Omero Gallucci is no stranger to creating fishcakes. Usually made with haddock, they're a regular feature in the bistro section of the market-style dining experience at London's Cumberland hotel, where the Compass Group executive development chef heads up the kitchen brigade. When they're on the menu, served with a fresh leaf salad and home-made chunky chips, about 40 portions will be sold throughout the day, but lately far more people dining further afield than the Cumberland have been tucking in to one of Gallucci's fishcakes.
After a cook-off between nine chefs, Gallucci's Salmon and Cod Tartare Fishcake was named the overall winning recipe in the Brakes Seafood Challenge held earlier this year to find seafood recipes that could be manufactured and made available nationally. Besides topping the category of Premiere Fish Cakes, the dish pipped at the post the two other category winners, a Smoked Salmon and
Oriental Crab Roulade by Sanobia Cutino of Richmond Gate hotel, which won the Canapés, Finger Foods and Starters category, and winner of the Battered Fish category, Sea Salt and Malt Vinegar Battered Haddock by Simon Crocker of British Airways. However, Cutino's entry came such a close second that it was also released as a commercial product.
As for Gallucci's fishcake, the judges felt it could easily be translated into a product in Brakes's Premier line because of its high fish content and the texture added by the hand-crushed Charlotte potatoes. "With fishcakes there's often an almost pureéd texture to the filling and they're disappointingly soft and mushy with a very high ratio of potato," says Gallucci. "I wanted to make a fishcake with chunks of fish and potato, rather than the usual ground mixture."
He decided to use the traditional ingredients of salmon and cod but wanted to give them a modern twist with a more chunky texture and the addition of the ingredients for tartar sauce, including capers, gherkins and English mustard. Before settling on the final recipe, Gallucci experimented with a number of ingredients. "I tried adding sun-blushed tomatoes and spring onions, but I didn't like the result," he says. "Sun-blushed tomatoes have a very strong flavour and it's difficult to get the balance right between using enough to get the flavour across and too much so that the flavour of the tomatoes overpowers everything else."
Gallucci was also aware that his product would need to be commercially produced but says it didn't affect his choice of ingredients. "Because I wanted to create a more upmarket product, I concentrated on using quality ingredients," he says.
In fact, Gallucci's original recipe needed only minor tweaks to turn it into a commercial product. The recipe was handed over to Brakes's premium fishcake supplier, Joseph Robertson in Aberdeen, and samples were prepared for the development team.
Apart from the addition of some essential stabilisers and acidity controllers, the portion size was increased from about 100g to 140g, bringing it in line with other meal-centre products, and a breadcrumb covering was replaced by a light flour dusting. "This decision was based on the success of our existing dusted fishcake range," says Susie Barnes, product development manager for Brakes. "It meant the product could be pan-fried, which would enhance its visual appeal even more by giving it a real home-made appearance. Any tweaks were approved by Omero, who was involved throughout the process."
As part of his prize, Gallucci attended the first production run of his fishcake and sampled the product as the end. "I couldn't believe the experience of seeing the product manufactured a dedicated team of people looking after my product," he says. "It was such a buzz."