Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Another Kitchen Confessional, and Asian Salmon Patties

My mother had a very exciting, glamourous life, in my opinion. She had several career changes before finding her calling as a photographer, including a long stint working for the Israeli embassy, both in Israel and in Washington. In the photo above (wasn't she beautiful!) she is seated next to Yitzhak Rabin, who would later become prime minister. (And even later, in 1995, assassinated.)

But my mother's working life first began when she became a microbiologist (My grandmother once told me that my mother had worked on cancer research.) And while her scientific career at some point came to an end, her training and knowledge in the area of bacteria was revisited often in her lifetime, particularly as a parent.

The spectres of Bad Bacteria/ Fear Of Food Poisoning loomed large in the lives of my sister and I. Food that was stored longer than 3 days in the fridge was deemed "unsafe", hands had to be washed the second we got in the door from being outside. It took me two decades before I was able to eat food outside my home that contained mayonnaise - I was convinced no one but us knew how to store it properly. My mother wasn't a germophobe, in fact the manner with which she schooled us in Bad Bacteria was done lovingly and in a rather matter-of-fact sort of way.

And yet, and I say this with love in my heart, what happened to me and my sister is that we became uncommonly, and dare I say unhealthily aware of the dangers of Bad Bacteria/Fear Of Food Poisoning. Now adults, we will frequently call each other to question the safety of foodstuffs that maybe were left out of the fridge longer than the recommended two hours or ponder whether that week-old, half empty jar of applesauce is still good. And each time, after we've exhausted our cautious speculations, we quote back to each other our mother's Food Safety philosophy:

"If you're not sure, throw it out."

As you can imagine, a lot of food is thrown out. What can I say? If you have to ask, you're clearly not sure, right? So out it goes. Almost Husband thinks I'm certifiable. I am not allowed to throw out his questionable foodstuffs. He is not afflicted with The Fear.

Anyways, the other day, when I'd bookmarked Martha's Asian Salmon Patties, I took some salmon fillets out of the freezer and left them in the fridge to thaw overnight, only I didn't cook them the next day. And so, two days later, there it was. The panic. Was the fish okay to use? Had I let it languish too long? People can get really sick eating bad fish, and I'm not one of those people who can distinguish between an 'ocean-fresh' fish smell and a 'fishy' fish smell. It's fish, people. It all smells fishy to me. And can I just tell you how many times I washed my hands when preparing the raw patties? Forget about it! Ridiculous!

Side note: I'm unclear as to why these patties are called Asian. Is it because they're salmon, and everyone thinks all Asian people eat is fish? Is it because there's ginger in them? Because if eating fish and ginger is the criteria, well, I believe I might be Asian too.

I paired them with Sweet Potato fries, which I've tried to make a bunch of times and they never turn out crispy. So this time, I made a bit of a marinade that included cornstarch, which I remember reading somewhere encouraged crispiness. I have to say these were the best sweet potato fries I've ever made. I think the cornstarch did actually help.

I had one of those rare, mystical kitchen experiences when preparing all this - I just knew everything would taste extremely awesome. Even the lime-tinged dipping sauce I made was awesome. I know the final picture, taken without the gorgeous natural light of early evening doesn't do it justice. But I will be making this meal again and again. While taking extreme care to wash my hands repeatedly and decontaminate my work surfaces.

My mother would be proud.

Asian Salmon Patties, Martha Stewart "Fresh Flavour Fast", with a few changes by me:

1 lb skinless, boneless salmon fillets, finely chopped (you can use fresh, I used frozen)
3 green onions, finely chopped
1/3 cup (or thereabouts) of leeks, rinsed well and finely chopped
2 tbsp ginger, finely chopped
1/2-3/4 tsp of red pepper flakes, depending on your heat tolerance
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
Lime wedges for serving


1. In large bowl, gently combine salmon, onions, leeks, ginger, red pepper flakes, egg, 1 tsp salt and however much pepper you like. Form the mixture into 8 patties, about 1" thick (my portion made 9 patties) packing each firmly. Freeze or refrigerate (I refrigerated because you can't re-freeze thawed fish) patties till just firm, about 20 minutes or so.

2. Heat some oil in a pan over medium heat. Cook the salmon patties, in batches if needed, till browned on both sides and cooked all the way through. Fish should be opaque. Eat immediately, dousing generously with lime juice.

Lime-Tinged dipping sauce a la Me:
(this is enough for one person)

1 big spoonful of plain yogurt
1 big spoonful of mayo
finely chopped zest and the juice of 1/2 a lime
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (or more, to your taste)
Fresh ground pepper and salt to taste

1. Combine everything till well mixed.

Oven-Baked Sweet Potato Fries a la Me: (this is enough for one person)

1 sweet potato, halved lengthwise and then sliced into smaller slivers (approx. 1/2" thick)
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cornstarch
1-2 tbsp olive oil
Fresh ground pepper and coarse salt


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees (Demonic Oven operated at 350 degrees) In a small bowl or jar, mix the cumin, chili powder, cornstarch, olive oil and pepper, stirring vigorously till well combined.

2. In a large bowl, combine the sweet potato with the marinade mixture and stir till the potato slices are well coated. Lay them out in a single layer on a baking sheet or roasting pan and sprinkle more ground pepper and some coarse salt over them. Bake for 40 minutes, taking them out at the halfway mark to turn them over and sprinkle with more pepper before returning them to the oven.


  1. This dinner looks amazing! I am going to try and make it real soon. Funny too, because I always used to make sweet potato fries and then forgot about them for years only to make them last week. Am going to try your corn starch trick.

    That is a stunning photo of your mom.

  2. Thanks Jess! If you do make this, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

    The cornstarch certainly helped, but they still weren't super-crispy, just to warn you. Maybe it is not possible for them to be unless you deep fry them?