By Jessica Roy I don't know what spurred it, but the other day I had a "food flashback" to being kid in the kitchen with my mom and her big electric skillet popping with hot oil. The memory was of something that surprised me -- these delicious little salmon patties pan fried crispy brown on both sides.
It was a shocker to me, because I am not a huge fan of the flavor of salmon (gasps all around, I know). While I respect the fish, use it often, and it is one of the most common I have had to prepare during my sushi days, I'm still trying to figure out my favorite preparation. I couldn't get my mom's salmon patties out of my head, so I decided it must be a sign to get working on my own version. Mission accomplished and, according to my taste testers, these Pan Seared Salmon Cakes are a hit.
While I think my mom's version sometimes called for canned flaked salmon, I'm using fresh salmon here that requires poaching the salmon prior to assembling the cakes. Poaching is a cooking technique that submerges the salmon into a flavorful liquid at relatively low temperature just below simmering. The trick is maintaining the temperature of the liquid to 160-180 degrees F, which just means keeping an eye on the burner flame and having a digital thermometer handy. The result is tender, flavorful salmon that is cooked through perfectly and just enough. If you'd like to eliminate the extra step, you can switch to the canned version.
The second half of the recipe is for a chimichurri-style topping. While traditional chimichurri is a South American sauce for grilled meats made of blended herbs, oil, garlic, pepper flakes and lemon, I'm borrowing the term here to convey a similar essence of our garnish. It can also be easily turned into a full scale salad: Simply toss the arugula in a large bowl with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and top with diced roasted red pepper and pistachios. The flavor is a bit more concentrated for the chopped chimichurri as pasted garlic and lemon zest are also called for in the recipe.
Depending on how big or small you make the salmon cakes, these can be great appetizers, or even burgers.
Salmon Cakes with Chimichurri
For the salmon cakes:
3/4 lb. fresh salmon fillets, cut into 3 inch chunks
1 quart veggie stock
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
2 Tbs. soy sauce
1 Tbs. dijon mustard
1 Tbs. honey
1 tsp. hot sauce
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 lemon for zest & juice (use remaining half in chimichurri)
1 cup flour
Salt and pepper, as needed
Olive oil, as needed
Poach the salmon: Warm the veggie stock in a large saucepan over medium heat, until the liquid reaches 170 degrees F (just below a simmer). Reduce the heat of the burner under the pan as necessary to maintain a consistent temperature of 160-180 degrees F while cooking the salmon. Place the salmon chunks into the warm stock, and give a gentle stir so nothing sticks to the bottom. Meanwhile, place 2 cups ice cubes into a large bowl with 2 cups water, and set aside. Cook the salmon for 8-10 minutes, or until center is cooked through. Remove the salmon from the pan, and place immediately into the ice bath to cool for 2 minutes. Finally, place the salmon onto a plate, and pat dry with a paper towel.
Using a cheese grater or zester, grate the shallot into a large mixing bowl. Then, beat the egg into the bowl along with soy sauce, mustard, honey, hot sauce, paprika, and lemon zest & juice. Add the cooled poached salmon to the bowl, and flake apart with a fork until the texture is like that of canned tuna. Add the panko bread crumbs, along with 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper. Mix until thoroughly combined. Allow salmon mixture to sit for 15-20 minutes.
Divide the salmon mixture into 6-8 even portions, and form into patties about 1/2 inch thick. Pour the flour into a flat bottomed dish, and season with 1 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper.
Heat 3 Tbs. olive oil over medium-high heat in a heavy skillet. When the oil is hot, carefully dredge side of the salmon patties in the seasoned flour, and shake off any excess. Working in batches, sear the patties over medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes on each side until browned. Add more olive oil to the pan as necessary between cooking.
Remove the salmon cakes from the pan, and place on a paper towel lined plate to absorb any excess oil. To serve, plate along with a topping of Arugula, Red Pepper & Pistachio Chimichurri.
For Arugula, Red Pepper & Pistachio Chimichurri
2 cups fresh arugula
2 roasted red peppers
1/3 cup shelled pistachios
1/2 lemon for juice and zest
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 clove garlic
Salt & pepper
Using a zester or fine cheese grater, grate the garlic into a small mixing bowl. Add lemon juice, zest, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and whisk until combined.
Finely chop the arugula into roughly 1/4-inch coarse pieces, and place into the bowl along with the dressing. If you're using freshly roasted red peppers, be sure to remove any peel, core and seeds. Finely mince the red pepper, and add it to the arugula. Roughly chop the pistachios, and add them to the bowl. Toss together until coated and arugula leaves are shiny. Season with additional salt and pepper as desired.
Jessica Roy is a specialty chef and caterer, food writer and chef instructor, and owner of Shiso Kitchen in Somerville, where she teaches classes. Follow her at http://blogs.lowellsun.com/yourpersonalchef.