Awright. Time for me to gush about my pops.
You know how, whenever you hear about tall, sturdy guys, the first thing everyone says is, “Oh, he’s just a big teddy bear?” In my dad’s case, that’s 100 percent true. He’s 6’4″, and an utterly gentle soul. He’s a born-and-bred intellectual, a fierce verbal sparring partner, and a profoundly moral thinker. He’s also the first person I ever heard call himself a feminist. He’s a remarkable man, and an amazing father. And given the events of the past month, with our family’s first-ever cancer scare, I’m struggling all the more to express how much he means to me.
So, instead of going completely mushy splat all over your computer screen, I’m going to tell you about the Manly Man Macho Meal I made for him for Father’s Day. Salmon burgers, grilled to perfection.
Yeah, you’re jealous. Don’t lie.
The world has approximately fifty zillion salmon burger recipes. I have now added the fifty-zillion-and-first. Why? Because my version is really good, that’s why. And as with so many good burger recipes, it hinges on simplicity.
When it comes to the gussying-up process, salmon can take a lot. Toss in a garden’s worth of herbs, a market’s worth of spices, and just about every condiment in the fridge–well, maybe not ketchup–and it’ll sop it up cheerfully. But salmon is also so damn flavorful on its own that masking it seems like a crime. Especially now, when sustainable, decadently plump wild salmon is in season.
So I take inspiration from the brunch platters of my people–bagels and lox, ahoy!–and flavor my burgers with dill, red onion, and lemon. (I skip the capers, although plenty of venerable food folk include them.) I keep the seasonings chunky, so that the sunset-pink chopped salmon gets a chance to dance with delicate fronds of dill and little morsels of onion. The result is a burger with the clean, sexy lines of a sportscar. No, I’m not kidding.
Now, I mentioned wild salmon. I’m sure everybody in the recession-throttled world reads those words and has dollar signs pop out of their eye sockets, like cartoon characters. But here’s the secret: frozen wild salmon, which–at least in my area–is readily available and not horrifically expensive. I’ve found that when I thaw frozen salmon at home, it can get a little mealy and stringy, which can dash the dreams of the perfect, pearly fillet on the plate. But if you’re blitzing it in a food processor, texture doesn’t matter. Just flavor–sweet, buttery, struggling-up-the-rapids flavor.
Now, this is the part where you imagine a salmon burger sauntering up to a plain old beef burger and singing, “Anything you can do, I can do better.” (And when I say you’re imagining this, I mean me.) These burgers can be pan-fried or grilled, eaten with fork or with hands, bunned or sauced or sliced over salad. The key, though, is to avoid overcooking like the plague, or the burgers will dry up and sulk. There’s nothing worse than going in for a juicy mouthful, and biting into a hunk of pink onion-studded Styrofoam instead. I’ve done it. Don’t be like me.
On Sunday, we fired up my parents’ grill for the first time yet this season, and sat the burgers over a sizzling hot flame. They picked up some television-worthy grill marks, and the bits of onion crisped and caramelized around the edges. Then we ate them on toasted buns–nutty whole grain buns, which loved every morsel of the salmon sandwiched between them.
If that doesn’t scream Gourmet Dad Meal, I don’t know what does.
Oh, and I see you eyeing those asparagus spears, and the colorful confetti piled on that burger up at the top of this post. Those stories and more, next time on…this blog.
Salmon Burgers (makes 9 burgers, give or take)
3 lb. skinless salmon fillets
1/3 of a large red onion (or 1/2 of a small one), diced
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
Zest of 1 lemon
1 large egg
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut the salmon fillets into chunks and pulse in a food processor, until it’s approximately the texture of ground meat. Transfer to a large mixing bowl, and add the onion, dill, lemon zest, egg, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly, then shape into burgers. Transfer the burgers to a covered container (or throw some plastic wrap over them) and refrigerate for 2-6 hours before cooking, to firm them up and make them easier to handle.
Grill or pan-fry the burgers as per usual. Be careful not to overcook them! Give them only 2-3 minutes per side, and pull them off the heat when they’re still a little spongy in the middle. Serve them however you damn well please–I’m not gonna tell you how to eat your burger.