My husband and sons love to fish here in the Pacific Northwest. As a result, I always have a freezer full of flash frozen wild salmon. Pink. Coho. King. Hot smoked. Cold smoked. Over the years I’ve learned to use these nutrient-rich treasures in many ways.
In 2009, while judging the Alaska Symphony of Seafood, I perked up and took notice when fellow judge, Jordan Mackey, casually shared one of his tricks of the trade—how to make a good salmon burger.
“With this method, the burger stays really moist and you don’t have bread flakes or egg. They cook just great!”–Mackey
The Executive Chef of Seattle’s Edgewater Hotel at the time, Mackey explained, “I am not a fan of binders. With this method, the burger stays really moist and you don’t have bread flakes or egg. They cook just great!” While many salmon burgers can indeed be laden with fillers, it was obvious that Mackey’s savvy method for using up trim and fat laden bellies was worth trying at home.
Mackey explained that after they trim the scraps from the fillets of salmon, they cut the salmon into small to medium dice. They then sprinkle the diced salmon lightly with kosher salt and a smaller amount of sugar. He then lets the mixture stand, chilled, for about 15 minutes. During this time the fish begins to weep and get slimy. It’s this natural protein laden slime that acts as the natural binder for the burger. No panko! No eggs! No nasty additives!
Mackey then takes 30% of the mixture and quickly mixes it in the food processor to make a light chunky paste which he then stirs back into the diced salmon. Voila. There’s your basic salmon patty mixture! The restaurant presses this into 9 ounce patties and cooks them to medium rare in an omelet pan or Teflon skillet. (Mackey was careful to explain that his salmon patties and/or scraps are always previously frozen so any parasitic risk from eating medium rare burgers is minimized due to the freezing.)
Over the years, I’ve made these burgers many times, tweaking the ingredients according to whim and taste. Sometimes I take the classic route and just add lemon and dill to the mixture. When I am craving Asian, I add diced ginger, garlic, fresh cilantro plus a dash of soy sauce and sesame oil. If I want a smoky Southwestern slant, I add some cumin and chipotle pepper. While cooking the burgers I waffle between using a classic cast iron skillet and my beloved Le Creuset ridged grill pan. The grill pan creates great ridges and adds a touch of telltale smokiness to the burger.
Regardless of the flavors added or the type of pan used, the Ultimate Salmon Burger technique always results in a juicy and flavorful burger!
Note: I realize many readers probably don’t have whole fillets of salmon that need to have tips and bellies trimmed. Nonetheless, this method works great with previously frozen fillets or fillets purchased fresh at the store. The bottom line is that salmon burgers are a great way to add interest and flavor to a very nutritious seafood.