Sunday, September 20, 2009

Salmon Patties for under $5

Let's talk about salmon.

Mostly because it's autumn, and since I've moved to the Pacific NW I can't get enough of the stuff. I love salmon. I love to watch them in streams, at the hatchery in the park, on YouTube videos, and down at Pike's Market where the Flying Fish market guys heave them through the air for each other to catch.

And speaking of the fish market, my local fish place, VIS Seafoods, has been running some pretty terrific deals on fresh-caught salmon—but they smoke their own salmon, and they even can their own salmon, as well. If you use a 14.5 ounce can of salmon, one medium egg, a crushed up stack of saltine crackers (you can use the blender for this), and half a small onion, you'll get four smallish salmon patties for about $1.25 each.

Salmon patties were a once-in-a-while treat, when I was a child. There aren't a lot of opportunities for affordable fresh salmon in eastern Montana when you're a rancher raising a bunch of kids; so if we ate fish, generally that meant it was canned or—on rare special occasion—smoked.

Basic salmon patties are one of those absolutely simple recipes that you can tinker with for endless variations, according to your favorite flavor combinations. It's also something that, if you're just learning to cook (and so many youngish people I talk to are doing just that) it's dead easy to try, and hard to screw up too badly.

So you start with cooked salmon, either canned or leftover cooked. (A typical can of salmon, for our purposes, means the 14.5 ounce size.) Flake the salmon with a fork, and be careful to remove any bones. I remove any skin, too, mostly because it grosses me out. It's supposedly hugely nutritious, though. I don't know. It grosses my cat out, too, so it goes into the compost. Outside.
If you're using canned salmon, drain the water and set it aside—if your salmon-patty mixture is too dry, you can add a bit of the water back into the mixture, as needed. I usually go with a couple of tablespoons of mayo, instead of the water, though. Less of a "fishy" flavor, that way.

You'll also need a couple of eggs, and about a half-cup of either bread crumbs, cracker meal, or even yellow cornmeal, depending on your own preference. If you use cornmeal, you'll want to cut that proportion to about a third of a cup.

To that basic mixture, you can add a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice, a half-cup or so of finely chopped onion, and a couple of tablespoons of green pepper, chopped fresh dill, parsley, rosemary or your other favorite herbs and flavors. You can (and should) try some variations, like caramelizing the onion before adding it to your basic salmon-patty mixture.

A pinch of sea salt, a couple of grinds of fresh black pepper, or even a sprinkle of cayenne, if you like a little zing in your food, and you're ready to form patties and place into a heavy skillet with about a quarter of an inch of olive or vegetable oil. If you use olive oil, take care not to let the oil get quite hot enough to smoke. Cook the patties, carefully turning them once, until both sides are nicely browned.

You can serve your salmon patties as simply or as elaborately as you desire. Simple lemon wedges, seafood sauce, tartar sauce, are all favorite accompanying condiments. They're delicious on a toasted bun, with a little shredded lettuce, tomato, and a paper-thin slice of onion, topped with tartar sauce. If you feel like something more elaborate, how about plating the patties onto a simple bed of field greens with dried berries, and a dollop of chilled dill mayonnaise or remoulade?

You can use the same basic recipe for crab cakes, by the way, swapping out lump crab meat for the salmon in the recipe. Go forth, have fun, eat fish!

There are lots and lots of recipes on the web, if you're uncomfortable without exact measurements for a starting place.