Process This: The Ultimate Salmon Burger Method

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. 

 

 

Curry Cilantro Vinaigrette for a Winter Salad

Yesterday, I wrote about winter salads and in that post I mentioned using a robust dressing…one that can stand up to the bulky textures and flavors of cabbages and kale.

To follow up on that note, I decided to write about making a basic food processor vinaigrette in today’s post. Admittedly, I use bottled dressings in my kitchen. They add incredible convenience and if I choose carefully, they add flavor without a ton of fat. (I prefer the nonfat balsamic dressing from Trader Joe’s.)

However, there are many days when I make my own vinaigrette and without a doubt my trusty Cuisinart food processor or mini chopper is the tool for the task. Whisking the mixture in a bowl can do the trick but I find that my food processor lightens my dicing load and blends everything together beautifully.  I also like making my own vinaigrette because it saves me money and lets me tweak to my preference.

The basic approach is to use one part vinegar (or acid) to three parts oil. It’s then important to add an emulsifier, or blending agent, like mustard or garlic to hold the mixture together. I vary my vinaigrettes seasonally. In the summer when I make a rice and black bean salad, I make a garlic, cilantro and cumin-laced dressing. For those days when I am craving classic French salads, I make a tarragon shallot vinaigrette. Right now, because my garden is producing winter cabbages and kale, I am making hearty salads and reaching for robust vinaigrettes.

This morning, I made one of my favorites–a Curry Cilantro Vinaigrette. Using fresh ginger, lime, cilantro and curry powder, this concoction brings the warm flavors of curry and ginger to big bowls of crunchy seasonal produce. Here’s the recipe. Feel free to tweak it to your taste:

Curry Cilantro Vinaigrette

one 1 inch piece of fresh ginger root, peel and chopped into chunks

2 teaspoons curry powder

juice of 1 lime

1 Tablespoon honey

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 vegetable oil

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 bunch fresh cilantro, leaves and stems included

In a mini chopper fitted with the metal blade, put the ginger root, curry powder, lime juice, and  honey. Blend for 30 seconds to chop the ginger root and combine the ingredients. Add the oils and the salt and process for 30 seconds to combine. Add the cilantro and process for another 15 t0 20 seconds to chop the cilantro. Transfer to a small jar and keep refrigerated. Makes about 3/4 cup.

Note: When using this vinaigrette, use a big bowl, toss well, add toasted seeds or nuts to the mix and toss in fresh seasonal fruit or  a little cheese if that suits your taste.