Sharing grandma’s love for wallflowerish canned salmon
It’s still heart awareness month, so I’ve decided to send some love to a heart-healthy pantry item that seems to get so little of it: canned salmon.
When I was young, my Grandma Esther used to make Salmon Croquettes–which are basically like crab cakes for the kosher set. My dad apparently loved them, though truth be told, I was never a huge fan. But I recently came across her old handwritten recipe, and decided that it was worth giving them a try with my more refined adult palate. And I’m glad I did! They were darn tasty: mild-flavored, with a slightly springy, pancake texture, in contrast to a more meaty texture that you’d expect from an actual salmon burger. They are a perfect brunchy, lunchy or light suppery food, and would go well on a bed of greens as the protein on a salad, or alone as an appetizer served with your favorite fancy mustard, gingery salad dressing, horseradish sauce or dill-infused condiment.
2012 update: I made this recipe for my 13-month old babies, and they loved it! It’s a great way to serve fish to picky, carb-loving tots, since the texture is sort of cakey/bready/springy rather than meaty; cut up into bite-sized pieces, it looks like bread or pancake. For babies, I’d recommend using boneless, skinless canned salmon to keep the texture smoother for safety’s sake.
Canned salmon is almost always from wild-caught salmon, which means it tends to have a higher content of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Most of the salmon you eat at restaurants or buy from the market is farm-raised, which means the fish are fed industrially-produced, grain-based fishmeal instead of their natural diet. The result is that farmed fish tends to have much lower levels of healthy omega-3 fats. According to the smart people at Tufts University, 4 oz of canned salmon contains 2.2g of omega-3 fats, compared with 1.7g in an equivalent portion of fresh or frozen cold-water salmon–that’s 30% more per serving! Note: the current recommendation is to eat 1.1g (women) to 1.6g/day (men), or 7-11g per week, which means 4oz of canned salmon will provide 2 day’s worth of the average woman’s requirements.
Also, canned salmon is an excellent non-dairy source of calcium, assuming you eat the teensy-tiny, wispy bones…which you can do without really even noticing it. (But take out the larger, more visible bones because they can be a choking hazard.) And lest you think calcium is good for your bone health only, I should mention that calcium is involved in every muscle contraction your body makes. And last time I checked, your heart was a big, ol’ muscle that does a lot of contracting. Which means it has to rob your bones for calcium if you’re not eating enough to keep blood levels steady. A 4 oz portion of canned salmon with bones has about 200mg of calcium, or 20% of the RDA for most adults. If you’re squeamish about encountering the bones when you open the can, they do sell boneless, skinless canned salmon. Buy that and work your way up to the bone-in kind for the extra calcium. You’ll still get the omega-3 benefits, and no one will think any less of you for it.
There’s more! Wild canned salmon is lower in mercury and toxins like PCBs than even farmed salmon, (which is still reasonably low), placing it among the safer fish choices you can make for yourself, your kids, and the pregnant women in your life.
And let’s be honest, how often are there fresh, wild-caught salmon fillets in your refrigerator when you have a hankering for an easy, healthy dinner that’s not chicken…again. Canned salmon is a very convenient food to have on deck for those occasions.
Are you feeling the love yet?
So in memory of my beloved Grandma Esther, I am sharing an updated version of her recipe, which is true to the original except for the part about cooking it in “deep hot fat” until golden brown. Oh, grandma. Deep, hot fat was so 20th century…
Recipe: Grandma’s Salmon Croquettes
(Yield: 10 croquettes, which will be more crab-cake sized than burger-sized)
1 tall (15 oz) can pink salmon. Grandma wrote to “use everything but the bones”, meaning just pick out the large, visible bones and leave everything else. (Alternatively, you can use two 6 oz cans of boneless, skinless salmon… it’s faster and works just as well.)
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk* or plain kefir (or other plain cultured yogurt drink)
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup flour or breadcrumbs (Preferably whole wheat; you may use a gluten-free version of either if you’re avoiding wheat, as I did.)
1/4 tsp baking soda
Salt and pepper
Olive or canola oil for cooking (amount will depend on size of your pan… I used 1 TBSP per batch of 3-4 croquettes in a non-stick pan and it worked fine.)
(* C’mon… who actually has buttermilk laying around the house? Here’s an easy substitute that I used: combine 1 TBSP lemon juice or vinegar with enough milk to make 1 cup total. Let sit for 5 minutes and then use as you would buttermilk. Note this recipe only calls for half of this amount.)
Mix salmon, seasonings and eggs. Add buttermilk, flour/breadcrumbs and baking soda and stir until well-blended. In a non-stick pan, heat a small amount of oil (just enough to cover the cooking surface…~ 1.0-1.5 TBSP for a medium-sized pan) until nice and hot. Drop batter with a spoon and pan fry until bottom is golden brown; flip each croquette and cook second side for an additional minute or two until its firm and also nice and brown. Drain on a paper towel and serve. Note: you can serve these hot, warm or cold.
Nutrition info (approximate; assumes 3 TBSP oil used for frying, and doesn’t account for blotting some oil off after cooking):
1 croquette contains approximately: 140 calories, 11g protein, 4.5g carbohydrate, 9g fat.
1 croquette also has approximately 0.7g of omega-3 fats, so a serving of 2 croquettes (1.4g of omega-3’s) would meet the average woman’s recommended daily intake and come very very close to meeting a man’s recommended intake. Also, 1-2 croquettes, served on a nice bed of greens and vegetables with a low-fat condiment, would make a very good low-carbohydrate meal for someone with diabetes.
If my grandma’s recipe is too 20th-century for you, Ellie Krieger has a 21st-century Asian-inspired one where she calls the croquettes “cakes” and serves them with a creamy ginger-sesame sauce. But there are plenty of other ways to use canned salmon, too. You can make salmon salad just like you’d make tuna salad, but you may want to squeeze some fresh lemon into it as well. Stick some in a crepe with scrambled eggs and cheese for a french-style brunch… or skip the crepe and use it in an omelet. The web is full of recipes for salmon burgers, which are a perfect way to use canned salmon, and there are variations ranging from Rachael Ray’s bunless salmon burger served on caesar slaw to the manly Jammin’ Salmon Burgers with Dill Mayonnaise (I’d go easy on the mayo for this one to keep it healthier, and use a canola or olive oil mayo instead of the regular soybean-oil-based Hellman’s kind. Better yet: use a dijon or whole grain mustard instead.)
NPR Kitchen Window did a nice piece on canned salmon last year, so check out this link to learn more about the benefits of canned salmon as they relate to mercury content, some tips for cutting the ‘fishier-than-tuna’ flavor (that’s what the lemon juice is for), and some links to family-friendly recipes for things like penne with salmon and peas.
In summary: canned salmon is pink, wild and cheap. It’s sort of like the Cyndi Lauper (circa 1980) of canned fish. So really… what’s not to love?Did you like this? If so, please bookmark it, RSS feed.