A few weeks ago, I impulse-bought a couple tubs of Thai curry paste. Since then, it’s been curry central in this household. I love how these pastes provide deep flavor and powerful heat, without any work involved: no chopping, no mashing, no nothing. If you have Thai curry paste in the fridge, coconut milk and rice in the pantry, maybe some fish sauce and limes, you can follow the recipe on the label and turn pretty much any combination of protein and veggies into a quick and powerful meal. But even beyond that, I’ve found these pastes are terrific for everything from dumplings to lentil soup to a simple coconut sauce for fish or chicken (which I’ll get around to posting sometime soon).
I bought two kinds of curry paste: red and green. The red curry is a bit sharper and tangier, while the green curry is rich and deep and slightly sweet. I actually like the green better for straight-up curry, but the red has proven to be a bit more versatile overall. When I learned that red curry paste is a key ingredient in Thai fish cakes, it was only a matter of time before I tried it in one of my favorite seafood dishes of all time: crab cakes.
This is a total mash-up recipe, in the best way. These little nibbles have all the flavors of Thai fish cakes–red curry, green beans, scallions, fish sauce, lime–with the texture of an all-American crab cake. Unlike the Thai version, which requires a food processor and deep-frying, these can be made in a matter of minutes in just one bowl, with minimal mess and less fuss. The crab mixture benefits from a little time in the fridge before cooking, but it’s really not necessary. I can–and have–made these on a whim for Sunday lunch, in 20 minutes or less. They’re terrific that way.
How big or small you make these is totally up to you. I go for a sort of middle ground and make 8 smallish cakes, which I think are ideal for an at-home appetizer or light lunch. You could make 4 giant cakes, or 16 itty-bitty cakes to serve as a party snack. If you go bigger, I’d suggest covering the skillet while the cakes cook, so that they heat through by the time they’ve browned.
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.