Some food, some drink.
Canned Sockeye Salvation: Salmon Patties with Peas in Dijon Cream Sauce.
"They're known to some as "salmon cakes", or even "salmon burgers", but I grew up eating "salmon patties" and they were as common to evening dinner as any meatloaf or mac and cheese. Nostalgia often has a way of disappointing where food is concerned, and after again tasting recipe I grew up with, I knew that some immediate changes were in order; and in the end, I decided to throw the old recipe out and start from scratch. For this reinterpretation, wild-caught Sockeye salmon is held together with a tangy buttermilk and horseradish-soaked panko that contrasts with a creamy sauce made interesting courtesy of everyone's favorite individually quick-frozen legume.
Say what you want about canned fish; I am a huge fan of canned salmon, specifically that of the red or "Sockeye" variety. It's not that I'd ever turn down a plate of quality sashimi, but as I have relations that live on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula, wild-caught home-canned Sockeye was always available thru the benevolence of my family to the North. Suffice to say, I grew up eating the stuff and I'd still pick it over canned tuna any day of the week, even if it didn't come from my uncle's dip net.
Growing up, the default dish for that home-preserved delicacy was always salmon patties, and they were alway held together with saltine crackers and a couple of eggs. It was fine and all, but the texture wasn't always consistent, and it seemed that there was always a lot of ketchup passed around the table used to rehydrate innards that had apparently been written off as collateral damage in the efforts to attain a golden-brown exterior. Nostalgia is a powerful force where food is concerned, and I'm all for nostalgia as long as I'm not setting myself up for disappointment. What good is a classic family recipe if memories of it become synonymous with mediocrity? Anyhow, I figure there's nothing wrong with being a revisionist if it means living up to culinary expectations.
Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -
The Sauced Peas
For the Salmon -
Stir together red onion, salt, pepper & dill; set aside. In a separate larger bowl, whisk together egg, buttermilk, and horseradish. Stir in panko, and let it rest about 5 minutes to hydrate. Add the seasoned onion, and flaked salmon in with the hydrated panko and mix until integrated. Shape 1/4 cup sized (3 oz) portions into patties. Lay 'em out on a silpat-lined sheet pan and let the patties chill in the freezer for 15-20 minutes (now is a good time to assemble your ingredients the sauce).
When it's time to fry, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat to 350F. Place patties in the skillet 3 or 4 at a time taking care not to crowd the pan. Let brown for 4-5 minutes on each side and remove to a warm oven until your sauce is done and you're ready to serve.
For the Dijon Cream Sauce-
In a small saucepan, melt butter on meduim heat. When the butter starts to to froth, whisk in the flour and then the mustard. Slowly whisk in the milk, and finally the cream. When integrated, add the frozen peas. Reduce the heat to medium low, and heat it back up until the sauce comes back to a bubble and the peas are warm. Adjust the consistency if needed with a splash or two of milk, and season with cayenne and salt to taste before spooning over your salmon.
- So sue me; I ditched the saltines. I don't want to be tasting big ol' bites of uncrushed cracker; I wanna taste the fish. Besides, it's not like panko is some hard-to-find ingredient like it was when canned soup and boxed cake mix ruled the kitchen.
- There's a reason for pre-seasoning the onion. By applying the salt straight to said Allium, we're essentially doing a quick pickle that will cut the sharpness of the fresh cut onion and encourage the development of those sweeter flavors when the patty ultimately hits the pan.
- Speaking of pans, if you don't have cast iron <ahem>, then you better stick to non-stick; however, I will make no guarantees with respect to the quality and quantity of golden brown and delicious that you'll achieve.
- I took a cue from my meatloaf method here and presoaked my breadcrumb in buttermilk. Along with that dose of horseradish, it actually enhances the flavor of the fish, and it assures that the finished product stays moist and furthermore makes for a more consistent texture. There's really no excuse for having to be reminded as to what's binding everything together with every third bite.
- We're not quite in proper crab cake territory here, but I will say that there is just enough binder here to hold it all together after it's been fried. To facilitate transport to the pan, you gotta hedge your bets and give your patties a quick freeze (say about 15-20 minutes) and take each batch out as you're ready to fry. This is all cooked fish here, and ten minutes of skillet time is plenty to assure you folk that have never partaken in spoonfuls of raw cookie dough that the binder is plenty done as well.
- It just so happens that a 2 ounce disher will give you a perfect 3 oz patty if you pack in in there and level it off. Consistent portioning means consistent cook times and makes it easy if you're looking to scale up a recipe.
Fantastic. That's just not a word you expect to associate with fish from a can, but it's true. There's no funky canned fish smell here; and there's enough Maillard goin' on here to satisfy your jonesing for umami as well. That kiss of Dijon in the sauce is the bridge to the hint of horseradish in the salmon; and the sweetness of the peas and red onion alike do well to keep this exercise in pantry provisioning a surprisingly fresh affair.
Fresh ocean fish is a treat out here in land-locked, USA; but with a bit of attention to ingredients and execution, I don't see why canned salmon should have to play second fiddle. Each has its proper application, and I think it's just a matter of letting the ingredient be itself, and working with what you got.