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Eric Akis: Hand-peeled shrimp tasty alternative in seafood cakes

Tender shrimp cakes are fried until golden and served with a zesty, easy to make aioli
Panko-crusted shrimp cakes are served with spicy sriracha aioli and fennel slaw. ERIC AKIS

If you enjoy making and eating seafood cakes and want a less costly alternative to those that are rich with fresh- cooked crab, use West Coast hand-peeled shrimp instead. When chopped and mixed with complementary tastes, they can yield savoury cakes just as appealing.

You can buy hand-peeled shrimp at seafood stores and some grocery stores. These small, bright pink, fully cooked shrimp are called hand-peeled shrimp because, to ensure a high quality product, the processor hand peels them before they pack and sell them.

When sold fresh, they are very perishable, which is why I prefer to buy them the day I’ll use them. But, if very fresh, and they have a mild, sea-like aroma, you could store them up to a day in the coldest part of your refrigerator.

To turn them into cakes, I’ll start by putting them on a cutting board and patting them dry with paper towel. Doing that removes excess moisture on the shrimp that can affect how well the shrimp will hold together once formed into cakes.

Once dried, the shrimp are finely chopped almost to a mince with a consistency somewhat like ground meat. In other words, something that will hold together when squeezed together.

The next step is to mix the chopped shrimp with mayonnaise, finely chopped vegetables, flavourings and a binder, flour. That mixture is then shaped into cakes that you coat in panko, coarse Japanese-style breadcrumbs. You then refrigerate and let the shrimp cakes chill and firm up for a while, before frying them in hot oil.

My recipe yields eight shrimp cakes, each about eight centimetres round. If you allow two shrimp cakes per serving, they could be served as a starter for a fine dinner. Accompanied with steamed rice or rice pilaf and a side salad, such as my recipe for fennel slaw below, they could also be a meal on their own.

If desired, the shrimp cakes could also be turned into sliders, by setting one cake into each of eight small hamburger — slider — buns adorned with sriracha aioli and other toppings, such as lettuce, pickles and thinly sliced tomato.

Shrimp Cakes with Sriracha Aioli

Tender shrimp cakes, crisply coated in panko and fried until golden are served with a zesty, easy-to-make aioli.

Preparation time: 30 minutes, plus chilling time

Cooking time: six to eight minutes

Makes: four servings (two shrimp cakes each)

For the aioli (see Eric’s options)

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1 or 2 tsp sriracha or other smooth hot chili sauce

1 medium garlic clove, minced, or 1/4 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp lemon juice

For the shrimp cakes

375 grams fresh hand-peeled shrimp

2 Tbsp all-purpose flour

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup very thinly sliced green onion

1/4 cup very finely diced red bell pepper

2 tsp lemon juice

• ground white pepper, to taste

3/4 cup panko

3 Tbsp vegetable oil

• lemon slices and parsley sprigs, for garnish

To make aioli, combine its ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

To make shrimp cakes, line two baking sheets with plastic wrap. Place the shrimp on a cutting board and thoroughly pat dry with paper towel. With a large knife, finely chop the shrimp almost to a mince. (Do not leave any large bits of shrimp or the cakes won’t hold together once formed).

Transfer the shrimp to a bowl. Add the flour, mayonnaise, green onion, bell pepper, lemon juice and white pepper and mix well to combine. Place the panko in a wide, shallow dish. Dampen your hands very lightly with cold water and then shape shrimp mixture into eight, about 1/4 cup each, cakes. Set the cakes, not touching, on one of the baking sheets.

Set one of the cakes on the panko. Sprinkle the top and sides of that cake with the panko and then gently form into a coated cake that’s about three inches wide.

Set the coated cake on the clean, second baking sheet. Coat the remaining cakes in this fashion and set on the baking sheet with the first one. Refrigerate the coated shrimp cakes for at least an hour to chill and firm up. They can be made a few hours in advance.

To cook the shrimp cakes, heat the oil in a very large non-stick skillet or griddle set over medium, medium-high heat. Add the shrimp cakes and cook three to four minutes per side, or until golden brown and well heated through.

Set two cakes on each of four plates and dollop some of the sriracha aioli beside them. Garnish with lemon slices and parsley sprigs, and serve.

Eric’s options: If the spicy sriracha aioli does not appeal to you, serve the cakes with another type of sauce, whether homemade or store-bought, such as another type of aioli, tartar sauce or chutney.

Fennel Slaw with

Orange and Cranberry

Licorice-like tasting fennel is thinly sliced and tossed into a tangy/sweet slaw with bits of orange and dried cranberries in it.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: four servings

2 cups very thinly sliced fresh fennel bulb (see Note and Eric’s options)

1 1/2 tsp lemon juice

1 Tbsp + 1 tsp olive oil

1 Tbsp orange juice

1 tsp honey

1/4 tsp ground cumin

• pinch cayenne pepper

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 Tbsp chopped fresh fennel fronds (see Note)

1 medium navel orange peel and pith removed, flesh cut into small cubes (see Eric options)

1/3 cup dried cranberries

1 green onion, very thinly sliced

Place fennel in a bowl and toss with the lemon juice. Add the remaining ingredients and toss to combine. Cover the slaw and refrigerate until ready to serve. It can be made a few hours in advance. Toss it again before serving.

Note: One medium to large fresh fennel bulb should yield the amount of sliced fennel required for this recipe. To prepare it, remove the bottom, centre core of each fennel bulb. Now trim off the tougher, top portion, saving the fronds, the frilly green leaves. Chop enough fronds to get the 1 Tbsp required for the recipe. Save, bag and refrigerate any remaining fronds, if desired, to flavour or garnish another dish. Cut the cleaned fennel bulb, lengthwise, into quarters. Cut each quartered piece, widthwise, into very thin slices with a knife, mandolin or food processor, until you have the amount required for this recipe.

Eric’s option: Instead of a navel orange, you could buy two small to medium mandarin oranges, peel them, separate them into single segments, cut each segment, widthwise, into small pieces, and use them in the slaw. If you’re not fond of fennel, replace it with an equal of amount shredded green cabbage.

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Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.