July 15, 2005
Delicious Salmon Burgers
posted by Nadia

A few weeks ago, I went on vacation to the Gulf Islands of British Columbia. We also made stops in Seattle, Vancouver, and Victoria. Unsurprisingly, as it was a family vacation, most of the trip revolved around food, and particularly seafood. We sampled oysters, fresh crabs pulled straight from the water, side-stripe shrimp, smoked salmon, fresh salmon, and much more, all of it delicious. It is truly amazing what a difference freshness makes - how a fish that was swimming yesterday and stored properly today tastes everything like what fish is supposed to be, and nothing like the crap they sell in Philadelphia supermarkets.

That said, I must admit that I've been craving good fish ever since coming back home, and have resorted to buying good-looking fish at Whole Foods. Last night, Carl and I tried to recreate a salmon burger that my mother had in a small restaurant on Galiano Island. Mind you, this salmon burger bore no resemblance to the dry and tasteless patties often served under that name. Rather, it was moist and tender, a cluster of small nuggets bound gently with breadcrumbs, easily identifiable as fresh salmon. It was served with a raita-type sauce, and it was delicious. I am extremely pleased to say that the version Carl and I created last night was equally wonderful. An approximate recipe is below.

Delicious Salmon Burgers and Remoulade-Style Sauce
(serves two)

Begin with approximately 3/4 of a pound of good quality salmon. I used wild sockeye steaks from Whole Foods (steaks were a dollar cheaper than the fillets), but you can use any cut or kind of salmon that you wouldn't be ashamed to serve to guests. If necessary, skin and remove the pinbones. Carl has developed a technique of using small pliers to remove the pinbones, and this works really well - you just hold the salmon down with one hand (preferably latex-gloved), and, with your other hand, use the pliers to grab the little suckers and yoink them out.

Once the salmon is clean, use a sharp knife to slice it into approximately cube-shaped pieces of about 1/4 - 1/2 of an inch, like you would use if you were making a tartare. Carl originally wanted to use the food processor for this, but I vetoed this idea. Often, salmon burgers seem as if they're made from shredded and almost stringy fish bits packed together, and I was worried that the food processor would leave us with shreds of fish too small to retain their tenderness. I wanted our burgers to be gently formed packages of identifiable salmon pieces.

To the salmon pieces, Carl added an egg, one minced shallot, approximately 1/4 of a cup of breadcrumbs, about half a teaspoon each of celery seed and paprika, and salt and pepper. [Note: You could really use any herbs, spices, or aromatics in these burgers. For example, Carl was thinking of an Asian-style preparation, with scallions, sesame oil, chili paste, and maybe a bit of ginger blended in with the salmon and breadcrumbs.] Although we only used 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs, you may need to use more or less depending on how much moisture you've got in the mix. The key, however, is to keep the breadcrumb filler to an absolute minimum. If you add enough crumbs until you think, "Okay, it looks like the burgers can hold together on their own now," you've probably added way too much. At first, I was skeptical that Carl's loose mixture would hold up in a pan, but his instincts were totally right -- the burgers held their shape, and the addition of breadcrumbs was barely noticeable. Perhaps the secret to his success was his technique for forming the burgers -- he divided the salmon mixture between two oiled ramekins, patted it down gently, and put the ramekins in the fridge to chill for a bit. When he took them out a few minutes later and inverted them onto an oiled nonstick pan over medium heat, the burgers just held together. He was even able to turn them over with a spatula without incident. Although our burgers went straight into the pan, salmon to the heat, you could coat them in breadcrumbs if you wanted a bit more texture. The salmon burgers are done when they are just cooked through in the middle.

I made a bit of a sauce to put between the burgers and their buns, but it was so delicious that we ended up dipping the burgers into the sauce between each bite. The sauce, which I suppose is a member of the remoulade/tartar family, begins with about 3/4 of a cup of drained yogurt (put it in a cheesecloth or coffee filter for a few hours to drain off the liquid and give the yogurt a bit more body), and about 1/4 of a cup of mayonnaise. To that, I added (all these amounts are approximate) a teaspoon of mustard, the juice of a lemon, a half-cup of finely minced cucumber (drained on paper towels), a tablespoon each of chopped capers, dill, and scallions, and plenty of salt and pepper. Mmmm....