Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Let Them Eat Cakes

Winter is officially upon us here in New York, and although it's not as frigid a winter as usual, the farmers market stalls are just as barren as ever. Gone are the squashes, brussels sprouts and cauliflower of fall and early winter, with only a few rutabaga and the odd collard green or kale bunch in their place. The three month period from the start of the new year through late March can be brutal for a seasonal food enthusiast, and having already tired of root vegetable stew and carrot ginger soup, this is the time when I turn to my pantry for a little support. 

While I've yet to develop an interest in canning or pickling (despite my best efforts), I do believe that our ancestors had it right: preserving food for the winter season is definitely the way to go. Sure, these days we've pretty much added preservatives to, well, everything, even if it doesn't actually need it. But I'm talking about only using the canned and preserved items that line supermarket shelves during a time when using fresh, seasonal products is not an option (at least for those of us in cold climates). And one of my favorite items is canned fish. In fact, you can get wild, organic canned fish for super cheap, and even in BPA-free containers and packages (Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and Fairway are three good sources here in NY; Vital Choice, Wild Planet and Ecofish are three great brands with BPA-free products). 

Canned and packaged fish has come a LONG way from where it was years ago (these are not your grandmother's sardines, trust me). You can get good quality and even boneless fish to use a myriad ways, but my favorite is in a seafood cake. My first attempt at making these several years ago was a disaster. The canned salmon was awful: mealy and disintegrated with a terribly fishy odor, not to mention a salty and unpalatable flavor. I blamed myself and my recipe but it turns out that canned salmon was just not a usable product back then. But after hearing a few good reviews from friends and colleagues recently I decided to try again. I was shocked to find that the salmon was clean and virtually odorless with no added salt. It was in nice large flakes with a good firm texture. 

This time the salmon cakes were great. Good flavor, made with simple pantry staples and showing no signs that they contained a canned product. I served mine over some whole wheat lemon orzo and with a dollop of homemade remoulade, but they'd be just as good served over a salad or as an appetizer (teeny tiny dip-able salmon cakes!). If you've ever shied away from this type of product, it's a good time to explore. From canned fish to vacuum sealed cod fillets, there's a whole world of new options (and most of them are healthy and affordable, to boot) to play with. Just make sure to do a little research and read a few labels, and your winter can be just as full of flavor and wonderful meals as any other season. Well, almost. 

Salmon Cakes 

14 oz salmon (canned or fresh)
1 Tbsp mayonnaise
1 large egg, lightly beaten
¾ cup breadcrumbs, divided
1 small carrot, very finely diced
1 rib of celery, very finely diced
1 medium shallot, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp finely chopped parsley
extra virgin olive oil

1. Heat 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the finely diced carrot, celery, garlic, and shallot and cook over medium-low heat until softened. Remove mixture to a large bowl, adding salmon, mayonnaise, egg, parsley, ¼ cup of the breadcrumbs and salt and pepper to taste. Carefully combine until well incorporated. 

2. Divide the mixture into four even portions (or more for smaller cakes) and form into four 1-inch thick cakes. Spread the remaining breadcrumbs out onto a plate and lightly coat each cake. 

3. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in the same non-stick skillet used for the aromatics. Cook the cakes until browned on both sides, about 3 minutes, cooking in batches if necessary to not crowd the pan. Serve with tartar sauce and lemon wedges, or over a salad of spring greens. Enjoy!


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