Herbed Salmon Cakes

Our first CSA delivery of the season arrived last week! It’s a little sad that I get so giddy about our CSA starting. I love how the box of fresh produce injects some much needed energy into my cooking. I love that moment of panic upon clicking open the email with the packing list for the week, fearing I’ll never know what to do, and then love even more when that moment of epiphany arrives, especially when it’s at the very last minute.

This first delivery brought us much in the way of what I’d say are ingredients, but not much that would make for a stellar entrée or side dish. I’m talking tons of herbs– fresh mint, chives, cilantro, and garlic scapes. (Garlic scapes! I actually yelled, “Woot! Can I get a wha wha?” to myself, all alone in my office, when I saw that on the packing list.) So that moment of panic lingered as the options for using herbs seemed infinite rather than inspiring.

Luckily, the realm of possibilities got a little smaller when I spied wild kind salmon on sale. So far, the baby loves salmon– make that LOVES salmon. Making salmon cakes seemed like a fun way to keep getting her to enjoy eating it. I wanted to make a truly fantastic salmon cake– one where you can see the chunks of firm, pink fish, not bite into a mushy pile of cat food like, fishy puree. I envisioned a salmon cake that was bright in flavor– tons of flecks of green and fresh in flavor from some of the bright herbs, yet rich at the same time, thanks to toasted brioche crumbs to help hold the mix together. (What can I say? The baby loves brioche too. Raising a foodie baby is going to be expensive.)

Once the cakes were formed and pan-fried, then plating was easy. I played up on the bright pink and green colors by sitting my salmon cakes up on a pile of lightly dressed greens, including arugula from the CSA and some sliced pink beauty radishes. The acid from the dressing and the peppery bite of the radishes added contrast and crunch. CSA? You gave me a challenge by giving me lots of ingredients but little “meat” to work with, so to speak, and to that, I answered, “Challenge accepted!” Can’t wait to see what else this season brings!

  • 2 thick slices of brioche bread
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
  • 1 tablespoon each fresh mint and dill, finely chopped
  • 16 oz wild king salmon fillet, deboned, skinned, and finely chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • mixed baby greens and arugula
  • 3-4 medium pink beauty radishes, halved then sliced at an angle into wedges
  • your favorite, vinaigrette salad dressing

In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, add brioche slices that you have roughly torn into smaller pieces. Pulse until you have course crumbs. Spread out crumbs on a baking sheet and lightly toast at 250 degrees F (or in your toaster oven on the medium light setting) for about 10 minutes or until crumbs are golden brown. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, add the chives, mint, dill, salmon, cooled brioche crumbs, salt, pepper, and egg. Mix together until combined. Using your hands, cup together about 1/2 cup size portions into a patty, lightly pressing until they are about 4 inches wide. Place on a plate then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Place a large pan over medium high heat. Add butter and olive oil. Add salmon cakes and lightly fry until golden brown and cooked through (salmon will be opaque)– about 5-6 minutes per side. While cakes cook, add salad greens and most of your radish wedges to a medium bowl and toss with a light coat of dressing. Plate mixed greens then add a salmon cake on top, scattering a few pieces of radish on top. Serve immediately.

Makes about 5 salmon cakes.

CSA Count: 4

Chives, mint, arugula, pink beauty radish

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Salmon BLT

It’s been a rough year on our tomato crop. After spending most of last winter dreaming about tasting the perfect, summer ripe tomato (like in this breakfast dish) we ended up with plants that were heavily laden with green tomatoes. I relished the few ripe tomatoes we got from our garden this year and was for once grateful for the supplementary tomatoes we got from the CSA this year.

With such a small crop of ripe tomatoes, I wanted to enjoy them raw. My thoughts turned to eating them in a simple BLT, but I also had a lovely wild Coho salmon fillet on hand as well as plenty of fresh dill from the CSA. A salmon BLT it would have to be.

The only problem is that this salmon BLT has tough competition in my taste bud memory. When we lived in Cleveland, John and I would frequently fight over who got to order an ahi tuna BLT at a favorite diner: thick cut, toasty multigrain bread, a slather of citrusy aioli, a thick cut of seared tuna steak, and crispy, salty bacon.

With the ingredients I had available, I cooked my salmon in a cast iron skillet in a combination of butter, olive oil and fresh thyme until crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. My aioli consisted of mayonnaise, lemon juice, garlic, fresh dill, and capers for an added briny, pickle taste. All that was needed to dress this sandwich was thick cut bacon, baby spinach, and those ripe CSA tomatoes, lightly salted to maximize their juicy sweetness.

This sandwich was messy but oh so juicy and delicious. I think if they could be, those tomatoes were proud to be used in such a simple but perfect way to celebrate their being one of the few Northwest tomatoes to attain perfection this year.

  • 4 strips, thick cut bacon, cut in half and cooked
  • 16 oz wild Coho salmon fillet
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh dill
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained and roughly chopped
  • 1 cup baby spinach leaves
  • 1 large tomato, sliced into 1/4 inch thick rounds, sprinkled with 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 potato buns

Remove skin from salmon fillet, if necessary. Pat the fillet dry with paper towels. Season both sides of the fillet with a total of 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Cut the fillet in half, crosswise. Add the butter, olive oil, and thyme sprigs to a large cast iron skillet and heat over medium high heat. When the butter has melted and the fats in the pan are shimmering, add the salmon fillets. Cook for about 2-3 minutes without moving the fillets, then flip them over and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Flip again and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, basting the fillets with the butter and olive oil in the pan then flip and cook on the other side until the fish reaches your desired degree of doneness.

While salmon cooks, combine mayonnaise, garlic, lemon juice, dill, capers and a pinch of salt and pepper. Toast the potato buns.

To assemble sandwiches, spread a layer of the aioli on each side of the buns. Place a handful of spinach on the bottom halves of the buns and place the salmon fillet on the spinach. On the top halves, place the slices of tomato and a few pieces of bacon. Makes 2 sandwiches.

CSA Count: 2

Tomatoes, dill

Garden Count: 1

Salmon with Thai Curry Lentils

I am a total carbohydrate addict. When I think about what’s the simplest thing to which I could reduce my entire dietary intake and just sustain myself on that forever and ever, it’d probably be bread and butter. Which is why when it comes to side dishes, I can often be hard pressed to think of serving anything else other than some starch, whether it be potatoes or some kind of pasta.

But the foodie side of me feels guilty for not pushing my boundaries and so every now and then I get inspired to experiment with something totally new to me. In this case, I kept seeing restaurants and cooking shows that paired a soft pile of warm, stewed lentils to go along side a tasty piece of fish. The goal was to help lentils achieve that state where they retain their firm structure on the outside but become creamy in the center, thereby deceiving my carb craving mind into thinking these were mashed potatoes but being more exotic in flavor and packed with more nutritional value.

I lightly sautéed a bunch of colorful vegetables (carrots, celery, zucchini, and crimini mushrooms) until their colors brightened but they were still slightly undercooked. These were then simmered in a mix of chicken stock and coconut milk. When the lentils were tender, I mixed in yellow curry and a pinch of coriander before folding in some chopped fresh cilantro and mint for a hit of bright flavors. These lentils did not disappoint in spicy flavors or in texture. Each spoonful was like eating sunshine.

  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 small cloves of garlic, minced (about 1 tsp)
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger root
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 medium zucchini, chopped
  • 1 large stalk of celery, diced
  • 4 oz crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 cup green lentils
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup light coconut milk
  • 1/2 tablespoon yellow curry powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon each fresh cilantro and mint, chopped
  • 1 lb fillet salmon
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in the bottom of a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until soft and shiny, about 6-7 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and continue to cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the carrots, celery, zucchini, and mushrooms and saute until colors deepen but vegetables are still crisp, about 3-4 minutes. Stir in the lentils and pour in the chicken stock and coconut milk. Bring this to a boil then reduce heat to medium low so that it gently simmers. Simmer until lentils are tender, about 30 to 40 minutes. Mix in the curry powder and ground coriander then adjust seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.

While the lentils simmer, pat the salmon fillet dry with paper towels then season both sides with about 1/2 teaspoon of course salt and 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper. In a medium skillet, heat remaining tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter over medium high heat until the fats in the pan shimmer. Add the salmon, skin side down and cook, undisturbed for 3 to 4 minutes. Flip the fillet over, flesh side down and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Flip fillet again and baste the fish with the fats, for another minute or two then flip one last time, basting with the fats and cooking until fish flesh is opaque and flakey or until it reaches your desired degree of cooking.

Stir into the lentils about half of the chopped herbs reserving the rest for garnish. Plate the lentils and nestle a piece of the salmon on top, sprinkling each plate with remaining herbs.

Roasted Salmon en Brodo

It’s been a week of heavy eating for us. We’ve spent some time on a Midwestern tour, starting in Indianapolis for a wedding, passing through Chicago where I essentially said goodbye to my childhood home (and unfortunately said hello to some long forgotten, horrible creative and journal writing from my early teen years… shudder) and finishing in Cleveland, where we’ve drunk like the 25 year-olds we were when we lived here but with the ease of a 30-something’s budget. Seeing family and old friends has involved plenty of celebratory feasting– everything from deep dish Chicago pizza to a soft shell crab salad to a delicious, locally sourced steak tartare with duck fat fried frites.

I’ve loved every meal we had on this trip, but I admit I’ve been a bit lacking in the fresh vegetable/light food department. So as I blog about this dish, I can’t help but remember this dish fondly as it is looking particularly good to me right now, what with my body’s craving something light and refreshing.

This meal looks fancy but is fast and super easy to prepare. I just cooked a small portion of little ditalini shaped pasta (short cut little tubes, like the kind you find in pasta e fagioli or in minestrone) in some boxed chicken stock and a ton of carrots and shiitake mushrooms. While the pasta simmered to al dente, I pan roasted a fillet of salmon in some olive oil and butter. In large shallow bowls, I spooned a single ladleful of the broth and vegetables, nestled the salmon on top and served this with a dollop of prepared pesto, a handful of bright green, peppery watercress and some sliced radishes for texture. This was incredibly delicious– the nutty pesto melted on the warm salmon which tasted buttery from roasting in olive oil and butter. The broth also thinned out the pesto, making the whole thing taste like a delicious, super-light sauce. The carrots added sweetness while the mushrooms kept everything earthbound. We ate this in the middle of winter, but it’s so light, it almost feels to me like spring in a bowl.

  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
  • 8 oz shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup dried ditalini pasta or other small pasta shape, maybe even orzo
  • 1 lb salmon fillet, skin removed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 bunch of watercress, trimmed and washed
  • 2-4 tablespoons basil pesto
  • 2 large radishes, thinly sliced into rounds

In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a boil. Add the pasta, shallot, carrots, garlic, and mushrooms. Cook according to pasta package directions for al dente, in my case, about 9 minutes.

In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over medium high heat. Dry off the salmon fillet with paper towels then season both sides with salt and pepper. Cook for 5-7 minutes on each side or until fish is opaque and tender.

Using a ladle, spoon stock, pasta, and vegetable mixture into the bottom of large, shallow bowls, no more than about 1/3 cup. Carefully nestle a piece of the salmon into the broth then place a spoonful of pesto on top of the salmon. Top with a handful of watercress and scatter some slices of radish before serving.

Salmon Pie

Yep, still blogging about things I made months ago. Right now, it’s the first full week of April, and I’m getting around to documenting what we ate for Christmas dinner. But I truly believe that with the bright pink of the salmon  and the flecks of green tarragon in the crust that this is at its heart a spring time dish. As proof, I offer the following picture of the vegetables I used in my stock:

Don’t the colors and the sun light sing spring to you? What’s that? You don’t hear choruses from your food and that’s just me? Oh… how embarrassing… moving on…

I made this for dinner on Christmas Day but this was technically part of my family’s Christmas Eve dinner. My brother and his family arrived in Seattle on the evening of the 25th so our plan was to delay Christmas Day activities (present opening and swiping a Morrison family tradition, cinnamon rolls) until the morning of the 26th. My dad wanted to have roast beast for dinner but since my brother and his family are pescatarian, I volunteered to figure out an alternative main dish. This salmon pie idea seemed like a good fancy yet comforting meal to meet that need.

Unable to locate fish stock for my sauce, I opted to make my own vegetable stock instead. Since I wanted a soft anise flavor in the background of the cream sauce in the pie, I had the stems of fennel bulbs to use in my stock, along with some tomatoes, half a purple onion, carrots, celery and some dried shiitakes to boost up a meaty flavor. The stock simmering on the stove in the late afternoon was so homey on a holiday afternoon!

Let me emphasize how easily this all came together. To boost up the anise flavor in the pie, I added flecks of fresh tarragon to my pie dough that I always make quickly and easily with my handy food processor. The salmon was cooked in a hands off and flavor enhancing process by roasting it in my oven. And to save on chopping and cutting, I used a frozen vegetable mix. The one step that sounds laborious was that I was unable to find frozen pearl onions so I opted for fresh ones instead. This means having to remove their thin skins before cooking, but I have to say that this was less difficult and tons more fun than I thought. I boiled them for 10 minutes then dunked them in an ice bath. Cut off the tip of a pearl onion and then squeeze, squish and the onion pops out of its skin whole. What’s that? I’m the only one who finds squishing pearl onions to be fun? Oh… how embarrassing… moving on…

So anyway, I only swiped a bite of this pie when served so as to save as much of it for Ted and Michelle as I could, but this was really good! The crust was buttery but danced with flecks of fresh licorice from the tarragon which cut through nicely into the creamy sauce. The crunch of the vegetables and firmness of flecks of salmon  were textures that contrasted with the flaky crust. Try out this seasonally versatile pie for your next gathering!

Crust

Vegetable Stock

  • Stems and the fronds reserved from 1 large fennel bulb
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 5-6 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped
  • 2 medium celery stalks, chopped
  • 1/2 purple onion
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 small bunch of parsley
  • 3-4 stalks of fresh thyme
  • 6 cups water
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil

Filling

  • 1 lb salmon fillet
  • 1/2 bag of mixed frozen vegetables (I use the soup variety since it has snap peas for a little fancier touch)
  • 2 tsp olive oil plus 1 tbsp, divided
  • 8 oz pearl onions, skinned
  • 2 medium shallots, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large fennel bulb, quartered and thinly sliced
  • 4 tbsp butter, divided
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 2.5 cups vegetable stock (see above or use store-bought)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tbsp fresh tarragon
  • salt and pepper

Make the crust according to recipe directions, only omit the sugar. As dough is just about to come together, add the tarragon to the food processor bowl so that it blends in. Divide dough in half and press into flat, 1 inch thick disks. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and let rest for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days in the refrigerator.

Make the vegetable stock by heating about 1 tbsp olive oil in the bottom of a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Toss in all the vegetables and let them saute for about 10-15 minutes to develop their flavors. Add the water and herbs then bring to a light simmer, not a boil. Let simmer uncovered for 1.5 hours then strain out the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Take first disk of dough and let it sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes so that it can warm up before rolling. Roll out so it fits into a 9 or 9.5 inch pie plate. Fit into pie plate and trim edges, leaving a 1/2 inch overhang. Put pie plate back in the fridge to chill while you make the rest of the filling.

In a large roasting pan, add 1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp olive oil. Place the roasting pan in the oven and preheat to 400 degrees, letting the fats heat in the pan while the oven warms up. Dry off the salmon with paper towels then sprinkle both sides liberally with salt and pepper. Place the salmon skin side down and roast in the oven for 10 minutes. Flip the salmon over so it’s flesh side down and continue to roast for another 10 minutes or until the flesh is opaque lightly browned. Remove from the oven and reduce the heat to 350 degrees. When salmon is cooled to the touch, use your fingers or a fork to flake off bite sized pieces of salmon and set aside.

Take out the second pie dough disk so it can warm up for rolling while you finish preparing the filling. In a large skillet, heat 2 tsp olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots, fennel, and garlic and saute for about 5 minutes or until the vegetables have softened slightly. Add the butter and once it melts, sprinkle the vegetables evenly with the flour, stirring continuously until the flour is absorbed. Let this mixture cook for about 2 minutes then add 2.5 cups of vegetable stock until the roux dissolves. Fold in the frozen vegetables, pearl onions and flaked salmon. Stir in the cream then reduce the heat to medium low, letting the sauce simmer while you roll out the top crust.

Roll out the remaining pie crust to fit your pie plate. Pour the sauce mixture into the chilled pie bottom then brush the edges of the bottom crust with the egg wash. Lay the top crust down and trim the edges to a 1/2 inch over hang. Lightly press the dough down so it seals with the bottom crust that you’ve brushed with egg wash. Crimp the crust edges with a fork. Using a paring knife, cut a few slits in the top of the pie then brush with the remaining egg wash. Sprinkle flecks of sea salt on top if you wish then set in the oven to bake, about 45-50 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting and serving in wedges.