Cooking Local Mildly Mexican Salmon Cakes

August 05, 2011

Mildly Mexican Salmon Cakes with Roasted Red Pepper Remoulade

by Isaac Kaplan-Woolner (with thanks to Cook's Illustrated)


   I was looking for a recipe that made the salmon the star instead of hiding it with heavy and bland fillers like potato of lots and lots of breadcrumbs. Salmon cakes may actually be one of those dishes that is better when you make it at home, because restaurants will be more likely to cut corners and try to short you on expensive fish. And this way we know that the cakes are nothing but the freshest.
    Like crab cakes, salmon and other fish cakes are often associated with New England, and frequently make use of cooked, leftover fish. But the most promising recipe I came across, printed in the latest Cook’s Illustrated, suggests that using raw salmon yields a much better cake with a lighter, less fishy flavor.
    Another cool thing about salmon is that it has a lot of sticky proteins (more so than many other fish or meat), so we won’t need as much binding ingredients. In fact, the Cook’s Illustrated recipe eschews the traditional flour and egg dips of the classic breading method. Instead, this method chops and pulses the fish in a food processor, then simply coats the cakes in coarse, extra crispy Japanese panko breadcrumbs.
    If you haven’t heard of them before, panko is a great breading option for fried foods, yielding and especially crispy texture. Wikipedia reveals an interesting tidbit: Panko is made from bread baked by passing an electric current through the dough, yielding bread without crusts, and it has a crisper, airier texture than most types of breading found in Western cuisine.
    The beauty of using panko is that it will cut down on our breading and filler even further, so our salmon cakes can focus on the best flavors they have to offer. Now, the Cook’s Illustrated recipe is an excellent guide for making simple, delicious salmon cakes. But you guys know me by now, and I am never satisfied to leave well enough alone. So I’m going to make use of some of my abundant cilantro crop and do a sort of mildly Mexican take on these cakes.
    We’ll serve my version of these cakes with a roasted red pepper remoulade sauce, plus some roasted corn and other veggies and a side salad. What an amazing summer meal we have ahead of us!


So for these Mildly Mexican Salmon Cakes (with thanks to Cook’s Illustrated for the inspiration), we’ll need:

-1 (1¼ pound) skinless salmon filet, cut into 1-inch pieces (if you have skin on salmon, you’ll need about 1 1/3 pounds of fish, then remove the skin)
-3 tablespoons plus about ¾ cup panko bread crumbs
-2 tablespoons mayonnaise
-4 teaspoons lime juice (the original calls for lemon, but I prefer lime with Mexican flavors. I only use fresh squeezed citrus in my kitchen)
-2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro (the original recipe uses parley in the cakes instead of cilantro, if you prefer the classic variation)
-2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (for garnish)
-1 scallion or green onion, thinly sliced
-1 small shallot, peeled and minced
-1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
-3/4 teaspoon salt
-1/4 teaspoon pepper (I always just eyeball my salt and pepper amounts, but the original recipe included these exact measurements if you prefer)
-small pinch of cayenne pepper, or a bigger pinch of chile powder
-dash of cumin powder (to add a bit more Mexican flavor to the panko breading)
-1/2 cup vegetable oil (for frying)


And for the Roasted Red Pepper Remoulade, we’ll need:

1 cup mayonnaise
1 T finely chopped shallots
1 tsp minced garlic
1 T capers, chopped
½ cup finely chopped roasted red pepper (just rub a whole red pepper in olive oil and grill over a high flame, turning occasionally, until all the skin is blackened. Place the roasted pepper in a plastic back for 15 minutes or so, and the steam will make the blackened skin slide right off. Remove the stem and seeds, chop, and viola, roasted red pepper!)
1 T Dijon mustard
1 T chopped parsley
½ T chopped dill
Juice of ½ lemon or lime
Salt and black pepper to taste
(Optional) if you wish to have a more Mexican-themed remoulade, replace the dill with cilantro and add in a dash of chile powder. Also, sometimes I replace half of the mayonnaise with plain yogurt for a tangy, lower fat alternative. Just mix up all the remoulade ingredients really well in a bowl, cover, and set aside in the fridge so the flavors can all meld together.


    Ok, so we’ve got a sauce, now let’s make those awesome salmon cakes to go underneath! Start by combining 3 tablespoons of panko breading with the cilantro, mayonnaise, lime juice, scallion, shallot, mustard, salt, pepper, cayenne, and chili powder in a bowl.
    Some recipes ask you to very finely dice up your salmon by hand. If you have good knife skills and sharp blades, this isn’t too trying a task, but you will get even better results pulsing small batches of fish in the food processor. This way we’ll get some finely ground fish paste to bind together meatier ¼” chunks. To get an even grind, we’ll first chop the salmon into 1 inch pieces, then pulse them in 3 separate batches in the food processor. Smaller batches will get you the right consistency without over processing the fish. It will only take a couple of pulses to get eh fish chopped up into those perfect ¼” bits.
    Transfer each batch of chopped fish into the bowl with the panko mixture. Gently mix the fish with the rest of the filler ingredients until it is all uniformly combined.
    Next, put the remaining ¾ cup panko breadcrumbs on a plate or pie tin. Sprinkle on some cumin and chile powder to mildly flavor the panko, and mix it in with your fingers or a spoon. Using a 1/3 cup measure, scoop a level amount of the salmon mixture. Push it down into the cup to solidify, and then transfer it onto a baking sheet. This way we’ll have roughly uniform cakes. Repeat until the mixture is gone, and you should end up with about 8 cakes. Now carefully coat each cake with the panko, gently patting each disk into the bread crumbs and making sure they stick all the way around.
    You want to end up with cakes that are uniform, and roughly 2 2/4 inches in diameter by 1 inch high. If you have all different shapes and thicknesses, they may not fry evenly. Shake off any excess breading and return each coated cake to the baking sheet.
    Heat your cooking oil in a 12-inch skillet over a medium high heat. You will know when it is hot when the oil takes on a shimmering appearance. Carefully slide the salmon cakes into the hot oil, using the back of a spatula to slide them in if you are worried about splashing hot oil on yourself. I recommend frying the cakes in two separate batches, because the hotter and quicker they fry, the less oil they will absorb. But with only 8 cakes, you may be able to get away with cooking them all at once.
    Let the salmon cakes fry without moving them until they are golden brown, which should take about 2-3 minutes. Carefully flip the cakes and cook until the other side is also golden brown in another 2 or 3 minutes.
    When they are all nice and crispy, remove the cakes from the oil and let them drain on paper towel-lined plates for about a minute. Serve these Mexican-tinged fresh salmon cakes while they are still nice and hot. Top them with the roasted red pepper remoulade and serve with roasted corn and a simple green salad.