The term “fish slice” refers to three different items. One is a slice from an Asian-style fishcake that is in the shape of a flattened log. A second is literally a slice of fish meat, like a fish fillet. The third term is a British name for a wide, flat, slotted spatula. The context of the sentence or conversation makes it simple to distinguish between the food and utensil meanings, but can be easy confuse the two food meanings.
Asian-style fishcakes are made of mashed-up fish, and some varieties contain other ingredients like minced or shredded vegetables. These are not the same as the fishcakes prevalent in British and American diets. Those fishcakes contain shredded fish, vegetables and bread crumbs held together with beaten egg and either pan-fried or baked. The fish in an Asian-style fishcake is mashed into a fine meal and pressed into different shapes — fish slices come from a flat log or brick-like shape. Fish slices are often used in soups and stir-fries.
Cooks trying out Asian-style recipes that call for fish slices should make sure they know whether the fish slice in question is the Asian-fishcake type or a simple slice of regular fish. Professionally published cookbooks generally will note the type of fish if it is not supposed to be the fishcake type. Hand-me-down recipes from family and friends, though, are a much different matter because not everyone realizes that the two terms could confuse someone new to the cuisine.
The British cooking utensil known as a fish slice is also called a spatula, pancake turner, Pelton spatula or slotted turner. It originally got its name from the fact that it was flat enough to lift pieces of food, such as fish, that could quickly pull apart and disintegrate. The utensil has become an all-around turner, and it’s not unusual to see recipe instructions that ask cooks to flip over a pancake with a fish slice. The wide part with the slots is thin but sturdy, allowing it to slip under the fish or other food without breaking it apart. The turner portion may be metal, silicone or another heat-resistant material, but the long handle does not have to be of the same material.
As gentle as the fish slice can be with food, cooks must still be careful when sliding the fish slice under the food if the pan has a nonstick surface. Metal fish slice blades can scratch the surface of the pan, especially if the food is stuck, which is possible even with a nonstick coating. The extra force and pressure required to get the fish slice blade underneath the food without tearing it in half increases the risk of ruining the pan. For this reason, cooks should be careful to use fish slices made from materials that are safe to use with nonstick pans.