We love salmon… period! One indulgent dining out lunch to which we always look forward is a seasonal trek to Skates by the Bay, a local restaurant perched like a seagull on pilings out over the San Francisco Bay in Berkeley. For a very short period of time, mid-May to mid-June only, Copper River salmon is on the menu and it truly is something for salmon lovers to fuss over! The flesh is firm and deep red. The flavor is rich and nutty. Seared on the grill and served with a simple salad and perfectly cooked al dente vegetables… there just cannot be a finer seafood dining experience!
We are fortunate to have a friend who, with his fishing buddies, take their boat out into the Pacific waters outside the Golden Gate when the salmon fishing season is underway. A beautiful fillet or two from the day’s catch always winds up at our front door. A favorite way to prepare it here at home is to gently poach it and serve with a generous ladle of beurre blanc sauce… nothing short of divine!
Since salmon tends to be a bit on the expensive side in the local markets it is something that I usually purchase for special occasions only. However, I recently discovered a local food co-op and, while perusing the meat and seafood cases, was astonished to find an absolutely beautiful three pound fresh half salmon fillet for under ten dollars… total! This has to be a mistake… I thought to myself, as I hurriedly snatched it up and placed it in my shopping basket! As fortune would have it, it wasn’t a mistake and I have purchased salmon there a number of times since that first shopping experience. Each piece is always beautifully fresh. Since fresh salmon now fits into our gocery budget the challenge is to prepare it in interesting new ways. The following recipe for salmon cakes is versatile for many events and occasions, from starring as a delicious main course for lunch, brunch or dinner to a spectacular appetizer to serve your guests to a light late evening supper at home. The beauty of this recipe is that it’s a do ahead! The salmon mixture is formed into 2-oz or 4-oz cakes, dependent upon the way in which you intend to serve them, then frozen on a sheet pan and, when frozen, placed in resealable freezer bags and kept in the freezer until needed. You can then retrieve as many as you need. The beauty of it all is that there is no need to first defrost them… in fact, don’t! These salmon cakes are golden brown and as light and fluffy as a cloud when they come out of the oven…!
Salmon Cakes with Lemon & Fresh Dill
Skin and bone, if necessary:
1 two pound salmon fillet
Chop salmon into coarse pieces (we use a heavy meat cleaver) then place chopped salmon into a large mixing bowl.
4 large, or 5 small, zucchini
Coarsely grate the zucchini into a cotton kitchen towl.
Wrap the towel around the zucchini and tightly squeeze out as much water as possible into the sink.
Add the zucchini to the bowl, as well as:
- 1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced
- 3/4 – 1 C fresh dill, minced (approximately one large bunch, stems excluded)
- grated lemon peel from 2 lemons (we use Meyer lemons picked from the tree in our garden, but any variety will work well)
- 3 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 1/2 rolls of Ritz crackers (approximately 85)
- 2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
Mix well. The ingredients should be well incorporated:
Form into cakes. This recipe will yield approximately 18 4-oz cakes… or 36 2-oz cakes (or a combination of both) perfect for use as an appetizer or a light late night supper! As you form them place on a parchment lined baking sheet or pan that will fit into your freezer. When finished forming the cakes place the pan into your freezing compartment. We do everything up to this point the day before we want to use them so they will have overnight to freeze solidly. Place the frozen cakes into a resealable freezer bag.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Prior to taking the salmon cakes out of the freezer for use, proceed with the following:
- 1 – 2 eggs (depending on the number of cakes being cooked)
- 1 – 2 T heavy whipping cream (milk or half and half if you prefer)
Whisk well together in small bowl and set aside.
- 1 C panko crumbs (or more as required)
Spread panko crumbs evenly into a large flat bottomed pan (a 9 X 13-inch baking pan works perfectly). At this point place a 12-inch heavy skillet (with oven proof handle) over moderately high heat. Add:
- 1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
While the oil is heating, dip each frozen cake into the egg mixture and immediately place into the crumbs, turning quickly to coat. This is important because if you wait too long to drop the cakes into the panko crumbs the egg mixture will freeze, preventing the crumbs from sticking. If this happens simply dip them once again!
At this point the oil should be shimmering in the pan. Quickly place the cakes into the skillet:
Watch them closely! We’re looking for a lightly browned coating on the bottom and this will happen quickly… 30 to 45 seconds, a minute at the most! Turn the cakes over:
Immediately slip the pan into the preheated oven. Bake the larger 4-oz cakes for 25 minutes and the smaller 2-oz cakes for 20 mintues. Remove from the oven. The cakes will be golden and fluffy in appearance… and ready to be enjoyed!
Serve with a bountiful green salad dressed with a simple and easy red wine vinaigrette. Dress the salmon cakes with a generous dollop of Mediterranean Olive & Roasted Red Pepper Sauce… or serve it in a small bowl on the side. Add your personal touches to wow and impress your guests!
Dayton received his classical training at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, showcasing his skills as a fine chef in such venues as Masa’s in San Francisco and Domaine Chandon in Northern California’s Napa Valley. He was inspired by the Mediterranean Sauce Gribiche to create this wonderfully unique and delicious accompaniment.
Mediterranean Mixed Olive & Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
1 red bell pepper, roasted, sliced into strips, then chopped
Chef’s Note: To roast the bell pepper place it over an open flame or under a broiler and char till well blackened, turning as required:
Place charred pepper in a plastic bag, allowing it to steam, then cool, for 20 minutes. Remove from the bag and gently remove the charred skin with a paper towel. This will be easy to do as the result of thorough charring. Don’t yield to the temptation of rinsing under running water as rinsing will wash away the distinctive smokey flavor that is so essential!
3 green onions, finely minced (some green included)
1/2 C mixed pitted Mediterranean olives (we suggest Kalamata & green Mt. Athos), chopped
3/4 C mayonnaise
3 T chili sauce (our preference… HOMADE… delicious!)
1 1/2 T relish ( we recently discovered a spicy chipotle relish which we used in this dressing… it added a delicious tangy touch)
2 hard boiled eggs, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 T minced Italian parsley
1 T capers, drained
1/4 tsp freshly ground white pepper
Mix well. This dressing only improves with age in the fridge!
For an appetizer serve the 2-oz cakes in a chaffer with a generous dollop of the sauce and a dill sprig garnish. The salmon cakes stay wonderfully warmed for your guest’s enjoyment!
Or, serve them on a platter with additional sauce for an indulgent experience for your guests…
The evening has gone by… you’ve been busy as the host and have spent your evening cleaning up the kitchen without having an opportunity to truly sit down and savor the delights of the occasion. Serve up a salad, pour a crisp white wine… and savor the rewards of your efforts by indulging in a light late supper. We recently enjoyed these with a saute of fresh baby bok choy, garlic and lemon… delicious! Bon Appetit!
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