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Salmon Cakes with Lemon and Dill

3 Apr

The weather around here has been, in a word, taxing.  Forgive me for being so dull as to insist on talking about the weather, but hear me out on this.  Last week we woke up to a couple of inches of snow on the ground (on the day before spring break started, no less), but then, as the day wore on and the snow quickly melted, the sun came out and rewarded us with a lovely, mild spring day.  The weekend was once again warm and sunny, but then the official start of spring break week brought us torrential rain and strong winds.  Right now I have three different coats sitting by the front door because, depending on the time of day, I never know which one the weather will call for (pea coat, rain coat, or light cotton jacket?).

The other unexpected product of this confusing weather pattern is the fact that I can’t figure out what I want to eat.  Is it cold and rainy, meaning I am craving pasta and soup?  Or is it sunny and breezy, which makes me want to eat light meals of crostini and salad?  Sometimes, on a day like last week’s snow-sun barrage, I feel like eating all of those foods, but, unless someone adds a few more work hours into the day, I see little chance of me being able to churn out several different meals at once, just to satisfy my inconsistent cravings.

The good news about the bad weather is that, when confused about what to eat, I tend to come up with something like these salmon cakes.  Forging a bond between the light and hearty, I think I have officially created my favorite light, yet substantial, meal.  Freshened up with the zing of lemon zest, crisp bits of red bell pepper, and familiar flavors of onion and garlic, these salmon cakes make easy friends with meals both fresh and comforting.  You can pair them up with a salad, a big bowl of soft polenta, or that mother of all comfort foods, creamy mashed potatoes.  Truth be told, I’d even love to see these tucked inside a crisp ciabatta roll, a fresh squeeze of lemon on top, and a huge slice of tomato underneath.  Weather permitting, I might give that very combination a try this summer when picnic weather hits.  As of now, with the snow and wind and rain, that seems a long way off, but with these salmon cakes in my repertoire, I think I might just be able to stomach the wait.

Salmon Cakes with Lemon and Dill Recipe

1 ¼ to 1 ½ pounds of fresh salmon, pin bones and skin removed

2 large cloves of garlic, finely minced

2 scallions, finely minced

¼ cup finely chopped onion

1 small or ½ of 1 large red, orange, or yellow bell pepper, finely chopped

finely minced or grated zest of 1 whole lemon (at least 1 teaspoon total)

¼ teaspoon dried dill

salt and pepper

1 to 2 cups panko bread crumbs

olive oil

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the salmon half a dozen times until it is well chopped, but not so minced that it has become a paste.  Remove salmon to a large bowl.  Add garlic, scallions, onion, bell pepper, lemon zest, dill, and salt and pepper to taste.  Stir to combine.

In a large skillet set over medium heat, heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan.

Place panko on a plate next to the stove.

Using your hands, form salmon mixture into your desired size salmon cake (I prefer a smallish cake about 2 tablespoons large, but you can certainly make each cake larger).  Dredge each cake in panko on both sides, then cook in the heated olive oil, being careful never to crown the pan, until the cakes are golden brown on both sides, about 2 to 3 minutes per side.

I got about 14 salmon cakes out of this recipe, but your results will vary depending on the size you make your cakes.

Cod and Leek Chowder

9 Jan

Last year, my son took up an interest in soup.  It was a sudden conversion, as previously, the mere mention of soup would instill a look of panic in my son’s eyes as he shook his head and whispered, “I don’t like it.”  Mention to him that he had not yet eaten soup before, ever, in his entire life, and the battle would come to a standstill.  In fact, my son would just leave the room at that point, leaving whoever was trying to foist soup upon him (most likely me) alone and slightly bewildered.

But then, for reasons that remain a mystery, my son requested that we make chicken soup.  Repeated queries followed, designed to make sure that what he thought was soup was, in fact, actually soup (he was four at the time, so one never knows), and then one day, armed with a chicken and a copy of Joy of Cooking, my husband and son made some chicken soup.  And then the doors opened, soup flowing every which way.  My son became obsessed with chicken soup.  When you asked him what he wanted for dinner, he would yell enthusiastically, “CHICKEN SOUP!”  When he got excited about something, he would inexplicably jump up and down and say, “Chicken soup!”  If he made his stuffed animals talk to one another, the conversion would go something like this, “Uh, do you like chicken soup?”  “Chicken soup!”  “Yay!  Chicken soup!”

So, yeah.  It got a little weird.  I don’t know if it was because of the Great Chicken Soup Situation of 2011, but after a few months of hearing about chicken soup all day every day, I sort of started to loathe soup.  Much like the well thought out entries on Lake Superior State University’s List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse, and General Uselessness the word soup had entered a place far out of my favor.

Leave it to the cold of winter, however, to give a person a change of heart.  Deeply entrenched in the soggy, dark months of the season, it soon became clear that soup was once again going to have to make an appearance on our table.  Steaming hot, slowly simmered, and studded with chunks of flaky fish and soft potatoes, this chowder was a welcome return to the world of soup.  It no doubt helped that I made this soup with cod, my son’s favorite fish, but after my son’s first few bites, he looked at me and said, mouth full of potato, “Mama, this is delicious.”  This is, I suppose, the difference between age four and age five.  Where four gives you a loud and manic parade that pops up without warning at every hour of the day, five gives you a mellow nod of recognition, like Farmer Hoggett praising Babe with perfectly toned affirmation.

Cod and Leek Chowder

I am not a big believer in adding copious amounts of cream and butter to all chowders.  Most of the time, I think the heaviness of the cream masks the taste of everything else in the soup, muddling what should be an otherwise nice experience.  This chowder, while plenty hearty, errs on the side of light when it comes to excessive fat.  Don’t stone me, but I don’t even use real bacon when I make it—I use turkey bacon, and it tastes wonderful, smoky, and delicious.

1 piece of bacon, finely chopped (pork or turkey are both fine)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 large carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped

2 large celery sticks, peeled of any tough strings and coarsely chopped

1 large leek, green part removed and white part chopped in a ¼-inch dice

1 pound Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed and chopped into ½-inch cubes

2 quarts water

1 bay leaf

salt and pepper

2 cups milk

¼ cup heavy cream

1 pound cod fillets, chopped into 1-inch chunks

In a large stock pot or soup pot, sauté the chopped bacon over medium low heat until it is crisp.  Remove from pot and reserve to the side.  Add the butter to the pot, and allow to melt.  Add carrots, celery, leek, and potato to melted butter, and stir to evenly coat all the vegetables.  Add the crisped bacon back into the pot and stir to combine.  Cover the pot, reduce heat to low, and simmer vegetables for 20 minutes, stirring frequently.

After 20 minutes, add water, bay leaf, and salt and pepper to taste.  Increase heat to medium high, bringing the mixture to a boil.  Stir the ingredients, reduce heat to low, then cover and simmer for 1 hour, stirring frequently.

After 1 hour, add milk and cream and stir to combine.  Add the fish and stir to combine. Over very low heat, making sure the mixture does not come to a boil, cook for an additional 10 minutes, until the fish has been gently cooked through.  Taste for seasoning, and add more salt and pepper as needed.

Smoked Salmon Canapés on Potato Crisps

27 Dec

It’s been a literal number of years since my husband and I have done anything at all to celebrate New Year’s Eve.  The last time we agreed to venture out on that particular evening, we were holed up at the house of some people we knew, constantly checking the clock to see how much time had passed since we got there, and if it would be terribly rude for us to bid a hasty retreat, let’s see…right now.

It’s not that we are averse to spending time with other people, and it’s not as though we hold any particular grudge against New Year’s Eve as a concept, but it’s just that, in a celebratory sense, I think New Year’s Eve is one of those holidays that sets people up to feel disappointed.  Much like Valentine’s Day, the only holiday I think should be actually stricken from existence (seriously—kids not getting Valentine’s Day cards, people thinking their significant other is duty-bound to shower them with trinkets, the horrible, terrible movies—intentionally or not, it’s just designed to make people feel bad about themselves), there seems to be an unnaturally high amount of expectation surrounding New Year’s Eve.  As the calendar year begins anew, people are led to believe that so go their lives, their opportunities, and their accomplishments.

It is understandable that some people may find it helpful to assign a specific day as the starting point for their goals, but why resign yourself to thinking that there is only one day a year that allows you to make decisions regarding how you’d like your life to change?  If you’re going to develop resolve to become a more invested parent, why wait until a particular day to begin that challenge?  If you want to become more involved in charity work, it seems wise to start offering your time sooner rather than later.  Do you want to save more money?  Start now.  Go back to school?  Okay, so you’ll have to wait until the start of a new term, but, still, if you want to go back to school, go back to school.

My feelings about certain foods fall very much in line with my feelings about holidays that are meant to boss people around.  I know that Thanksgiving is the holiday of eating turkey and giving thanks, but, really, can’t I have turkey and feel thankful year round?  I think I can.  And, being as though I hold a particularly strong affection for what my husband refers to as “little bites” (tiny sandwiches, tiny cookies, tiny pies, cracker bites, you get the idea), I think that, cocktail/holiday/New Year’s Eve party be damned, if I want to eat canapés for dinner and ponder the myriad of ways I’d like to help make the world a better place for my son, his son (or daughter) and all those who come before and after, I should go ahead and do so whenever I please.

So here’s to the start of not just a new year, but a new way of thinking about the new year and what it means.  Your new year can start any time you want it to.  And your dinner of smoked salmon on crisp discs of olive oil roasted potatoes, joined by a creamy dill spread that’s topped with an absolutely heavenly relish of shallots and rice vinegar?  Yeah, that can start at any time.

Smoked Salmon Canapés on Potato Crisps

Potato Crisps

1 pound Yukon gold potatoes, which generally works out to 2 large potatoes

4 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper

Shallot Relish

¼ cup finely chopped shallots

heaping ¼ teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoons rice vinegar

Creamy Dill Spread

2 tablespoons cream cheese

3 tablespoons sour cream or crème freche

½ teaspoon dried dill

pinch of salt

Plus:

8 ounces smoked salmon (you can make your own!)

To make the potato crisps, preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Move one oven rack to the upper third position, and one rack to the lower third.

Slice potatoes into ¼-inch rounds.  You can use a mandoline slicer to do this, but I find that a very sharp knife works just fine.  Divide the olive oil between two baking sheets, drizzling the oil over as much of the surface as possible.  Arrange the potato slices on the oil baking sheets, turning the potato slices over and moving them along the surface of the baking sheet to make sure each slice is well oiled on each side.  Sprinkle the potatoes with salt and pepper.  Bake the potato slices for 25 minutes, flipping each potato slice halfway through, and also swapping the positions of the baking sheets (so the bottom one is now on top, and vice versa).

When the edges of the potatoes are crisp, browned, and sizzling, remove the potatoes to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside to cool.

To make the shallot relish, combine all the ingredients in a small bowl, mix thoroughly, then set aside for at least 15 minutes.

To make the dill spread, combine all the ingredients in a small bowl, and mix thoroughly.

To assemble a canapé, place a small amount of dill spread on top of a cooled potato crisp.  Top the dill spread with a small dollop of shallot relish.  Place a chunk of smoked salmon on top of the relish.

Makes about 24 canapés.

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