I remember my mother’s salmon cakes fondly.
This is how her recipe went: Open up a can of salmon. (I mean an old-fashioned can of salmon. The tall can, the type available nationally prior to 2002 or so, when the little bitty cans of Bumble Bee “boneless, skinless” salmon came on the scene. This type of canned salmon includes bones–usually even a stack of vertebrae–and shimmery rubber skin.) Drain it and sort through it to remove the skin and the bones…or not. I seem to recall my mom saying that my grandmother just mashed the bones up into the salmon cakes, for extra calcium. (And, to be fair, having been canned and then having soaked in salmon oil for all those months, they weren’t very bony–not for bones, anyway.) Then crumble up some saltines into the mashed salmon. Add an egg. Form them into little patties and fry them in corn oil.
They tasted pretty good, really. Fishy but not distinctively salmony. Crisp but not overly fried. They were salty and flaky and a little dry, but, dipped in ketchup (!), they were tasty enough.
Let me be clear: Although there was nothing wrong with my momma’s salmon cakes (which, of course, we called “salmon patties”), these are very definitely not those.
For starters, they can be made from any kind of fish you and your family like. The ones in these photos are actually made of trout, which (as I’ve told you before) is virtually indistinguishable from salmon and is available even in my small-town Midwestern grocery store. (They usually label it “Steelhead,” which I think is a technique they use to make you think you’re buying a new, fancy kind of salmon. Sorry, fish guys, but I know how to google!) You could also use a white-fleshed fish, though I’d recommend adding a little extra fat (either from mayonnaise or a drizzle of olive oil) so that they stay moist, if you do.
Another important difference: These begin with raw fish–either fresh or thawed. I know that the idea of pulverizing raw fish may sound a little yucky, but remember that doing so means not having to sort through a can of months-old salmon in search of rubberized bones. That will help you get over it. Also because they begin with raw fish, they don’t need an egg to hold together, so if your family suffers from egg allergies–or egg aversions–these will work for you.
Finally, these are full of flavorful green things and seasonings. So, although they will taste like fresh fish, they will also taste bright and almost vegetal, especially when (in lieu of ketchup), you top them with some southwestern “aioli.”
Southwestern Fish Cakes
1 lb. fresh or thawed fish (trout or salmon, especially; skin removed)
1/2 cups of panko bread crumbs
1 small can of mild green chiles
1 small lime’s juice (about 2 tablespoons)
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
8 or so green onions, chopped
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 tablespoons of Southwest seasoning (You know how I love my Penzey’s, but you can use any old Southwest seasoning blend you have on hand or create your own approximation with cumin, chile powder, garlic powder, salt, and pepper)
olive oil and a bit of butter for pan frying.
1. On a cutting board, chop your green onions (whites and most of the greens) and cilantro. In a small bowl, stir them together with the mayonnaise, drained green chiles, sour cream, and lime juice.
2. Pop the fish, the breadcrumbs, the seasonings, and about a quarter cup of the mayonnaise mixture into the food processor. Pulse it until it’s about the consistency of ground beef.
3. Heat your heavy-bottomed skillet over medium/medium-high and add enough olive oil to cover the bottom. Then add a pat of butter, which will give you a better flavor and a more attractive brown crust.
4. Form your fish mixture into five or six patties. I like to leave them thick because they stay moister that way. I’d like to tell you how thick, but I am absolutely terrible at estimating measurements. This is what they look like when they are first hitting the hot pan:
And then after I’ve flipped them:
Go ahead and brown them for a few minutes on both sides, and they will be cooked through. It doesn’t take long.
5. Serve with the remaining mayonnaise mixture. Alongside a beautiful green salad and some good bread, these fish cakes will make you think that you are eating a light dinner at an understatedly wonderful restaurant that only the locals know about.