The other day I was chatting with my sister Donna on the phone. Somehow we started talking about the foods of our childhood. One of the things my mom made was a dish called Salmon and Peas. The chunks of salmon were prepared in a white sauce accompanied by fresh, frozen, or canned peas that were added to the creamy concoction. She served it over mashed potatoes but I’ve served it over pasta, and it’s equally delicious. I always thought it was a Portuguese dish, but none of my Portuguese friends have heard of it. That part of our recollection must have been a bit of family folklore.
Soon we were talking about another tradition! As soon as they opened for the season, my dad would bring us to this little seafood shack in Millis, Mass. The entire family would all pile into our old Ford station wagon, looking forward to this annual outing. We’d sit at a picnic table waiting for him to bring us buckets of tender fried clams or scallops. I made sure he asked for loads of their tangy tartar sauce. My sisters would give me the bellies to their clams. I would eat them with glee, so happy they didn’t like this savory morsel.
My family ate a lot of seafood back then—so many types of fish too: salmon, haddock, cod, flounder, catfish, and steelhead trout were just a few of the kinds of fish my mom served regularly. She’d make large pots of New England clam chowder to feed our large family. Sometimes I thought we ate too much fish and seafood. As we traveled to Canada one summer, I complained, “Are we having lobster again?” (As I’m writing this I have sufficiently chastised my seven-year-old self for asking such a question.)
When I got off the phone with Donna, I was suddenly in the mood for salmon but only had canned salmon on hand. That brought to mind the salmon cakes which can be made with either fresh or canned salmon. They’re similar to crab cakes, but you don’t need to secure a second mortgage to make them. There are plenty of variations to how they’re prepared as well. I like them with red pepper and some minced onions. I leave those out if I’m making them for a family dinner, since my daughter won’t touch anything that has onions. You can use panko or regular bread crumbs if you prefer. The two ingredients that are key to making them consistently marvelous is the use of Old Bay Seasoning and just the tiniest dash of Tabasco Sauce.
Another thing that is wonderful about salmon cakes is that they’re easy and quick to make. If I’m serving this for myself and my kids, I double the recipe. If you’re looking to cut down on calories, instead of frying them, you can bake them in a cupcake tin. Make sure to use a cupcake liner, so they don’t stick to the tin. I use this method to make appetizer size portions, because sometimes the fried version can fall apart. This method also presents a more uniform size and are perfect for parties.
If you’re not a fan of red or green peppers, you can use celery, parsley, scallions, or even capers. This is a flexible dish, and one that can be customized to your individual tastes. I like mine with a bit of lemon juice, but a tangy tartar sauce is delicious too!
- 1 6 oz can of skinless and boneless wild salmon
- 1 teaspoon of Old Bay seasoning
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise
- ½ cup of bread crumbs
- dash of Tabasco sauce
- ½ of a small red or green pepper finely chopped substitute celery if desired
- 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh chives
- Olive oil for frying
- In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together until fully combined.
- Divide into 4-6 disc-shaped patties.
- Set aside. Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat.
- Add the salmon cakes and fry for three to four minutes on each side.
- Place on paper towels to absorb excess oil.
- Keep them warm in a preheated 250 degree until ready to serve.