salmon cakes, and a tale of two lemon sauces

by C.

COMING OFF AN UNDER-THE-WEATHER kind of weekend, I wanted a meal that would be comforting, summery, and still fairly healthy.  Early on Sunday I began craving some sort of fish.  I stumbled across a recipe for Poached Salmon with Avocado Sauce, but it was in this month’s Bon Appetit and I’m trying to vary my sources.  (Alas, poached salmon will have to wait for another day.)

But the idea of salmon stuck with me, so I did some more digging and I came up with a four-year-old recipe from Gourmet for salmon cakes with lemon yogurt.  Like crab cakes, but with salmon.  So far, so good.

I did some tweaking to the recipe (changing pita bread to panko crumbs for artistic/culinary purposes, ground coriander to cumin for what’s-in-my-pantry purposes), but the yogurt-based lemon sauce was leaving me skeptical.  It sounded a little bland, and reading reviews of other cooks on epicurious it sounded like the sentiment was shared.  Others, however, raved about the sauce, and so my Sunday night became a tale of two lemon sauces: one by Gourmet, and one adapting Gourmet’s sauce to have a little more bite with dill and Greek yogurt in place of plain yogurt and chives.

The sauces and the salmon cakes were quick and easy to make (much faster than last week’s tart!).  I had no trouble keeping the salmon cakes together while they were cooking.  They smelled delicious, and tasted even better.

After taste testing each sauce, the choice was unanimous.  Both were good, don’t get me wrong.  But the extra oomph of the Greek yogurt and the dill made the adaptation the clear winner.  I may have gone so far as to dunk my bread in the Greek yogurt sauce.  Repeatedly.  Until the bread was gone.

SALMON CAKES WITH LEMON YOGURT, adapted from Gourmet, April 2008

For salmon cakes:

1 pound salmon fillet, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup mayonnaise (see below for recipe or use storebought)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1  teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

For sauce #1:
3/4 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

For sauce #2:
3/4 cup Greek yogurt
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon chopped dill
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

Mix together the salmon, breadcrumbs, mayonnaise, egg, cumin, cayenne, 1 tablespoon of the chives, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Season with freshly ground black pepper.

Form salmon mixture into 4 cakes, approximately 4 inches in diameter each.  Stack with wax paper between each cake and chill for a few minutes in the refrigerator.  (Just enough to help them stick together — this is a perfect time to do a little cleanup or a few dishes.  Or to make the sauce(s), if you haven’t already.)

Heat olive oil in a 12-inch heavy nonstick skillet over medium high heat until it shimmers.  Cook the salmon cakes until golden and just cooked through, turning once.  This should take approximately 6-7 minutes in all.

Place cakes on a paper towel to soak any remaining olive oil sticking to the bottom of the cakes, then plate.

Yogurt sauce #1: Stir together yogurt, lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon salt, the remaining tablespoon chives, and 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest.

Yogurt sauce #2: Stir together Greek yogurt, lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon dill, and 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest.

Serve salmon cakes with sauce.

HOMEMADE MAYONNAISE, from Bon Appetit, April 2008

1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup canola oil

Combine yolk, lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, and salt in a medium bowl, and whisk until bright yellow.

Use a 1/4 teaspoon measuring spoon, add 1/4 cup of the canola oil, one spoonful at a time while whisking constantly.  This should take approximately four minutes, depending on how full your 1/4 teaspoons are.  (Mine, apparently, were somewhat lacking.)

Add the remaining 1/2 cup canola oil in a small, slow, steady stream while continuing to whisk constantly.  Continue whisking until the mixture is thick and lightened in color, approximately eight minutes.  Cover and chill.

The mayonnaise can be made up to 2 days ahead of time, but keep chilled.

I served the salmon cakes with brussels sprouts, a crunchy warm baguette, a cold rosé, and fresh strawberries for dessert.  (Strawberries have an irresistible siren song when they are sitting in a display at a grocery store.  Or at a farmer’s market.  Or drooping, perfectly red and ripe on the vine.  Anywhere, really.)