Student Work Wednesday- Featuring Richa Chitgopekar

This week we’re highlighting the work of Gastronomy student Richa Chitgopekar.  Richa completed this recipe recreation project for the Cookbooks and History course taught by Dr. Karen Metheny here at Boston University’s Metropolitan College.

A little about the author:
Richa Chitgopekar is a food enthusiast with a keen taste for cuisines of different regions and communities. Through her food writing, she attempts to bring out the connection between people and food and how people have influenced her love for home cooking. She is that Culinary Luddist trying to find balance.


Thinking of Mrs. Fisher, through her Croquettes

Recreating Mrs. Fisher’s recipe as I add her in my list of people who have been a part of my food memories, she being the most unique.  The heart and soul of the recipe is Mrs. Fisher’s. Just a few details are mine to ease the process for you, not only of making Fish Croquettes but also thinking of Mrs. Fisher every time you make them.


Have you ever wondered if you would enjoy your food as much if you didn’t  have faces associated with it. Of somebody who made it, or served it with a smile. Or anyone else with whom you had the most interesting conversation over a meal. All of this is not deliberate, and most probably all is in the hindsight. The undeliberate aspect in the food was what my memories are made up of.  In the most banal act of everyday cooking, a face comes alive in front of my eyes with each recipe. When I cook recipes that I have seen my mom cooking, I instantly recall her face, her saree, her neatly tied hair and the hurry on her face to finish everything before going to work. When I cook impulsively without rules, it’s the face of my father or uncles thinking and searching something frantically in the kitchen while fearing something on the gas would burn. Then there are numerous aunties, moms of my childhood friends, roadside eatery owners, relatives, in laws and many more who make up these memories. Every dish has a face associated and implicit in the minutest of the instructions.

Over time, these memories are complimented by those of some others whom I don’t know personally and have never tasted the food they made. Cookbooks have intrigued me, as a fad in around 2000s. These cookbooks were from people I had seen on TV, and more than the recipes it was how they thoroughly seem to be enjoying the orchestrated event of cooking on television with their aspirational kitchen . The appearance, the setup, the expressions and the emotions were much away from realities of life, and a pleasant change from the people who almost mechanically did the job every day. There was an urge to be what these Nigella Lawsons were  on the screen, and I  ended up cooking something in that attempt.

Then there are the new age regional food writers who weave stories around food and make it more than a procedural discourse. They talk of the minutest details of the community and the folklores which tell how food is intertwined in their everyday life. The writer, his or her writing style, folklores covered in the book and small but insightful  details nudge us to try a recipe.

Most of the people I mentioned above have been privileged. Privileged to have everything in the kitchen to serve me good food with not much worries in life. Privileged (by the time I knew them) to cook on screen and write about food when they had all the resources. Most of my influencers thus, were privileged and good food was an entitlement and an indulgence both at the same time.

It was hard for me to imagine that there would be cookbook writers who didn’t have it easy in life. Cookbooks written when there were no resources, written by people who did not know to read and write.  These cookbooks celebrate love of food and food as a way of expression of what they are. Through food, which they have spent most of their life doing, in some or the other way. Some spoke of hardships and some didn’t, but they rose over the hardships and documented their already established but not recognized culinary expertise.

The first name that comes to my mind is Mrs. Abby Fisher, whose book What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking (1881) is one of the first cookbooks published by an African American woman. Rafia Zafar in her book Recipes for Respect (2019) mentions about Mrs. Fisher and her book.

“What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking” does not refer to slavery or indenture. Its “complete instructor” gave readers seeking the right way to pickle or to form a croquette only the barest glimpse of the author’s private life. Yet while obliquely delineated, Fisher’s experiences as a black woman shaped her place in American cookery (201923).


As I read through, I could see the expertise that Mrs. Fisher gained after being a sought-after caterer and gaining confidence of many people, which Mrs. Fisher displays in her book through a list of supporters from San Francisco.  From an enslaved cook to an author, her journey isn’t documented in as many words, and as one reads through one gets a vibe of a confident cook and a proud African American, who only uses cooking and nothing else to tell her story.

Such a strong woman had to be a part of my kitchen. Her recipe had to come alive. I zeroed down on Fish Croquettes (1881, 35) for many reasons. Living in a coastal area, I must ‘eat my landscape’.  We are obsessed with meat on bone. We love pulling the leg of our Tandoori Chicken. In coastal areas, we take immense pride in teaching 3 year olds eating a whole fried fish without a single bone getting in their throat.  So rarely a deboned version of fish is used in cooking. Sometimes entertaining asks for novelty in recipes, catering to multiple tastes and a bit of showoff about international food. Learning this recipe served all of these for me.

The origin of the word croquette is French, derived from croquer, meaning ‘to crunch’. Though now, it seems to be a common across the world, known by different names. Webster (2022) defines Croquette as “A small often rounded mass consisting usually of minced meat, fish, or vegetable coated with egg and bread crumbs and deep-fried.” Mrs Fisher has some surprise for us in her recipe

The recipe looked simple enough to make and I could visualize the result would be fancy enough to entertain. It also had very easily available ingredients that hopefully people from any part of the world would be able to find. I have recreated the recipe, without the need to add or substitute any ingredients. I have also given a few substitutes and additions so that you still have a novelty factor, should you wish to make it frequently. The heart and soul of the recipe is Mrs. Fisher’s. Just a few details are mine to ease the process for you, not only for making Fish Croquettes, but also to think of Mrs Fisher every time you make them.

To start, lets see Mrs. Fisher’s recipe for Fish Croquettes

“One pound of boiled fish to one and a half potatoes. Chop a small piece of onion fine and mix with fish. Season with pepper and salt to your taste, Make them out in cakes like other croquettes. Roll them in dry corn meal. Fry in hot fat and send to table. “

The process starts with me landing up in a fish market early in the morning, to pick up the catch of the day. Since Mrs. Fisher didn’t say anything about which fish to be used, I picked up some Mackerel, which is the most commonly used fish for any recipe in this region that requires deboning, such as Fish Cutlets from the East Indian community.

Mrs. Fisher helps us with a separate recipe for boiling the fish

See that the fish is well cleaned. Season with pepper and salt for two hours before putting in boil. Have your boiler with one quart of lukewarm water to receive the fish. Let it remain on quick fire for 20 min. if it is a very large fish, it will take 30 min to cook”

I cleaned the fish and salted the fish for two hours before putting to boil. I have used the fish the same day I bought from the market. In case you are using a frozen one, budget extra time.

The fish I have taken is a local variety of mackerel, which is about 6-8 inches in length. It looks like Mrs. Fisher has used a big fish. The cooking time in each case would vary. Mine was cooked well within 7-8 min of putting in boiling water. It should be flaky but still slightly pink from inside. You know your fish best, so use your experience for the cooking time.

Next allow it to cool and then debone it.

Coming back to the Fish croquette recipe. The recipe says “One pound of boiled fish to one and a half potatoes”.  I don’t have a weighing scale in the kitchen, so I have used 1 cup of boiled deboned fish which I got from 3 mackerels of 6-8 inches each. I couldn’t really make out if it was 1.5 potatoes or 1.5 pounds of potatoes but I am assuming it was 1.5 pounds. To start with I have taken equal quantity of boiled mashed potatoes. 1 cup of deboned fish to 1 cup of boiled mashed potatoes. The recipe asks for a finely chopped piece of onion. I have taken about ½ cup of finely chopped onions. Salt and pepper to taste. This gave me a perfect texture to make the croquettes and the taste of the fish was not overpowered.

Mix all of this well and it should turn out to be of fine texture and be moldable into a patties or a ‘cake’ as Mrs. Fisher suggests. A word of caution. Onion tends to sweat if this mixture is kept for a long time after mixing. So, I would suggest make the cake patties immediately after mixing. I made about 8 cakes from the proportions used above. You can even make it smaller in size for it to be a perfect finger food.

Unlike the general description of Croquette, Mrs. Fisher surprised me by asking to use Cornmeal for the cover. So here comes the pleasant change of replacing the ubiquitous egg wash breadcrumb cover. A cup of cornmeal has been laying in my pantry for long, which I bought from Central India, where my hometown is. This white cornmeal is rare.  Use yellow one if you have that. I am sure both will work fine.

Mrs. Fisher just says fry in hot oil and does not mention deep frying or shallow frying. The more common descriptions of Croquettes call for deep-frying. Since fish is very delicate, I prefer shallow frying for the fear of spluttering.  But if you really want to deep-fry, maybe use some more potatoes for binding. I did not want the flavor of fish to be overpowered by using more potatoes, so shallow frying worked for me. Take a flat surfaced shallow pan. I am guessing any oil or lard should be fine, from the instructions. I used sunflower oil.

I served it with a freshly made dip of green tomato, coriander stems, garlic and green chilies.

Mrs. Fisher’s recipe Reconstructed recipe
Ingredients Fish, Potatoes, Onion, Salt, Pepper, Cornmeal, Oil Same ingredients. Locally available varieties of all ingredients used
Servings Not specified Specified in the recipe card
Measurements Pound and vague Measured by cups
Tools used Not specified Specified in the recipe card




  1. Fisher, Abby., Hess, Karen. What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking: Soups, Pickles, Preserves, Etc: in Facsimile with Historical Notes. United States: Applewood Books, 1995.
  2. Zafar, Rafia. Recipes for Respect: African American Meals and Meaning. Greece: University of Georgia Press, 2019.

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