Salmon is a great treat, any way it's served

October 10, 2012 

If you are from the South then there is no doubt you grew up on salmon cakes, croquettes or patties. In some places it is a common breakfast food, although at my house it was reserved for super time only.

Its popularity comes from it being inexpensive and one of the only canned fish that has general appeal to adults and children. It is also a good source of omega 3 vitamins, a supplement that might otherwise be lacking in many Southern diets. Today the availability of fresh or smoked salmon presents many additional and exciting culinary opportunities.

Salmon can be found in the North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, although their numbers are declining because of fishing pressure. They are also produced in vast numbers in aquaculture all over the world.

There are quite a few varieties of salmon, but the most common are Atlantic salmon, chinook, chum, coho, pink and steelhead. Salmon are anadromous, meaning they are born in fresh water, then migrate to the ocean and return to the exact spot of their birth to reproduce.

There is a great deal of controversy over aqua-farming salmon, including the practice's environmental impact and health concerns, but there is little doubt that wild caught salmon is preferred for its superior flavor.

It is a blessing that we do not have to depend on canned salmon anymore, unless you are waxing nostalgic for the good old days, a condition I suffer on occasion. But I must admit that salmon croquette night was not my favorite as a child.

Fresh salmon is readily available in many grocery stores, but a note of caution is necessary: If the salmon you are buying has a slight musty taste, then it is too old. Your best bet is to go to your fish monger and get it really fresh. Another great alternative is to buy it smoked. Cold

smoked salmon, the smoke is not allowed to go above 99 degrees, makes a great appetizer and is easy to prepare into an elegant dish.

Hot smoked salmon, which is cooked at much higher temperature, is also brined before cooking. It would hardly be fair to compare hot and cold smoked salmon, as they are completely different, just as fresh is different from canned or smoked. So you really have three opportunities to enjoy salmon, four if you include canned.

SALMON WITH CAPERS AND RED ONION

This is a classic recipe and can be made with cold or hot smoked salmon

Smoked salmon (quantity based on desired servings)

Capers (salt packed are best)

Chopped red onion

Crème fraiche

If you are using cold smoked salmon roll the filets into cylinders (you may have to cut them into uniform sizes if they are too big) and arrange them on an attractive platter. If you are using hot smoked filets cut them into bite sizes first. Dot each with about 1 tablespoon of the crème fraiche and then sprinkle on the capers and chopped red onion. Serve with a good sauvignon.

SALMON CROQUETTES

Even though this is about as old-school as you can get, there is something comforting about salmon croquettes when served warm.

1 can pink salmon

1 chopped red onion

1-2 eggs

½ cup Panko bread crumbs

Black pepper

Olive oil

Optional ingredients: mayonnaise, capers, red pepper flakes, chopped red bell pepper fresh herbs like basil or Italian parsley

Mix all the ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Season, taste and then re-season to your liking. Form into patties, or cylinders (the classic croquette shape) and sauté in oil until browned, about 3-4 minutes on a side. These go well with a flavored mayonnaise, like basil or capers. My favorite is a good quality mayonnaise blended with basil and lemon juice. Serve with oven roasted asparagus, or just with a green salad. For the life of me it seems wrong to suggest a wine pairing for salmon croquettes, so let's just stick with ice tea, OK?

BAKED SALMON

This is a simple recipe that highlights the delicate, sweet flavor of fresh salmon and does not call for fancy sauces or anything that might detract from it.

1 large salmon filet

1/4 cup chopped shallots

1/4 cup white wine

Salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. In an oven-proof dish that has been oiled, arrange the salmon filet, season with salt and pepper, top with the shallots, add the wine to the pan, but not on top of the fish. Place in the hot oven for about 12 minutes. Remove, dot with butter if you like and serve immediately. This would be good with sautéed baby spinach, steamed rice and a good pinot noir from the Willamette valley in Oregon.

Homemade smoked salmon

To hot smoke salmon put the filet on a piece of tinfoil and then on an oven proof dish. The fire should be made with hardwood or hardwood charcoal. Make the fire on one side of the grill and place the salmon as far away from it as you can.

Add a little good quality olive oil to the salmon and just a sprinkle of black pepper. Smoke at 220 degrees for 2 hours per pound. It is done when the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees, and the flesh flakes easily. Take the salmon off the grill just before it reaches 165 degrees as it will continue to cook once it its removed.

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