Fresh, local ingredients are few and far between in New England in February.  Our town’s farmers’ market is closed from November until April, though some of the farms run CSAs year round (offering primarily meat and poultry).  The local farm store sells their own eggs and chickens, as well as milk from a dairy just north of Boston.  Storage vegetables and fruits (onions, garlic, root vegetables, winter squashes, and apples) may still be regional, though I haven’t seen any in weeks.

But we do have fish.  Once a week*, two women set up shop at a nearby farm stand, selling the freshest, most beautiful fish I’ve ever seen.  Their haddock, bass, bluefish, and scallops — right off the boat that morning — are gleaming, sweet-smelling, and gone in a matter of hours.

Such lovely seafood needs no dressing up, and these fish cakes — equal parts fish and potato, seasoned only with salt and pepper — couldn’t be simpler.

Fish and Potato Cakes

Yield:  12 cakes, serving 4-6

1 lb. potatoes (I like yukon golds), peeled and cut into chunks

1 lb. firm, white-fleshed fish (haddock and cod are nice, or whatever looks good)

About 3/4 c. milk (optional)

1 bay leaf (optional)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

About 1/3 c. all-purpose flour, for dredging

About 1/3 c. safflower or canola oil, for frying

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Put potatoes in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water.  Add a generous sprinkling of salt and bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat and simmer potatoes until tender, about 20 minutes.  Drain potatoes, then return them to the hot saucepan and let steam for a few minutes to remove excess moisture (this makes for lighter, fluffier potatoes).  Mash with a potato masher or press through a ricer into a mixing bowl.

While potatoes are cooking, place fish in a baking dish and pour in enough milk to almost cover.  Tuck in bay leaf and bake until fish is opaque, about 10-15 minutes, depending on thickness.  Remove fish from milk, peel off and discard skin, and flake fish with a fork into large chunks.  (You can omit the milk and bay leaf and just bake the fish on a lightly oiled sheet pan, if you prefer.  The milk absorbs some of the “fishiness” of the fish, giving the finished cakes a softer, more delicate flavor.)

Add flaked fish to mashed potatoes, add salt and pepper, and gently fold together with a rubber spatula, being careful not to overmix.  Form into 12 patties, about 3-inches in diameter and 1-inch thick.

Heat 3 tbsp. oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Dredge fish cakes lightly in flour, dusting off excess, then drop gently into hot pan.  Cook until lightly and evenly browned, then gently flip.  A 12-inch skillet should fit 6 cakes, so fry them in two batches, wiping out the skillet with a paper towel and adding the remaining 3 tbsp. oil before the second batch.  Serve immediately.

I like these with wilted spinach and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Make it dairy-free: Rice milk is the best substitute for cow’s milk here.  Or omit the milk entirely.

Make it gluten-free: Sub a gluten-free flour for the all-purpose flour.  A finely-ground corn flour (not cornmeal) would yield a crispy crust.

*If you’re local and interested, the fish ladies are at Busa Farm in Lexington on Fridays from 1-5.  Get there early for the best selection.