When I was a kid, one of my mom’s go-to dinners was salmon patties. They were one of those genius feed-a-family-in-minutes recipes, made entirely with pantry and fridge staples: canned salmon for substance, crushed-up cornflakes for bulk, and egg for binder. I loved those patties–loved them!–except for one thing: the canned salmon always had bones in it. My parents tried to convince me they were edible, but I would have none of it. I remember the ritual, every time, of carefully dissecting my salmon patties and removing the tiny white vertebrae. It was a meticulous operation, but necessary before I could chow down on my delicious dinner.
Now that I’m an adult, I get to put my own spin on my mom’s recipes. That means taking things I’m not crazy about–like bony canned salmon–and finding alternatives I do like. Where my mother always had canned salmon in the pantry, I find I usually have smoked salmon in my fridge. So here’s a posher, slightly fresher take on those beloved salmon patties: my smoked salmon version. These would be lovely for a brunch party, or a light summer lunch. And best of all, no bones!
These patties are firm and slightly crisp on the outside, then dense and almost crab-cakey within. The texture of these is almost Proustian for me–it really does take me back to those childhood dinners. For me the key is to break the salmon meat down until it’s about the consistency of lump crab meat. You could leave the smoked salmon in quite large flakes, I suppose, for a more sophisticated result, but I’ll have it no other way than this. (By the way, this also means you don’t need to use fancy or expensive smoked salmon here, since the texture would be lost. Anything you can get your hands on will work, as long as it’s the firm, hot-smoked kind of salmon.)
The cakes are flavored with many of the usual accompaniments: mustard, onion, lemon, and dill. I’ve already played with this flavor combination once before, and it remains a favorite in my household. I could have added some drained capers too–and feel free to, if you want–but I didn’t want their damp crunch to ruin the familiar texture of my salmon patties. In fact, this is one of those recipes that stands as a canvas for anything you want to do with it. I never make these the same way twice, and that’s part of the fun.
Smoked Salmon Patties (serves 2 as an entree, or 4 as an appetizer)
6 oz hot-smoked salmon (the firm stuff, not the lox)
1/2 cup homemade (fresh) breadcrumbs OR 1/4 cup storebought (dried) breadcrumbs
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tbsp chopped fresh dill (optional)
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp Dijon mustard, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 large egg
1 tbsp olive oil, or as needed
Lemon wedges for serving
Remove the skin from the smoked salmon, and transfer to a medium mixing bowl. Use a fork or your hands to flake the flesh into small pieces. Add breadcrumbs, scallions, dill (if using), lemon zest, mustard, salt, and pepper, and toss to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then add egg and mix thoroughly. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Divide the salmon mixture into 8 portions, and shape each portion into a patty. Fry the patties, flipping them once, until they’re golden on both sides and heated through. Serve immediately with lemon wedges for squeezing over.