January 14, 2009

$8 Dinner: Salmon Cakes with Potato Fennel Purée


The challenge isn’t really eating healthy, nor is there a lot of difficulty in eating well if you have the cash to lay down on smoked duck breasts and imported cheeses. But what if you want to eat healthfully (but not in a way that involves sad little chicken breasts and low-fat cheese) and well (because you have a particular penchant for life’s small pleasures), and you’re on a budget (because the economy is in the toilet). This, I have long thought, is the the real challenge, and what this budget dinners column will highlight: Food that is good for you (maybe sometimes better than others — we all need a mac and cheese recipe when times are tough, after all), wholesome, and maybe even a little special feeling.

This week I wanted to make salmon cakes. We all know the thousand and one reasons why salmon is good for you. But salmon is also tricky: farmed salmon is terrible on the environment and not as rich in omega-3s anyway. So what’s a gal to do? Here’s what: go find the canned tuna in your grocery store. Now lower your eyes a few shelves and you will find canned wild salmon for as little as $1.69 for six ounces. Canned wild salmon is so my new best friend.

But now is where I have to tell you that this dinner didn’t go down the way I thought it would. When I returned home from the grocery store, that canister of bread crumbs that’s been in our cupboard for two years? Yeah, not there anymore. I started thinking about possible alternatives (crushed almonds? eh…) and decided to just proceed with the cakes and cross that bridge when I came to it. Turns out, canned salmon is so terrifically moist, that I didn’t seem to need an egg or breadcrumbs to hold them together. I simply formed the cakes in my hands and like magic, they stayed together. Is this how Alexander Flemming felt?

Salmon Cakes
Makes 4 large cakes

1/4 cup sliced scallions
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon capers
12 oz canned boneless, skinless wild salmon
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons dijon mustard

Place all ingredients in a bowl, season with salt and pepper, and stir until combined. Form cakes with hands, place on a boiler proof pan, and broil until the salmon cakes have developed a nice golden brown crust on top. Serve with lemon wedges.

Potato Fennel Purée
Serves 4

3 yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed clean
1 fennel bulb
1/2 cup 1% milk
2 tablespoons butter

Trim the fennel bulb of any fronds and its core end. Slice in half lengthwise, then crosswise into thin slices. Slice potatoes thinly and put fennel and potatoes in a medium-sized pot and cover with water. Place on the stove over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer until potatoes and fennel are fork tender. Drain, then place in the bowl of a food processor with butter and milk. Process until a smooth purée is formed. Season with salt and pepper.

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  • rachael speirs: yum indeed. I will be trying this recipe this week!
    Mollie Katzen online is also my fav resource for cooking on a budget, she has an amazing recipe for chickpea sweet potato cakes that will knock your socks off! I reccomend adding curry. Along with an incredible cream of green pea soup that uses frozen green peas so costs about 5 bucks total to make a huge pot, add extra pepper for spice! Serve with a whole wheat and honey bread!
    6 years ago

  • maggie: Have never tried canned salmon, but this looks so nice!

    I agree, it’s difficult to eat well and healthily with lots of variety and feel good about it on a tight budget. But it does force us to use our creativity!
    6 years ago

  • Sarah: rachael, i am adding this mollie katzen to my reading list, stat!

    maggie, i know it’s hard to get excited about canned fish. just the sound of it is a little ick. but i was delightfully surprised with how well these turned out. and yes, it does force us to be creative. i’d love to hear what other people’s creative eating well/eating healthy/eating on a budget tricks are.
    6 years ago

  • Joy: I was going to make tuna fishcakes this evening with the left over mashed potato I have from the weekend and the breadcrumbs I froze to save the stale end of bread from a few weeks ago(I could have been a post-war housewife damn-it!). I think I may splash out and get some salmon to add instead.
    6 years ago

  • rachael speirs: just because im extra bored at work, i will add another tidbit about eating on a budget. I personally will go to the store without a list for produce and simply get a ton of what is on sale. awhile back they had roma tomatoes on sale like crazy and i bought two stuffed bags full and had oven roasted tomatoes with herb de provence along with canning homemade spaghetti sauce for a whole week. no complaints here!
    Also chinatown is a good option for cheap produce and canning and a freezer are your best mates. I use meats (turkey is super cheap and nutritious!) and produce on sale and make large batches of soups and stews and can them, MASSIVE money saver!
    6 years ago

  • Sarah: Wow, Joy, I am so impressed with your frozen bread crumbs! Looks like you could teach me a thing or two about economizing.
    6 years ago

  • Sarah: rachael, your point about shopping to what’s on sale is a really good one. freezing soups is one of my fave tricks, but i have yet to hit up chinatown for produce, but now i have to!
    6 years ago

  • Kristina: Beans, beans, beans. Last week I made this tomato-based soup with lots of creamy lima beans, corn, celery, and potatoes. It was great. I’ve also been making my own bread lately– that’s a big money saver, too. Have ye a bread machine?
    6 years ago

  • EB: I love the idea of eating better, for less as it were. Really… we all know how to make steamed veggies and sad, sad chicken. Bravo.
    6 years ago

  • Sarah: Kristina, That soup sounds terrific, as I am a huge fan of beans (but I always forget about the limas!). I don’t have a bread machine, but punching down dough and kneading can be really cathartic, and clearly something I should get back into.

    Thanks, EB!
    6 years ago

  • Christine H.: This sounds delicious—although I think I’m the only one in my house who would eat it.
    I really love the idea behind this column. It’s so stinkin’ hard sometimes to eat healthy and buy local and/or organic without breaking the bank. I’m trying to find a balance so I look forward to reading what tips & recipes you (and your readers) come up with!
    6 years ago

  • Kate: Frozen breadcrumbs are definitely the way to go if you want to use up old bread and feel fabulously thrifty and virtuous at the same time! I do the same with grated cheese :)
    6 years ago

  • laurel: Just had this for dinner tonight and WOW. What a great meal, and most ingredients are things I always have on hand anyway. With my trusty toaster oven and stick blender, this couldn’t be easier – perfect for nights when I’m tired but craving home cooking. It will be just as nice in the summer as it now!
    6 years ago

  • Sarah: yay laurel! i’m so glad you liked it!
    6 years ago

  • Christina: I made this tonight and was surprised to see that my canned salmon still had bones and skin! Took a bit longer than expected to prepare when you’re picking out tiny bones.
    6 years ago

  • Sarah: Oy! Yes, if you’re short on time or don’t want the trouble, look for the canned salmon that is skin and bone-free (it might cost a bit more).
    6 years ago

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- Julia Child