In Which I Move Across the Country and Make Salmon Cakes
As it stands now, Can Do Kitchen has no kitchen at all. I packed up my little horseshoe of a cook-space back in Portland, loaded it all into a trailer, hopped in a big red truck with DG and the kitty, and hauled it across This Great Nation. Discoveries of the journey include: Utah is beautiful! You can get a decent bagel in Laramie, Wyoming. Nebraska? Actually sort of hilly. Delicious BBQ joint on Main Street, Wyanet, Illinois. Everywhere you look: corn, corn, corn. Endless rolling acres of corn.
After a remarkably brief hunt for a new place to settle down in our new city, we have signed a lease on a new place with a big, beautiful, yellow kitchen with a brand new gas range, a built-in butcher block, and a magical machine that cleans your dishes for you! There’s a wide yard to the side where I will plant and grow tasty things, and an old apple tree that may bear us some excellent fruit. We move in this weekend, and then the unpacking marathon begins. It’s been a long haul without my cast-iron babies and my blue-rimmed white plates. I’ll canoodle with them soon enough.
In the meantime, there hasn’t been a lot of opportunity for me to cook, let alone pen and share recipes, but I was able to elbow in one night at the camp in New Hampshire and take over the cramped cooking quarters to cook up a mess of salmon cakes. The previous night, we had grilled a beautiful fillet of Alaskan salmon, and it was just begging to be repurposed for a second meal. Rather than the usual re-heat and eat, I decided that I wanted to spice things up with these beauties. All of the ingredients herein are everyday items that you would have around the fridge or pantry, and the measurements are but a guide to proportions. As with all CDK recipes, I encourage you to add your own flair. Cayenne! Horseradish! Pine nuts! Red peppers! You are the master.
Attribution: This recipe was built from the foundation of one passed to me by my now-former downstairs neighbor in Portland (*le sigh*), a cooking enthusiast, and dear friend of many years. (Pause for personal shout out — I miss you, Miss J!)
Last but not least, please excuse the quality of photography in this post. I wasn’t working with the best equipment.
Salmon Cakes with Dijon Caper Sauce
2 c cooked salmon (I’m partial to Pacific Northwest salmon, but this recipe would work with any cooked salmon, even canned)
1/3 c breadcrumbs (or smashed up crackers)
1/4 c minced onion
2 T chopped fresh parsley
1 T mayo
1 t dijon mustard
dried or fresh dill
pinches and sprinklings of desired seasonings
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
salt & pepper
canola or peanut oil for frying
1/3 to 1/2 cup mayo
2 T dijon mustard
fresh lemon juice from one quarter of a lemon
1 T capers with juice
salt and pepper to taste
shallow, heavy-bottomed skillet or pan (I use a 12-inch cast iron)
Prep work: mince your onion (about one half of a smallish onion) and chop your parsley.
In a medium-large bowl, crumble up your cooked salmon into small chunks. Make a well in the middle of the salmon pile, and add the remainder of the ingredients to the bowl: breadcrumbs, eggs, onion, parsley, mayo, mustard, dill, seasonings, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Wash your hands, roll up your sleeves, and mash all of the ingredients together with your hands, until you have a well-blended mass with no big chunks or pockets of ingredients.
At this point, if the ingredients are not sticking together, you need to add more liquid (try a dribble of water, lemon juice, mayo, or even another egg if the problem is serious). If the ingredients are too mushy and don’t hold a ball shape, you need more filler (more breadcrumbs or smashed crackers). In either case, make your additions in small quantities and mix between additions to make sure you don’t over-correct!
Put the bowl aside (in the fridge if raw things make you nervous) to let the ingredients meld for a few minutes while you make the sauce.
In a small bowl, combine all sauce ingredients: mayo, dijon mustard, lemon juice, capers, caper juice, salt, pepper, and anything else you fancy. That was easy! Set aside until your cakes are fried and ready to eat.
In a shallow, heavy-bottomed pan (I use cast iron), pour in oil to a depth of about one quarter inch and heat on medium-high heat.* (Please see note at bottom for more info on heating the oil and testing its readiness.)
While the oil is heating:
Set out a clean plate on which you will place your shaped salmon cakes before cooking them. Form the mixture into balls the size of a baseball (~ three inches in diameter, for non-sports folks), about one-third of a cup per cake. (If you want them bigger or smaller, feel free to experiment, just know that making them too big sometime makes them hard to manipulate while you’re cooking them, so they’re more likely to fall apart.) Place each ball on a plate, being careful to leave some space between them so they don’t become conjoined salmon cake-balls.
Once the oil has reached the proper frying temperature, turn the heat down a notch just so that the oil can maintain its temp without getting much hotter.
Carefully place a few balls into the oil one at a time, making sure they have plenty of space between them. (I generally cook three at once in my 12-inch skillet.) Gently flatten each ball with the back of a spatula to your desired thickness, and then allow to fry (don’t stir or mess around with the cakes) until golden on the first side, 3 to 5 minutes. Gingerly turn each cake so that the oil doesn’t splatter you and the cakes keep their shape, and fry on the second side for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove each cake and allow to drain — I put a paper bag on a cookie tray and put the cakes directly on the paper. A plate covered with paper towels works, too.
Serve the cakes with the sauce drizzled over or on the side. Masterpiece!
* Note on heating oil: Keep an eye on the oil to make sure it does not heat up too fast. You want it to be shimmering and heated all the way through, but not so hot that it smokes or spits. Use your best judgment if you think that the heat is too low or high — these levels can vary wildly from stove to stove. I find that medium-high works best on my stove. If you want to test to make sure it’s ready, make a teeny-tiny salmon ball (pea-sized) and gently place it in the oil. If the oil is ready, it will react with bubbling and audible frying noises. Anything less than that reaction that means the oil is still too cool (which makes fried food absorb too much oil and the end product is heavy and greasy), while anything more dramatic like spitting, popping, or smoking means the oil is too hot (which is just plain dangerous, and can also mess with the chemistry of the oil, and thus, its nutritional value).
Ways to Get Fancy:
- After frying, put a slice of cheese on top, broil briefly, and serve on a toasted bun for a flaming delicious salmon-cheese burger.
- Get ethnic. Add curry powder for Indian flair and serve with chutney. Add a few corn kernels, a minced jalapeno, and a dash of cumin to send your salmon south of the border. The globe is yours to explore!
- Don’t have salmon, or don’t like it? Try another fish, like tuna or crab.