If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again. I’ve been meaning to post these fish cakes and their accompanying celeriac rémoulade on the blog for months but every time I’ve planned it, something has conspired to stop me. And it almost happened again this evening. The first time, I had the heat turned up too high when I was cooking them, and by the time I’d chipped them off the bottom of the pan, the crust was dark brown and slightly burnt in places. My husband and I did try valiantly to resurrect them in Photoshop but after our efforts, they wouldn’t have looked out of place in a 1960s Technicolor cookbook…

The second time, I had cooked them perfectly and had positioned, primped and preened them on the plate. Nothing’s going to stop me now, I rashly thought as I switched the camera on. And found that the battery was flat…

The third time, I managed to be really badly organised and, by the time I’d got round to cooking them, it was really late in the evening and spending time photographing them when bellies were rumbling loudly just wasn’t going to happen…

So, fourth time lucky this evening…or so I thought. They looked beautifully golden when I took them out of the pan and put them on the plate. I had already checked that the camera battery was fully charged and I’d prepared everything earlier in the day so I wasn’t in a rush. As a bonus, the celeriac rémoulade has also undergone an evolutionary process since I first started making it: now julienned and blanched, instead of just grated and raw, it glistened appetisingly in its mustard dressing. I positioned the plate in the window to get the last of the evening light (natural light, even if it’s fading, is far, far, FAR superior to tungsten). What could go wrong? Unfortunately, it’s been raining incessantly today and the sky was grey and gloomy at 7 o’clock. A slow shutter speed has led to a string of slightly blurred pictures. I’ve managed to salvage the best of them. I do hope they do these really tasty fish cakes justice!

Gluten-free smoked mackerel, watercress and horseradish fish cakes with celeriac rémoulade

Serves 4 (makes 8 fish cakes)

For the fish cakes:
260-270g Desirée potatoes (or other floury potato), peeled and cut into 1cm dice
1½ tbsp horseradish sauce
260-270g smoked mackerel (skinned weight)
85g watercress, chopped finely
juice half a lemon
gluten-free plain (all-purpose) flour
1-2 eggs, lightly beaten*
100g gluten-free breadcrumbs
80g fine cornmeal
olive oil for shallow frying

For the rémoulade:
250g celeriac (peeled weight)**
1 tbsp mayonnaise
4 tbsp 0% fat Greek yoghurt (I used Total)
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
squeeze of lemon
salt and pepper

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and add the diced potatoes. Boil for about 10 minutes or until the potatoes are tender to the point of a knife. Drain and allow to sit in the colander for 5 minutes covered with a clean tea towel to absorb the steam: you want them to be as dry as possible. Mash while still warm with the horseradish sauce and pepper. Set aside to cool in a large bowl.

Flake the smoked mackerel into the potatoes, removing any bones. Add the watercress (before chopping this seems like an impossibly huge mound but after I’ve savaged it with my trusty mezzaluna, it looks much more manageable) and the lemon juice. Mix with a spoon until well-combined. Form into eight equally-sized patties with your hands. I’m terrible at dividing bowls of mixture into equal portions by eye and always end up with fishcakes of all different sizes. I describe my foolproof technique here (at the *).

Toast the breadcrumbs under a hot grill until they are golden-brown and then mix with the fine cornmeal and a grinding of pepper on a plate (I don’t usually add salt because I find the smoked mackerel salty enough). Dust each fishcake with gluten-free flour, dip in egg and then coat in the crumbs***. Place the fishcakes on a plate and refrigerate until required.

To make the rémoulade, cut the celeriac into julienne strips****. Blanch in a large pan of slightly salted boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Drain and refresh under cold water to prevent further cooking. Allow to dry – I usually dab the strips with some kitchen roll. Add the mayonnaise, yoghurt, mustard, lemon juice, salt and pepper and stir to combine.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a low heat. Gently fry the fishcakes for 4 minutes each side until golden-brown and piping hot. Serve with the rémoulade and a green salad.

* Sometimes it takes 2 eggs, when coating and breadcrumbing, and sometimes only 1. I think it probably depends upon the size of the egg and its freshness.

** This is about half of a medium celeriac. If you like, you can make double the amount to use up the whole vegetable (it’s delicious served with Parma ham or bresaola) or the rest can be made into a warming and hearty soup.

*** If you don’t want to end up with fingers like goujons, I advise using one hand for dry dipping (the flour and the breadcrumbs) and the other for wet dipping (the egg).

**** Celeriac goes brown when it comes into contact with the air unless it’s been dressed with something acidic. Have a bowl of water with half a lemon squeezed into it and keep any celeriac you’re not currently working with in it, i.e. work on a few pieces at a time and return the julienned strips to the water immediately afterwards.