When I mentioned to a friend that I was working on a recipe for salmon burgers, he assumed I was using fresh salmon. I wasn't. Like a throwback to the 1950's, I've been looking for ways to cook with canned salmon and making burgers or salmon cakes seemed ideal.
Some of you may have the same food memory as I do, of a salmon loaf made with canned salmon -- the only kind of salmon we ate when I was a kid. It was always served with a bland, tasteless white sauce. The salmon loaf had a pretty pink color, a crispy surface, but no flavor.
When I headed off to college, salmon loaf (thankfully) disappeared from my diet and eventually fresh salmon took its place. More recently, as I've learned more about food quality and sustainable seafood, I've become very strict about eating only wild salmon. I love it pan grilled, poached, baked with a piece of prosciutto wrapped around it, in tiny dice and dressed as a raw tartare, roasted and flaked into a salad, and any number of other ways. And besides its splendid flavor, I want its omega-3 fatty acids and other nutritional benefits.
But fresh wild salmon is both expensive and a challenge to buy. Not every grocer, or for that matter, fish monger, sells wild salmon and when they do, it can easily bump up against $20 a pound, making fresh wild salmon more of a treat than an everyday food.
This makes canned salmon an appealing alternative. First, it's always wild. The canning facilities are mostly in Alaska where the fish are caught wild and immediately pressure cooked in the can with no additives other than salt. While you can buy skinless and boneless canned salmon, most comes with some skin plus the fish's delicate, edible little bones. When processed these little bones become very soft and easily mix in with the fish, making canned salmon one of the best sources for calcium. For women and anyone who is lactose intolerant and looking for non-dairy ways to put big doses of calcium into your diet, canned salmon is a great choice.
Plus it's very affordable: a 14.75 oz. can is less than $4.00.
But how does it taste? And how do you cook with it apart from that "Mad Men" era salmon loaf?
First, you can substitute it for fresh crab in your favorite crab cake recipe. Just use the far less costly salmon instead of the crab and follow your recipe exactly.
Next, canned salmon is excellent in salmon salad or in a salade nicoise when you've run out of tuna. You can toss it with pasta and green peas or make it the main ingredient in a luxurious salmon mousse. It can be a topping for home-made pizza or combined with sour cream and dill for a dip. It's versatile but you need to take into account the fact that being canned, the salmon is already cooked and has a very soft, flaky texture.
To some it may seem inconsistent with our striving to eat fresh and local foods to embrace an ingredient that comes out of a can. But I believe that a salmon cake made from canned wild salmon is better for us that one made with fresh farmed fish.
It is also affordable without the compromise of preservatives or chemicals. We can keep the cans in our pantry and make a nutritious and healthy meal on a weekday after a long day at work, coming home when the fish stores are closed. I place this ingredient -- and what we can do with it -- in the same category as frozen spinach, frozen artichoke hearts, canned chick peas and dried apricots. These are the best kind of convenience foods.
Given the choice I would always prefer fresh fish and local ingredients. But you may be surprised to know that there are some processed foods that deserve a place on the "A" list.