Budget Cuts: Fabulous Fish Cakes from Fish Collars

I'm telling you, if you're like me, that is, a budget-conscious cook who loves to squeeze the most out of your food dollar at the same time as making some of the most delicious food you've ever had, look no further than the neck. Whether it's beef, pork or fish, necks—or collars in the case of fish—make for some of the best eating around.

Lately I've found some mighty meaty collars, almost like a fish steak with wings, at Two X Sea (Two by Sea), the sustainable fishmonger inside Providore Fine Foods on NE Sandy. Manager Lauren Vanatter never looks askance when I oooh and aaah and point at the ones I want, so when I saw three hefty sablefish collars staring back at me (along with a couple of big ol' fish heads) I had her wrap them up pronto.

With no plans for dinner and some peppers from our CSA sitting in the veg bin, fish cakes seemed like a quick solution. I slapped the collars on a sheet pan and roasted them for 20 minutes at 375 degrees, let them cool for a few minutes, then pulled the meat off the bones, putting the pile of skin and bones in a pot and covering them with water for stock. (Two birds! One stone!)

A little chopping, a little mixing, a little forming, and they were ready to pop in the oven. Drop dead delicious, and so easy!

Thai-ish Fish Cakes

Yield: A dozen small crab cakes

For the cakes:
1 to 1 1/2 lbs. cooked fish meat
1/2 red bell pepper, minced
1/4 c. minced red or green onion
1 serrano pepper, finely minced
2-4 Tbsp. cilantro, minced
1/4 c. bread crumbs
1/4 c. grated parmesan
Zest of 1 lime
1 tsp. fish sauce
Juice of 1 lime (approx. 2 Tbsp.)
1 egg

For the crumb coating:
1 c. bread crumbs, preferably Panko style
1/4 c. grated parmesan

For the sriracha sauce:
1 c. mayonnaise
3-4 Tbsp. sriracha sauce (or to taste)
2 Tbsp. finely sliced green onions

Preheat oven to 350°.

Combine crumbs and parmesan and spread out on a plate.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl combine fish meat, peppers, onions, cilantro, bread crumbs, parmesan, lime juice and fish sauce. In a small mixing bowl whisk together the lime juice and egg. Add to the fish mixture and stir.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Scoop up about 1/4 cup of fish mixture and form into a plump cake about 2-inches in diameter (approx. 1” high). Compress so cake holds together. Gently sit cake in crumb mixture to coat bottom and sprinkle crumbs over top to coat—don’t flip the cake or it will fall apart. Gently compress cake between your hands to meld crumbs to the crab cake. (Keep cake plump; don’t flatten.)

Set each formed cake on lined baking sheet. When all cakes are formed, place sheet in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes.

While the cakes chill, combine mayonnaise, sriracha and green onions in a small bowl. Serve alongside cakes.

Remove sheet pan from the refrigerator and place on middle shelf of the oven. Bake until golden brown, about 20-30 minutes.

NOTE: Adding some grated coconut and fresh mint or basil to the fish mixture is also delicious. This recipe is fabulous with crab, too!

More Sustainable Meat and Seafood Traceable to the Source? Bring It On!

Portland cooks and makers rejoice! After months of fits and starts on their expansion plans—the pandemic has wreaked havoc on construction schedules and state agency certifications alike—Revel Meat Co. and Two x Sea have finally filled their cases and staffed their counters at Providore Fine Foods on Northeast Sandy Boulevard.

"We’re happy to announce that after many months, the debut of their full-service meat and seafood counter at Providore is here," said Kaie Wellman, co-owner of Providore along with her husband, Kevin de Garmo and their business partner, Bruce Silverman. "The 'protein' corner of the store has been transformed into a mecca for those who want to work closely with their local butcher and fishmonger to source top-quality, small-farmed meat and sustainably caught seafood."

While the original plans calling for an oyster bar have been scotched, there will soon be seating in the new wine room—it's taken the space once occupied by the now-closed Nomad. There are grab-and-go goods aplenty, from salmon cakes, fish croquettes and fresh oysters to marinated chicken skewers and housemade sausages ready to take home and throw on the grill, and Vannatter says to look for holiday specials appearing soon.

A huge problem with our food system is that shoppers are often misled about what they're buying. Tilapia, a common farmed fish, is mislabeled as more expensive snapper—an analysis by the Guardian newspaper of 44 studies found that "nearly 40% of 9000 products from restaurants, markets and fishmongers were mislabelled." The same misinformation is presented to consumers regarding the sourcing, feeding and slaughtering of beef and pork.

Both purveyors have a stated mission to offer transparency and traceability to Portland cooks. Want to know where a piece of fish in the Two x Sea case comes from, the name of the boat that caught it and how it was caught? Just ask. Lauren Vannatter of Two x Sea said, "We'll tell you the real story instead of the made-up story."

Similarly, Revel's Ben Meyer is committed to tossing out what he calls the "smoke and mirrors" of the meat business, including being able to tell shoppers the name of the farmer that raised the animal, how it was raised, what it ate during its lifetime and when and how it was harvested. Like butcher shops in your grandparents' time, you'll be able to see Revel butchers breaking down primals and sub-primals of beef and pork into steaks, chops and roasts, and even butchering a whole lamb.

How about braising a beef neck, buying a whole pork belly for bacon or pig trotters to simmer with a pot of beans? You'll be able to preorder all of those and get them in a day or so. (Me, I was excited to hear that after the holidays—please let it be true, kitchen gods—I might be able to obtain the main ingredient for Hank Shaw's blood sausage, and even order the fourth stomach of the cow called the abomasum, so I can tempt my friend Paolo to make his favorite Tuscan sandwich, lampredotto.)

Calling Providore's partnership with these two purveyors a "perfect marriage," Wellman added that "their sustainability standards are unmatched anywhere. These guys walk their talk."

When the founding partners launched Providore, Wellman said that it was intended to become a vortex for people who love to cook and who care about where their food comes from, and this latest expansion is the long-planned next step in its evolution. "It's a community of like-minded businesses and business owners," she said. "It's the antithesis of a grocery store experience. It's a place where customers come in and are surrounded by real food and high quality products from small producers they can't find elsewhere."

Providore Fine Foods is a sponsor of Good Stuff NW.

Providore Adds Revel Meat, Two X Sea

I just got word that I can unburden myself of a secret I've been keeping for almost two months, one that is going to make my life—and hopefully the lives of many other fans of local meat—so much more delicious. Fans and those whose lives were bereft when Ben Meyer closed down Old Salt, his palace of sustainable meat, can now rejoice: He and his partner in Revel Meat, James Serlin, have just signed a lease and stocked cases of their local meat inside Providore Fine Foods.

Kaie Wellman, co-owner of Providore and longtime Portland specialty grocer, Pastaworks, with her husband, Kevin de Garmo, and Bruce Silverman, termed the partnership a "perfect marriage."

The meat case is packed!

Bringing Revel Meat to Providore continues the group's commitment to partner with providers who have deep relationships with local farmers and can give customers the kind of high quality, thoughtfully sourced products they're looking for, Wellman said. "Partners who excite us are the people who are as passionate about food as we are."

Serlin echoed that excitement, saying it was Providore's roster of partners like Rubinette Produce, Little T Baker and Hilary Horvath Flowers that made it an ideal choice for Revel's first retail outlet. "It's a big deal for Revel to be associated with Providore," Serlin said. "The idea behind it, as a place where people can come to get the best produce, meat, fish, cheese and bread, is a perfect fit."

Beef and pork from local farms like Pat-n-Tam's Beef in Stanfield, Campfire Farms in Mulino, Rieben Family Farms in Banks, and 6 Ranch in Wallowa County will stock the big meat cases on the west end of the store with both frozen and fresh cuts. Don't see what you're looking for in the case? Revel will also be happy to accommodate orders for custom cuts—I've already put in my order for some beef neck—with pickup available at Providore. (Read more about Revel Meat and its mission to rejuvenate local meat processing.)

Kenny Belov of Two X Sea.

And who will be occupying the coveted space recently vacated by Flying Fish Company? None other than Two X Sea (Two By Sea) the Bay Area fishmonger born in 2009 out of owner Kenny Belov's frustration with the lack of honesty and accountability in the seafood marketplac and fair pay for the fishing industry.

"The only way to change wholesale was to become wholesale," said Belov, who has been selling seafood to top Portland-area restaurants for more than four years. All of Two X Sea's suppliers must answer specific questions before their fish are accepted into its program: Who caught the fish? Who was the captain? What's the name of the boat? How was the fish caught? Was the fish caught on purpose (as opposed to it being bycatch, which means fish caught while targeting other species)? Belov believes that those answers give an opportunity to share with consumers all of the information about every piece of fish in the case.

"Their sustainability standards are unmatched anywhere," Wellman said. "These guys walk their talk."

Belov said that architectural drawings for the new space are being completed, and he's hoping for Two X Sea to open in late spring. Plans include an oyster bar and a menu that showcases the offerings in the fresh case. He said it's an opportunity to expose guests to preparations of seafood that they might also make at home, and he's excited to see what chef Jacob Harth—chef at the much-lauded Erizo and who will compose Two By Sea's offerings—orchestrates in conjunction with Providore's other partners.

Wellman said that Pastaworks, with its nearly 40 years in Portland, and now Providore, are set to move to the next level in its evolution as a vortex for people who love to cook and who care about where their food comes from. "It's a community of like-minded businesses and business owners," Wellman said. "It's the antithesis of a grocery store experience. It's a place where customers come in and are surrounded by real food and high quality products from small producers they can't find elsewhere."

Then comes the throwdown: "Nowhere else in the U.S. has this level of a food experience and offers customers this kind of engagement with their food."

Providore Fine Foods is a sponsor of Good Stuff NW.