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Smoked Coley Croquettes With Romesco Sauce.

By colm
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Smoked Coley Croquettes – A golden crispy fried herbed fish finger. Infused with smoky applewood cheese and spring onion served with a spicy romesco dipping sauce.

When it’s pulled from the ocean, coley is a majestic looking fish. 

With a deep blue colour and a long white stripe that runs from just behind its head, all along its body, right to its beautifully forked tail, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a popular fish that we eat a lot.

However, nothing could be further from the truth, and with coley, it’s a case of beauty only being skin deep.

Because once you cut into the fish and remove the fillets, you’ll be disappointed to find a pale grey flesh with a weird blue tinge that looks a little unpleasant.

So it’s little wonder that you never see it on the fishmonger’s slab next to a beautiful pearly white fillet of cod or haddock. Because it would just be left there, like the fat kid at school who never gets picked for the football team.

We’re missing a trick because coley is a great tasting fish with a sweet flavour very similar to other members of the cod family. 

Its texture is firm, it’s got a nice flake, and as it cooks, it lightens up a couple of shades, becoming a bit whiter.

But perhaps best of all, coley is cheap as chips and sustainable. 

These days it’s often smoked and dyed (and it’s how we’ll be using it here). It’s a great way to hide its dull-looking flesh underneath a bright yellow exterior.

smoked fish croquettes

Back in the day, smoking fish was one of the few ways to preserve it for any length of time, with the added benefit that fish like cod, haddock, and coley, we’re left with a beautiful golden hue after the long drawn out curing and smoking process.

They only started adding dye into the mix during the 2nd world war as they wanted to reduce the smoke time and stop sending signals up to German bombers saying drop one here while keeping the fish looking the same.

This sounds a bit fishy to me as there probably weren’t too many boats out trawling during the war, and most seafood would have been scarce at the time. 

A far more reasonable explanation is that dyed fish is cheaper and quicker to produce, you don’t need to burn as much wood, the fish doesn’t lose as much moisture, so there’s less weight loss and more profit. 

These days, consumers expect certain smoked fish to have this bright yellow tint, and the reduced smoke time gives a more mellow flavour that’s more suited to the modern pallet.

And while fish like coley and herring/kippers might benefit from a bit of dye in the looks department, there’s no need for it, especially with cod and haddock, as it adds nothing flavour wise or nutritionally.

But if you’re a curious cook like me, you might be wondering…..

Just what is that yellow dye in smoked fish?

Well, it’s called annatto (aka E160B), and it’s completely natural, derived from the seeds of the achiote tree that’s native to tropical parts of Mexico and Brazil.

It has a slight peppery taste, but it’s such a powerful colouring and is used in such small amounts that you’d never detect it on your tongue. 

You’ll find annatto not only in smoked fish but a whole host of other foods, including butter, margarine, cheese, and processed meats.

And for this recipe, we’ll be cooking our annatto dyed smoked coley in milk the same way as if you were making a fish pie.

Why You should Poach Your Fish In Milk

Poaching fish in milk is a classic method, and it’s the reason everyone loves clam chowder.

Milk has a high-fat content of around 3.5% that makes it great at absorbing other flavours. 

poaching smoked coley in milk

So any aromatics you put in there like garlic, spices or herbs get drawn into milk (and any fish your poaching in it) quickly, leaving you with an intensely seasoned, creamy and delicious liquor. 

And smoked fish works particularly well because it imparts a lot of its pungent savoriness back into the milk, leaving you with an aromatic broth with which to make your sauce.

And this is exactly what we’ll be doing for this recipe in the form of a classic bechamel thickened with a flour-based roux.

So this isn’t one for all the coeliacs out there though you could thicken your sauce with cornflour and use a different coating on the finished croquettes.

If you knock up this recipe, you’ll probably be surprised at just how thick this sauce is. And that’s because it has to hold together all those beautiful smokey and aromatic ingredients that get folded back through it before you fry up your croquettes.

And for the best results, make sure you chill the fish mix down before shaping, coating and frying the croquettes.

Finally, this dish wouldn’t be complete without something to dip those beautiful crispy croquettes into.

And although salse Verde, garlic mayo and saffron aioli were all candidates, we went with classic Spanish tomato-based romesco. It works wonderfully well in this dish, its slight spiciness cutting through the sweetness of the smokey fish.

Romesco sauce

Will you give some smoked coley a go?

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Smoked Coley Croquettes With Romesco Sauce

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  • Author: colm
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • plus 2 hours chilling:
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 2 hours 40 minutes
  • Yield: serves 4
  • Category: sustainable seafood recipes


For The croquettes

  • 400g / 14 oz smoked coley cut into chunks.

  • 250ml / 2 cups of milk.

  • 1 bay leaf.

  • 100g / 3 1/2 oz butter.

  • 100g / 3 1/2 oz flour.

  • Zest of 1 lemon.

  • 1 bunch of shredded spring onions.

  • 75 g / 3 oz of grated smoked applewood cheese.

  • 25g /1 oz chopped chives.

To coat

  • 100g / 3 1/2 oz flour.

  • 2 eggs beaten.

  • 100 g / 3 1/2 oz panko breadcrumbs.

For the Romesco sauce

  • 200g / 7oz roasted red peppers.

  • 65g / 2 1/4 oz roasted almonds

  • 200g / 7oz of sun-dried tomatoes.

  • 3 peeled cloves of garlic,

  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika

  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

To cook the croquettes.

  • Vegetable oil for deep frying


  1. Place the coley in a wide-bottomed pan. Add in the bay and milk. Bring to the boil and cook the fish gently for about 5 minutes.

  2. Lift the fish from the milk with a slotted spoon and drain well.

  3. Next, melt the butter in a pan, add the flour to form a roux, and cook for 2 minutes on low heat. 

  4. Slowly add the milk with which you poached the fish into the roux, beating well to make sure there are no lumps, and bring the sauce to the boil to make a really thick bechamel.

  5. Remove from the heat and flake in the smoked coley along with the lemon zest, spring onions, smoked applewood, and chives.

  6. Allow the mix to cool entirely, then form into 12 barrel-shaped croquettes, each 3 inches long.

  7. To coat, dip each croquet in flour, followed by beaten egg and finally breadcrumbs.

  8. Repeat the process by dipping the croquettes back in the egg and breadcrumbs for an extra crispy result. Then refrigerate for about an hour.

  9. To make the romesco sauce, place the roasted almonds and garlic in a food processor and blitz for 1 minute.

  10. Then add the roasted peppers, sundried tomatoes, and blitz until a smooth paste.

  11. With the blender still running slowly, trickle in the olive oil and vinegar till you have a thick glossy sauce.

  12. Finish the sauce by adding in the cayenne, smoked paprika and seasoning to taste

  13. To cook the croquettes. Preheat the oil in a deep fryer till it reaches 180c / 350f. Then fry the croquettes in batches for 5 or 6 minutes till golden and crunchy.

  14. Drain well, then serve with the romesco sauce and a tossed salad.

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