Sunday, March 20, 2011

For Cocktails, or Dinner: Salmon Cakes with Honey Mustard Aioli

I used to not be a big seafood fan. Yes, I love my salmon and tuna (especially raw, a la sushi). Swordfish, line-caught from a dayboat out of Westport, Ma.? Of course! Even good old cod, out of New Bedford, baked with a miso-soy glaze. But lobster? Crab? Shrimp? No thanks.

In terms of sea animals living in a shell, scallops were the only thing that got my approval. I still remember (albeit vaguely), one of the first meals my mom cooked in our new kitchen in our home in New Canaan (circa 1993?). Scallops. I ate them, but wasn't the greatest fan.

Over the years, I learned to love scallops (summering near New Bedford, where there are some of the best scallops I've ever had), especially wrapped in bacon. But, even after a couple of summers in Maine, the lobster never clicked.

In 1999, I had my first whole lobster, bib, lemon, butter and all. I was on Appledore Island, just off the Maine coast. Steamed lobsters didn't get any better than that. I ate it (as there was no other option), but it wasn't love at first sight. At my uncle's wedding (in which the dinner after the rehersal was a lobster bake), I again opted for a land animal.

In 2002, I had my first soft-shell crab -- my first foray into the work of crab -- and was smitten, but stayed away until recently. I was at my dear friend Susanna's aunt's home in Stamford. Her mother was Latin, and this girl knows how to cook! She served this unforgettable crab salad in freshly-fried plantain cups (Susanna, I'm still dying for that recipe). It was a turning point: I think I love crab.

I explored this newly discovered love for over the years, ordering crabcakes when they were the star of the menu, even getting soft-shell crab in my sushi. But, it wasn't until culinary school, when I became closely intimate with lobsters and shrimp (and their innards) that I discovered the culprit behind all this: shrimp (and their nasty-smelling shells). 

I now eat crab and lobster with gusto (especially when out of the shell, bound with a light dressing or mayo; I'm currently eagerly awaiting lobster season so I can continue to sample Manhattan's lobster rolls...), and crabcakes will always remain a favorite, especially when bound with only a trace of breadcrumbs.

While I have yet to purchase crabmeat to attempt to crabcakes at home (why I don't know; possibly since I haven't been to Chelsea Market to get lump Jonah crab meat since September?!), I recently applied the technique to salmon. SO good; so easy (and not smelly; I promise!). 

The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fish a week for health benefits. Salmon is a perfect choice:  it is high in inflammation-battling omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, an excellent source of protein, and a rich source of vitamin E. 

But, cooking salmon on a busy weeknight doesn't have to take forever. Take these salmon cakes; they're easy to make, quick-cooking, and taste delicious. Plus, they're a perfect alternative for non-meat eaters to hamburgers, and are also easy to tote for packed lunches the next day.

As published on The Daily Meal

For the salmon: 
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried herb seasoning, preferably one with scallions, chives, shallots, and green pepper
1 pound skinless salmon fillets, pin bones removed, chopped into 1/4-inch cubes
1/2 cup mayonnaise
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Pinch of paprika
1/2 cup breadcrumbs, preferably panko
2 tablespoons olive oil
For the honey mustard aioli:
2 tablespoons honey mustard
2 tablespoons mayonnaise

For the salmon:
Combine all ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Shape into two patties. 

Heat a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and heat until shimmering. Add the patties and cook 2–3 minutes per side. 

For the honey mustard aioli:
Combine the ingredients together in a small bowl and mix well.

To serve, plate the warm salmon cakes atop a simple green salad, and garnish with the aioli. Serve immediately.

Serves 2
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
Storage: Let salmon cakes cool before refrigerating. Can be refrigerated for up to three days.

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