I'd like to send some love to a heart-healthy pantry item that seems to get so little of it: canned salmon.
When I was young, my Grandma Esther used to make Salmon Croquettes–which are basically like crab cakes for the kosher set. My dad apparently loved them, though truth be told, I was never a huge fan. But I recently came across her old handwritten recipe, and decided that it was worth giving them a try with my more refined adult palate. And I’m glad I did! They were darn tasty: mild-flavored, with a slightly springy, pancake texture, in contrast to a more meaty texture that you’d expect from an actual salmon burger. They are a perfect brunchy, lunchy or light suppery food, and would go well on a bed of greens as the protein on a salad, or alone as an appetizer served with your favorite fancy mustard, gingery salad dressing, horseradish sauce or dill-infused condiment.
When my kids were 13-months old, I made this recipe for them and they loved it! It’s a great way to serve fish to picky, carb-loving tots, since the texture is sort of cakey/bready/springy rather than meaty; cut up into bite-sized pieces, it looks like bread or pancake. For babies, I’d recommend using boneless, skinless canned salmon to keep the texture smoother for safety’s sake.
If canned fish gives you the heebie jeebies, consider this: canned salmon is almost always from wild-caught salmon, which means it tends to have a higher content of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. It's also a good non-dairy source of calcium, assuming you eat the teensy-tiny, wispy bones…which you can do without really even noticing it. (But take out the larger, more visible bones because they can be a choking hazard.) If you’re squeamish about encountering the bones when you open the can, they do sell boneless, skinless canned salmon. Buy that and work your way up to the bone-in kind for the extra calcium. You’ll still get the omega-3 benefits, and no one will think any less of you for it. There’s more! wild canned salmon is lower in mercury and toxins like PCBs than even farmed salmon, (which is still reasonably low), placing it among the safer fish choices you can make for yourself, your kids, and the pregnant women in your life.
Are you feeling the love yet?
So in memory of my beloved Grandma Esther, I am sharing an updated version of her recipe, which is true to the original except for the part about cooking it in “deep hot fat” until golden brown. Oh, grandma. Deep, hot fat was so 20th century…
Grandma’s Salmon Croquettes
(Yield: 10 croquettes, which will be more crab-cake sized than burger-sized)
- 1 tall (15 oz) can pink salmon. Grandma wrote to “use everything but the bones”, meaning just pick out the large, visible bones and leave everything else. (Alternatively, you can use two 6 oz cans of boneless, skinless salmon… it’s faster and works just as well.)
- 1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk* or plain kefir (or other plain cultured yogurt drink)
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1/2 cup flour or breadcrumbs (Preferably whole wheat; you may use a gluten-free version of either if you’re avoiding wheat, as I did.)
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- Salt and pepper
- Olive or canola oil for cooking (amount will depend on size of your pan… I used 1 TBSP per batch of 3-4 croquettes in a non-stick pan and it worked fine.)
(* C’mon… who actually has buttermilk laying around the house? Here’s an easy substitute that I used: combine 1 TBSP lemon juice or vinegar with enough milk to make 1 cup total. Let sit for 5 minutes and then use as you would buttermilk. Note this recipe only calls for half of this amount.)
- Mix salmon, seasonings and eggs.
- Add buttermilk, flour/breadcrumbs and baking soda and stir until well-blended.
- In a non-stick pan, heat a small amount of oil (just enough to cover the cooking surface…~ 1.0-1.5 TBSP for a medium-sized pan) until nice and hot.
- Drop batter with a spoon and pan fry until bottom is golden brown; flip each croquette and cook second side for an additional minute or two until its firm and also nice and brown.
- Drain on a paper towel and serve. Note: you can serve these hot, warm or cold.=