Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Salmon Croquettes

I believe I may have mentioned that my mother was not the most enthusiastic cook in the world. She just wasn't interested enough in most foods to spend more than the minimal effort to create meals. Don't get me wrong - she wasn't a bad cook, and I actually liked the majority of dishes she put before us (although I had little against which to compare them). But there were a few that stand out in my memory as being particularly unpleasant.

My most unpleasant culinary memories revolve around my mother's salmon croquettes. They always looked good and smelled better. They even tasted ok. But they were dry. Drier than the shoe-leather pork chops and Spanish Rice that plagued my childhood. (And that wasn't entirely her fault. Everybody knew you had to cook pork to within an inch of its life to avoid the dreaded trichonosis.)

They were so dry that it took me several minutes to work my way through one small mouthful. The dried flakes stuck to every part of my mouth - tongue, cheeks, upper and lower palate, even between my lips and my gums. Ok, I may be exaggerating a little here but that is definitely how it felt.

And the ketchup she served with them only made it worse. Instead of adding moisture, it only seemed to separate and highlight exactly how dry each and every morsel was that was lodged in every part of my mouth. I would swallow and swallow and swallow, and try to wash it down with milk (which was rationed so I had to be careful not to use too much per mouthful), but nothing worked.

Am I making this sound like torture? Then I've done my job. Salmon croquettes were the bane of my existence, and I dreaded the nights I would come to the dinner table, only to find my nemesis sitting on the plate waiting for me.

The irony is that I now love salmon, and I eat it often. Broiled salmon with lemon, garlic and dill is delicious, and canned salmon has become a staple for me, either with dill rice and peas or couscous and green beans, or in some other grain and vegetable combination.

In one of my conversations with my sister, she mentioned that she will almost always choose the salmon loaf when she and my brother-in-law eat at Luby's, a San Antonio-based chain of cafeterias, mostly in Texas, that has been around forever and is known for good food at reasonable prices. I must confess, although I have not been there for at least 15 years, that I always enjoyed the food there. Nothing outstandingly spectular, but well-prepared comfort food on which you could always rely.

I hadn't thought about my mother's salmon croquettes until my sister mentioned the salmon loaf at Luby's, but they popped immediately into my mind. After listening to her description of how moist and flavorful Luby's salmon cakes were, I decided it might be possible to play with the original recipe and see if I could make it moist and delicious.

Here's the original recipe, as written by my mother:
1# can boned salmon
1 egg
dried onions
paprika, about 1-1/2 tsp
bread crumbs or cracker crumbs
dried parsley, optional

Mash salmon with liquid, beat in egg with fork. Add paprika and a generous sprinkling of onion flakes. Add crumbs to proper consistency to form patties. Fry in butter, first dropping patties in more bread crumb, if desired. Good leftover in sandwiches, with ketchup.
I have no idea from where this recipe came, but just looking at it I could see why it was so dry. It's also obvious that this recipe is from a long time ago, given the use of dried onions and parsley. When I was a child, the only parsley we knew was the curly type that dutifully appeared on every restaurant entree as a garnish, and never to be eaten except once a year from the Passover Seder plate (see maror and chazeret).

Also of interest is the lack of specific amounts and directions. Not that long ago, it could be assumed that anyone would be familiar enough with cooking that they would know how much to use, and what to do with it. Lynda and I talked about this over the weekend. Up until recently, recipes were more or less lists of ingredients; it was assumed everyone knew what to do with them. This has made it challenging to try to recreate dishes from the past, as Lynda pointed out. When writing a method for a successful stew, for example, a medieval cook would most likely assume that anyone with a lick of sense would add salt and pepper, or other basic seasonings, so it would not be included in the recipe. As recently as the 19th century, many recipes were composed of just a simple list of ingredients, sometimes with amounts and sometimes not.

Looking at my mother's recipe, I was confident that I could make it moist with very little trouble. Instead of dried onions and parsley, I used fresh onion and fresh flat parsley. In addition, I put in a bare 1/4 cup of bread crumbs. I figured I couldn't go wrong using the same method used for crab cake: use just enough to bind the mixture so you can form the patties.

The result from my first attempt surpassed my wildest expectations. These patties were super moist and loaded with flavor. I whipped up a quick tartar sauce to go with them, and it was pure heaven. I think I had the heat just a touch higher than it needed to be, though. The patties were a little crispy on the outside, but it did not detract from my enjoyment of them. Next time I will cook them lower and slower.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

Note: To keep the salmon mixture from sticking to your fingers, dip your hands into a bowl of cold water before shaping each patty.

2-3 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 16-oz. can Fancy Sockeye Red or Pink salmon
1/4 medium onion, finely grated
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 egg
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup breadcrumbs

If desired, remove bones from the salmon and place in a large bowl. Add the onion, parsley, salt and pepper and mix well with a fork. Add the breadcrumbs and stir just enough to mix them in.

Heat a large, heavy skillet (cast iron is best) over medium-low heat. Add enough oil to generously coat the bottom. When the oil is hot, carefully shape the salmon mixture into patties and carefully place in the skillet, leaving plenty of room to turn them.

Cook for about 4 minutes on one side, until golden brown. Carefully turn them over and cook for another 3-4 minutes on the other side.

Serve with tartar sauce or ketchup.


Exported from Home Cookin 5.7 (www.mountain-software.com)


Anonymous said...

So, what is in the tartar sauce? I am curious as to what version you make.

dejamo said...

That was going to be another post, misreall. But since you have asked,

1 Clausen garlic dill pickle, diced (I don't usually use that but I only had one left and it had been in the fridge for a while)
1/4 diced onion
app. 2 tsp pickle relish
lemon juice
dash cayenne
handful of chopped fresh dill (I don't usually add that either, but I had some on hand.)
I added to about 3/4 cup of mayonnaise.

The leftover sauce went very will with roasted asparagus :)

Lore said...

Oh my these salmon croquettes don't only have a cute name but they also look so very scrumptious! You can now say good bye to salmon torture :)

dejamo said...

True, Lore - my days of being tortured by dry salmon patties are over :)

I wish I could take credit for the name, but that's actually what they're called.

Thanks for stopping by. I need to send you some more recipes. Maybe I'll make the July deadline.

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