Saturday, July 4, 2009

Super Cheap & Easy Salmon Burgers

I envy the seriously inventive chefs out there who are capable of true originality. It’s been a very rare occasion that I’ve been able to come up with something that hasn’t been done before, and many times over at that. The reality for most professional chefs and home cooks alike is that coming up with a recipe starts with inspiration from someone else’s food. That means that when we create a recipe, we may be combining things in slightly different ways, or adding a single new twist to an old trick, but we’re really not making something entirely new. We borrow ideas and flavors and make them subtly our own. This is not revolutionary stuff.

The good news for home cooks is that this means we can practically steal most of our ideas, but still feel that we’re a part of the creative process. Many home cooks adapt recipes to suit the tastes or desires of their families; that’s basically the process I’m describing. And there are more and less complex ways of doing this. Sometimes, it doesn’t start with a written recipe, but with a taste of something worth copying. More often than not, this is where my recipes start. So it is with this recipe for salmon burgers.

As I mentioned in a previous post, some time ago I attended a dinner party put on by Healthy Pantry, a company that makes easy-to-prepare meals for the home cook. One of the dishes they made that evening was salmon burgers, which were a bit sweet for me, but still quite tasty. I noticed that they used canned wild salmon to make these, and I thought, wow, this is a great way to use an inexpensive, very healthy product. I’ve always tried to find ways to use canned salmon, since it’s pretty much always wild, and so much less expensive than fresh or frozen wild salmon. You can get a 14.75 oz. can of Bumble Bee red salmon (red salmon is higher quality and higher in omega-3 fatty acids than pink salmon) for around $5. The frozen wild sockeye salmon fillets that I buy at Costco for the bargain basement price of $26 for 3 lbs. works out to almost $8 for the same 14.75 oz. That’s 60% more expensive for essentially the same product! From an environmental standpoint, the can is also superior, because it eliminates the need for refrigeration. Good for your heart, good for your wallet, good for your world. There’s even another benefit to canned salmon that can’t be found in fillets – canned salmon contains soft, edible bones that are an excellent source of calcium, and a particularly bio-available form of the mineral.

The trick about canned salmon is that it really doesn’t taste as good as fresh or frozen fillets. So, some creativity is needed to employ it in recipes. Canned salmon needs a little help from other flavors to make it palatable, as opposed to canned sardines, which are also seriously healthy, and I think are just fabulous all on their own.

Somehow, salmon burgers eluded my bargain radar until I tasted the Healthy Pantry version. How could I have missed this opportunity? Needless to say, I got to work on a recipe. I’ve attempted to emulate the spirit of the Healthy Pantry version in that my burgers are made almost entirely from pantry items, rather than perishable ones. This reduces costs, makes prep time shorter, and makes it an easy go-to meal when you have no time to run to the grocery store. Feel free to substitute fresh products, if you’re so inclined. Here it is, my very own 30 minute meal:

Super Cheap & Easy Salmon Burgers
1 14.75 oz. can wild Alaskan red salmon
½ cup whole wheat bread crumbs
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 Tbsps. tomato paste
2 tsps. dried thyme, crumbled
1 Tbsp. dried parsley flakes
1 Tbsp. dried chopped onion
1 tsp. garlic powder
Salt & pepper, to taste
Safflower oil spray

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well with your hands or a wooden spoon. Form into patties.

Heat a cast iron skillet or griddle over high heat, and coat with safflower oil spray. Once hot, reduce heat to medium high. Cook patties 4-5 minutes on each side. Serve on a whole grain burger bun. Top with whatever you like: sprouts, avocado, tomato, lettuce, cole slaw, cheese, sauteed mushrooms, onions, etc.

Some alternatives:
For meatier flavor – add 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce to the patty mix
For spicier flavor – add one finely chopped chipotle pepper, or one fresh jalapeño, or several drops of hot pepper sauce to the patty mix

Makes 5-6 patties

Note: Canned salmon is a cooked fish product. It does not require the same precautions as raw fish. This means you cannot undercook it, and you can taste the mixture before it is cooked to see if it is seasoned to your tastes.

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