I was sitting at a riverside table at Montgomery Inn Boathouse in Cincinnati, Ohio, the first time I ate seafood I liked. Now, Montgomery Inn is known for its finger-lickin’-good ribs, so I wasn’t expecting much when we ordered the Maryland Crab Cake as an appetizer. But when I bit into the perfectly golden, crispy cake, with its sweet crab filling and chili dipping sauce, I was sold on crab from that moment on.
Granted, now I enjoy crab in all its forms, but sometimes you just need to try unfamiliar items when they’re golden brown and delicious. For instance, last night at The Purple Pig in downtown Chicago, Doug and I got my sister Annie to try Fried Pig’s Ear with Crispy Kale, Pickled Cherry Peppers, & Fried Egg. While Annie was nervous, I knew the deep-fried pig’s ear would be the best way for us all to try an ingredient we might never try otherwise. And, what to do you know? We all loved it. (We also got Annie to try Roasted Bone Marrow on toast, but since that’s not fried, it’s a whole other story. Yum!)
So, the moral of the story is that golden-brown crispy food can make even the most squeamish eaters try unusual ingredients. But sometimes it’s not the unusual ingredients that make us nervous; it’s the most mundane ones. In my case, that ingredient is salmon.
I’d been staring at a bag of frozen salmon filets in my freezer for months before I finally broke down and decided to make something with them. Salmon isn’t my favorite fish, but I knew I needed to start eating more of it for its health benefits, and I’d had a recipe for Salmon Cakes from Ina Garten in my files for quite some time. Ironically, my girl Jessica over at Dishin’ About Nutrition made her own version of these salmon cakes the day before I did. Sometimes I really think us food bloggers all think alike!
To keep these healthier, I don’t deep-fry them, but I do pan-fry them in a decent amount of oil. It’s important to coat the entire bottom of the skillet with oil so that the cakes can crisp up evenly. These cakes are chock-full of vegetables and shredded salmon, but I like to serve them with more veggies and potato wedges to round out the meal.
I have to say, I love eating salmon like this. The salmon blends in with the peppers and corn, and I don’t mind the slightly fishy taste at all. Of course, you can always make a sweet or spicy dipping sauce for dip lovers or those who like to mask the taste of the fish even more with a nice sauce. Either way, I’m adding this recipe to my permanent file.
This recipe, adapted from Ina Garten, serves 5 to 6, although I bet small appetizer portions would be fun for a dinner party. Make sure to start this recipe an hour or two ahead of time because the salmon and filling both need to be cooled before combining them. I’ve found that these salmon cakes freeze well; put the uncooked cakes on a parchment-lined sheet tray in the freezer, and then move them to a plastic bag once they’ve frozen through completely. Defrost in the fridge the morning or night before you plan to use them. I serve the cakes with a spicy aioli made by combining mayo with some Louisiana hot sauce. Click here to download a printable PDF copy of this recipe.
1/2 pounds fresh salmon
Good olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ cup small-diced red onion (1 small onion)
1½ cups small-diced celery (4 stalks)
½ cup small-diced red bell pepper (1 small pepper)
½ cup small-diced yellow bell pepper (1 small pepper)
¼ cup fresh or frozen corn, thawed
¼ cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon capers, drained
¼ teaspoon hot sauce (recommended: Tabasco)
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1½ teaspoons crab boil seasoning (recommended: Old Bay)
3 slices stale bread, crusts removed
½ cup good mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
Cook salmon. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Place the salmon on a sheet pan, skin side down. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes, until just cooked. Remove from the oven and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Allow to rest for 10 minutes, then refrigerate until cold.
Make cake filling. Meanwhile, place 2 tablespoons of the butter, 2 tablespoons olive oil, the onion, celery, red and yellow bell peppers, corn, parsley, capers, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, crab boil seasoning, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat and cook until the vegetables are soft, approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Cool to room temperature.
Make breadcrumbs. Break the bread slices in pieces and process the bread in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. You should have about 1 cup of breadcrumbs. Place the breadcrumbs on a sheet pan and toast in the oven for 5 minutes until lightly browned, tossing occasionally.
Form cakes. Flake the chilled salmon into a large bowl. Add the breadcrumbs, mayonnaise, mustard, and eggs. Add the vegetable mixture and mix well. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Shape into 10 (2½- to 3-ounce) cakes.
Pan-fry the salmon cakes. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. In batches, add the salmon cakes and fry for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until browned. Drain on paper towels; keep them warm in a preheated 250˚F oven and serve hot.