David Higgs’ childhood fishcakes, just like his mom made them

David Higgs’ childhood fishcakes, just like his mom made them
On a fried kale leaf, David Higgs’ mom Beth Allen’s fish cakes, with parsley mayonnaise and chutney. (Photo: Elsa Young)

When we asked David Higgs to take part in our series in which we give chefs an opportunity to share a special recipe with us, he bowed to his mom, whose fishcakes, he says, were unmatchable.

In salty Walvis Bay, wedged between ocean and desert, a little boy grew up fishing. In his adult life he was to become one of South Africa’s greatest chefs, with a penchant for flame. He worked in Cape restaurants for many years, and ultimately moved to Johannesburg where he fell in love with that City of Gold. 

We tell that story in an accompanying feature, but this story is all about the dish he chose to share with us. Not his own, but his favourite fishcakes, made by his mother, Beth Allen.

“The fishcakes are very reminiscent of my childhood, and very much a story of using everything,” he told us. 

David Higgs. (Photos: Elsa Young)

“What we fished, we ate – nothing was wasted. We used the heads for soup and all the bones were cleaned for fishcakes. It was something that was always our Friday lunch – crispy exterior and a heavy parsley finish inside and with a bit of tartar (or bye-bye sauce as my dad used to say). 

“This dish holds very close memories to me. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to make it as well as my mom made it.”

To accompany the fishcakes, David also shares with us his recipes for parsley purée and “Grandma’s chutney”. These recipes follow the main recipe.

Mom’s fishcakes, chutney, and parsley mayonnaise

My mom always made the most incredible fishcakes loaded with fresh parsley. There were always fishtails and offcuts in the house. Loved these bloody things with tons of “Mrs Ball’s” – a South African favourite.

(Serves 8 first course portions) 


For the fishcakes:

800g Up-To-Date potatoes – 450g cooked weight

1kg sea bass offcuts – 650g cooked weight

6 spring onions – thinly sliced

15g parsley – chopped

2 lemons – the zest

7ml lemon juice

2 egg yolks

5ml hot English mustard

salt and pepper

For the coating:

3 eggs – beaten

100g flour

100g panko crumbs or breadcrumbs (made from bread without crusts)

oil – for deep frying

For the parsley mayonnaise:

220g parsley purée (recipe follows)

1 egg yolk

15ml Dijon mustard

25ml white wine vinegar

115ml olive oil/canola blend

7.5g xanthan gum

For the fried kale leaves:

8 kale leaves

olive oil – for brushing


Line the base of a tray with coarse salt. Prick the potatoes and place on the tray. Bake in the oven at 180°C for 40-60 minutes or until soft – depending on size. Once cooked, peel the potatoes, weigh 450g and while still hot, pass through a tamis – a kitchen utensil that is used as a sieve, food mill and grater. You could also just mash them until smooth.

Remove the skin from the sea bass offcuts and grill until the flesh is white and flaky. Weigh and shred 650g of the fish into a large bowl. Add the potato and remaining ingredients.

Mix to incorporate evenly. Remove 30g of the mixture at a time and roll into balls. You should have 24 balls – 3 per serving.

To batter, place the beaten eggs, flour and crumbs in separate dishes. Coat the fish balls by rolling them in this order – beaten egg, flour, beaten egg and finally, the crumbs. Deep fry the balls at 180°C until they are a deep golden colour.

To make the mayonnaise, add the parsley purée, egg yolks, mustard, and vinegar to a Thermomix jug. Blend on medium speed until combined. In a steady stream, add the olive oil to emulsify. Add the xanthan gum and continue to blend until well incorporated.

Remove the emulsion from the jug and reserve in a piping bag in the fridge until needed.

Wash the kale leaves and pat dry. Brush with olive oil and bake at 180°C until crispy.

Drain excess oil on paper towels.

To assemble, arrange the elements of this dish as per the photo, or as you wish. For each serving, top a fried kale leaf with 3 fishcakes, and add 30g chutney and 15g parsley mayonnaise to the plate.

Parsley purée 

3 litres water

9g rock salt

500g fresh parsley

300g spinach leaves

ice bath

Bring the water and salt to the boil, add the parsley and spinach and blanch for 3 minutes or until the leaves are soft and easily broken when pressed between two fingers. Drain the parsley and spinach and squeeze out as much of the excess water as possible.

Transfer to a Thermomix jug while hot, and blend on high until a smooth purée forms. Chill in an ice bath.

Grandma’s chutney

(Makes about 350g)

50g dried peaches – roughly chopped

25g dried apricots – roughly chopped

200ml brown vinegar

30g red onion – diced

140g sugar

7.5g salt

4g cayenne pepper

3g chopped chilli

Place the peaches, apricots, brown vinegar and diced red onion in a pot over low heat covered with a cartouche (paper or silicone lid). Simmer until the fruit is soft.

Add the remaining ingredients to the pot and cook over medium heat until a chutney consistency forms.

If you don’t feel like making chutney – simply use “Mrs Ball’s”– a South African favourite! DM


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