried chicken, beer, and candles to her shell reading. It was unclear if this was part of a ritual, or la bruja just wanted dinner. After the offering was accepted, la bruja let forth Veronica’s fortune: “You gonna have an affair with a white man with money who is coming.”
Veronica was like, “Yeah right. Like when?” La bruja: “This weekend.”
Her co-workers joked endlessly about Veronica’s boyfriend, the rich man who was coming. But then the crew got a communication from the production department. A guy from the parent company in the U.S. was coming that day with $30K in his pocket to pay the cast and crew. And his name was Rich! There was such a buzz around the set – her boyfriend is coming! – that when Veronica and Rich finally came to be standing next to one another, a 15-year-old actor asked Veronica flat out, “Is this your boyfriend?” Veronica looked at Rich approvingly and said, “I think he will be tomorrow.” After a weeklong fling and lots of ensuing emails and visits, Veronica and Rich moved in together in New England. May we all make her fishcakes happily ever after.

Copyright Lindsay Sterling 2012