Smoked Salmon Cakes
These buddies were a scrumptious success at a luncheon I recently catered. You can make them without smoking the salmon, of course, but smokiness adds a rich depth, a ‘something extra’, oooh I could even say “je ne sais quoi”…whatever you want to call it, it will compel you to eat at least ten of them.
Do you need a smoker? No, a charcoal grill works splendidly. My grill-guru cousin swears by the Weber grill for all of his smoking activities. There are smoker boxes for gas grills, and I’ve also used a Stovetop Smoker—they’re handy for small items but mostly I like being outside with the fire.
The goal is a mild heat in the covered grill to let the food absorb the smoke and not cook too quickly— low and slow, as they say.
Move the coals to the side of the grill to give space for offset cooking. The wood is pre-soaked in water to prevent it from flaming up and burning too quickly. I like to keep gadgetry to a minimum, but if you feel drawn to this elemental experience of smoking with your charcoal grill it’s well worth the investment of a Hinged Grill Grate that allows you to add more wood or coals without removing the entire grate. More than merely helpful, it’s become essential!
Fish has a more delicate flavor than pork, lamb or beef so it’s best to use milder woods like apple or cherry. I was moving things around during this photo, normally everything should be flat on the grill. The deep orange caramel sheen is from the smoke. Pure flavor.
Speaking of cooking with fire, I’ve started reading “Cooked” by Michael Pollan, and as much as I drag my feet to join the crowds of gushers in general, I have to admit his eloquence and imagery of phrase sometimes takes my breath away. I’m still in the first section of Fire where he delves into the mysterious world of smoking meats and the religion of barbeque by apprenticing a Southern pit master. Bonding with fire and time…
Little mates all lined up for the luncheon.
I formed the patties on Friday, covered them with plastic wrap then stored in the refrigerator overnight. Then I bread-crumbed and pan-browned them early Saturday morning, and baked them for 30 minutes for the noon meal. Yet another pre-prep kind of fare that is so party-host-friendly.
The basic fish cake recipe came from the 1997 Joy of Cooking with a few variations. Smoking the salmon just seemed like a natural progression for the dish…and progress it did!
Smoked Salmon Cakes
Prep Time: 15 minutes for marinade prep; at least 3 hours to marinate; 30 minutes to assemble
Cook Time: 35-75 minutes to smoke the salmon, 45 minutes to fry and bake cakes
Toast a light or white bread then crush or puree to make breadcrumbs.
Marinate 3 hours, or overnight:
1 1/2 pounds fresh salmon
1/4 cup Tamari
2-3 teaspoons Sugar
1 clove Garlic, minced
Smoking the Salmon
Set the salmon out at least 1 hour before smoking to bring it to room temperature and to allow the surface to dry a little.
Prepare the grill.
For a charcoal grill: Soak 2 cups of small apple wood chips in water for an hour. Prep around 30-40 briquettes for grilling. It’s best to use briquettes without petroleum products or other additives, and using a Chimney Starter eliminates the need for lighter fluid. Lump hardwood charcoal is a good option but it burns hot so you would need to use fewer of them and space them apart.
When they are partly white, push the ready coals to both sides of the grill so the salmon can be placed in the middle and will not be directly over them. Set a few pieces of drained wood on the coals, place the grill back in place, then transfer the salmon directly onto the grill but NOT over the coals. Replace the lid, close the vent 3/4 shut so it will not burn hot (200-225 degrees Fahrenheit), and let it smoke. The vent below the grill should be open.
After 35 minutes check the salmon—thin filets may be done, thicker pieces may take up to 75 minutes. For a smokier flavor replenish the wood after 20 minutes.
For a gas grill: Soak the wood chips for an hour, then drain and transfer them to a ‘smoker box’ (a basket to hold the wood chips) or a small aluminum tray. When the grill is still cool, remove the grate and place the box on the heat source off to one side. Replace the grill then preheat to 225 degrees. Smoke the salmon for 35-75 minutes.
For more on smoking, charcoal, tools, tips and all-things-barbeque see Smoke & Spice by Cheryl and Bill Jamison.
Mix together in a large bowl:
1 1/2 pound cooked Salmon, crumbled into tiny pieces
1/4 cup Breadcrumbs
1/3 cup Mayonnaise
2 Celery stalks, minced
1/4 cup Onion, minced
2 Tablespoons Parsley, minced
1 1/2 Tablespoons fresh Lemon Juice
1 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay
1/4 teaspoon Cayenne
1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon Sea Salt
Shape into cakes, large (3 inches) for main course or small (1.5 inches) for appetizers.
Heat a saute or cast iron pan to medium heat. Preheat oven to 350 degrees if you plan to bake them right away.
Dip cakes in dry breadcrumbs, then carefully fry in butter or oil 2-3 minutes per side or until lightly browned. It’s easiest to do these in small batches.
Transfer to an oiled baking sheet.
Either bake them immediately at 350 degrees for 25-35 minutes, or chill them for 8 hours and bake later.
Serve with a Horseradish Dill sauce that I will post next week!