Tall tales and fish cakes

People who live and work on the water are good at tall tales. Fisher people don’t just tell whoppers about the whopper that got away, they tell ghost stories, stories with an element of magic, stories that strike a chill into the heart.

The movie Jaws is one such tall tale. For me the two scariest moments in that movie include the very beginning at the beach party—I still can’t watch it—when the young woman in the dark water is all alone except for the drunk guy on the beach and suddenly she is being pulled one way and then the other by a terrible unseen force below. There’s thrashing and screaming and then silence and the calm sea.
The other scariest moment is in the boat, again at night, in the galley after Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss have compared scars and the light swinging over the table illuminates Robert Shaw’s face as he tells Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss the story of the USS Indianapolis after it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1945. It sank in 12 minutes, he says, leaving 800 sailors adrift in the ocean and under attack by the sharks that circled the sailors in the water. It ate them over three days while they tried to defend themselves, linking arms and facing outwards, kicking and yelling at the sharks, who paid them little heed. One of the scariest lines in the movie is “sometimes that shark would go away, sometimes he wouldn’t go away.”

I have my own tall tale: one fall evening in Greece my partner and I were circling a remote island in a rising wind looking for a place to harbour for the night. We chose one spot on the lee side, but soon the waves were threatening to bump our boat against the rocks, so we upped anchor and chugged to another protected bay the wind had not reached. We lit a cooking fire on a flat rock and settled in with a glass of retsina and had just put three fat melanuria to grill on the coals when a rogue wave swept over the rock and took fire, fish and restina with it. We scrambled back into the boat and, for the next hour, raced frantically from one bay to another as the wind grew stronger and the waves higher, the sky darkened and we couldn’t see a thing, growing more and more desperate until my partner remembered that he had heard, in the old stories, of two heavy cables laid in a bay on the island’s southern side anchored into the rock on either shore. We drove into that exposed bay and he shone on a light onto the rocks, found one anchor, followed the cable with a grappling hook, lifted it into the boat and tied our bow line to the bight at the cable’s end. He grappled on the sea floor for the other cable, found it, hauled it up and tied our off our stern line to the bight. We rocked in the middle of the bay for that night and for the next four nights, held snugly in place by the cables while the storm raged around us. Our only regret was we didn’t have any brandy.
This is the season for tall tales, for digging in the freezer for fish caught in the summer, for whipping up a batch of salmon patties and gathering your small crowd around to enjoy them with ice cold vodka and some outrageous fibs.

Smoked Salmon Patties with Wasabi Mayo
Yield: 25 patties

Smoked Salmon Patties with Wasabi Mayo


  • 1/2 lb hot-smoked salmon
  • 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 whole green onions, both white and green parts, minced
  • 2 tbsp minced capers
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp grated lemon zest
  • 2 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tbsp breadcrumbs for coating patties
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil


  1. Remove the skin from the smoked salmon and flake it into a medium-sized bowl. With a fork, lightly stir in the breadcrumbs, green onion and capers until thoroughly combined.
  2. Whisk together the egg and remaining ingredients in a smaller bowl and pour over top of the salmon mixture. Stir to combine.
  3. Form a small appetizer-sized patty from about one tablespoonful of the mixture. If the mixture is not stiff enough to hold together, add more breadcrumbs, one tablespoon at a time, until the patty holds its shape.
  4. Continue to form patties, placing them on a parchment-lined baking tray, until all the mixture is used up. Coat each patty in bread crumbs before frying.
  5. Melt butter and oil in a cast-iron frying pan over medium heat. When the fat is sizzling, cook patties in batches, 3 minutes the first side, 2 minutes the second side. Keep warm in a 200F oven until all the patties are done.
  6. Serve warm with wasabi mayo (see NOTES) on the side.


Wasabi Mayo

2 tsp wasabi powder
2 tsp cold water
2 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tsp soya sauce

Mix wasabi powder and cold water together until smooth. Add mayonnaise and whisk until smooth, followed by the soya sauce. Chill until ready to serve.
Makes about 3 tbsp, enough for 25 patties.

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