These salmon cakes remind me of my childhood. Salmon has always been a food that I associate with being pampered a little, even canned salmon, since it was something I ate rarely and always at my grandmother’s house. My grandmother was definitely of the “waste not, want not” mentality, which is hardly surprising since she lived through a period of strict food rationing. She re used everything and had a flair for turning the most dejected looking scraps into satisfying meals. If “nose to tail” had existed back then, she would have been able to teach us all a thing or two: meat bones were never wasted, she loved chicken skin and the crispy fat from the edge of a lamb chop and – much to my disgust back then! – she was never one to pick out the bones from the canned sardines she loved to mash up and have on toast for dinner.
So, back to the salmon. Fresh salmon was something that made a rare appearance at my grandmother’s house, usually when I was ill. Then, along with the vat of chicken soup that I wish I had gotten the recipe for, out would come the ultimate get-well-soon plate: salmon steak with mashed potatoes, peas and parsley sauce. It took me years to realize (a) how expensive salmon steak is to a lady living very modestly on her own and (b) how she cooked that meal for me and didn’t share in it herself. So for me, salmon isn’t just a delicious and nutrient dense protein, but it’s tied up in those feelings of being loved and taken care of by another. For my grandma, cooking was an expression of love and a good meal was how she cared for other people selflessly, making room in her budget for special food that she wouldn’t even eat herself.
The only salmon I recall my grandmother eating was of the canned variety and even that wasn’t cheap, so it was a treat for her. Although it totally horrified little-kid-me, Nana had no qualms at all about chowing down on the bones and skin and said they were the best parts. I’d like to think that she would have laughed to see me come around to her side: if she were still here today, I’d definitely attempt to fight her for crispy salmon skin now! But, let’s face it, I’d totally lose.
Canned salmon was often made into little fried salmon cakes in my grandmother’s kitchen, usually made with leftover potatoes from another meal and mixed with another cheaper white fish. For these salmon cakes, I’ve swapped out the potatoes for parsnips, which give a little sweetness that goes perfectly with the dried dill flecked through the little cakes. Instead of standing over the stove frying multiple batches, I opted to oven bake these, which makes this a great recipe to whip up at the weekend and stash for lunches throughout the week. They are great hot or cold and along with a salad make a good office lunch without much effort.
I used Wild Planet Pink Salmon for this recipe, since there are no surprise ingredients in there, just salmon and salt. I’ve linked to it on Amazon so that you can take a look, but I’ve found that I can purchase it at a much better price in stores. Here in Arizona, you can find it at Safeway, Fry’s, Sprouts and Natural Grocers. Here’s a handy dandy location finder for you!
- MASH: Peel the parsnips and trim off and discard the ends. Slice the parsnips, cutting the thicker ends in half through the stems before slicing so that all the pieces are roughly the same size. Cover with water and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until the parsnips are fork tender, about 15 - 20 minutes. Drain the parsnips and let them cool slightly for a few minutes until any steam dissipates. Use a potato masher or fork to roughly mash the parsnips together: we need a mash, not a puree for this to work.
- MIX: Drain the salmon and flake it into the pan with the mashed parsnips. Add the dill, garlic and salt, then mix to combine all the ingredients evenly.
- BAKE: Preheat the oven to 425 F / 220 C and line a baking tray with parchment paper. Brush a little avocado or coconut oil onto the parchment paper. To make about 8 evenly sized cakes, pack the parsnip mixture into a ¼ cup / 120 ml measuring cup, then place the rounds onto the baking tray, flattening the tops and smoothing the sides in your hands as needed. Brush the tops of the salmon cakes with a little extra oil and bake them for 15 minutes. Use a small silicone spatula to carefully flip the cakes over, then return the to the oven until they are lightly golden brown, about another 5 - 10 minutes. Serve immediately with a few lemon wedges - they're also tasty cold and make a great portable lunch addition!
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