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Fresh Salmon Cakes with Ginger and Lime

We’ve been having some of the most beautiful days in DC these past couple of weeks. The air is crisp but not yet cool, and the sun seems happy to shine all day long. It looks like summer from my office window, but it’s starting to feel like fall.

The weather’s confused my compass a bit in the kitchen. tomatoes and — believe it or not — peaches are still at the market for the taking, but apples cropped up early this year, and now they’re everywhere. Most confusing of all, as I passed through the lower part of the Dupont market a few Sundays ago, I saw unlikeliest of early fall produce: fresh ginger.

Ginger typically doesn’t come into season until mid-October, but there it was, at the end of September, and it was gorgeous. I’d used up my stash from last fall months ago and craved more ever since. Was I going to hold back? No, no I wasn’t.

The first thing I do with market ginger is make ginger ice cream. It’s been that way every year. Fortunately, I bought enough to have extra after the ice cream was frozen and tucked away. So I flipped to a recipe I’d tabbed back when I breezed my way through The New York Times Essential Cookbook, for fresh salmon and lime cakes.

Rid the image of canned salmon and/or disgusting amounts of mayonnaise from your mind. Shudder; sigh. These are no ordinary salmon cakes. They contain fresh, diced salmon; very little binder; and –surprise! — wasabi, ginger, and kaffir lime leaves. Dipping sauce: lime juice, soy sauce, brown sugar. No mayo whatsoever.

These aren’t burgers; they’re cakes. Don’t sandwich them inside a bun (unless it’s one of those Asian steamed buns, which actually might be great with a shmear of hoisin and sriracha…whoa, what an idea!) But really, these don’t belong in a kaiser roll. They belong on a plate, with a fork and knife — the way the French might eat burgers, come to think of it.

Dicing the salmon will be time-intensive. If you have a meat grinder, lucky you. If you’re in a rush, you can cut the salmon into large pieces, put them into a food processor, and pulse a few times very quickly until salmon is coarsely chopped. After that, the work is minimal. You can have dinner on the table in 15 minutes flat. Now that fall’s arrived — with school underway, jobs busy as ever, and all of those fall Jewish holidays here — there’s not much else I can ask for.

Fresh Salmon Cakes with Ginger and Lime
From The New York Times Essential Cookbook
Recipe says it serves 4-6, but I’d say it’s more like 2-3; I doubled recipe and served 4 with not too many leftover

*Note: kaffir lime leaves aren’t the easiest to find. If we’re being honest, I had to try 3 stores before finally getting some. Your best bet is an Asian grocer. That said, you definitely can make these with lime zest. Fret not.

One 1-pound skinless salmon fillet
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons rice flour
2 kaffir lime leaves, chopped, or zest of one lime
1 tablespoon minced or grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon wasabi paste
3 tablespoons chopped chervil or flat-leaf parsley

1/4 cup fresh lime juice (from about 2 limes)
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Oil for frying (something neutral, like corn, canola, or vegetable)

Run two fingers along the top of the salmon to check for any pin bones. They run the length of the flesh, right along the middle. To pull them out, either use tweezers or a small piece of paper towel between your fingers (which mitigates the slipperiness of the fish). Pull in the direcfaces of the bone; they should slide out.

Dice the salmon into 1/4-inch dice. In a medium bowl, combine salmon, egg white, rice flour, lime leaves, ginger, wasabi paste, and chervil or parsley. Stir until everything is evenly mixed.

In a small bowl, combine lime juice, soy sauce, and brown sugar. Set aside.

Set a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper on a baking sheet. Scoop 2-tablespoon portions of the salmon mixture into your palms, roll into a ball, flatten into a cake, and set on the baking sheet. Continue until all salmon has been used.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Put a baking sheet into the oven.

Heat 1/2 an inch of oil in a nonstick or castiron pan. When oil shimmers, add cakes, leaving at least 1 inch between them. Cook cakes for about 45 seconds on each side; do not overcook. When cakes have finished cooking, transfer them to the oven to stay warm while you cook the rest of the cakes.

Serve immediately, with lime dipping sauce on the side.

(If you’d like to make these in advance, don’t preheat the oven; just transfer the cooked cakes to a plate, refrigerate, and warm through in a 200-degree oven before serving.)

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  • Olga @ MangoTomato October 5, 2012,

    These look incredible! I’ve made salmon cakes a few times but have always used canned salmon. Clearly these win 😉

    • rivka October 5, 2012,

      ohh, yes! These are so, so much better.

  • Aliza October 5, 2012,

    Riv, these look awesome! Can’t wait to make them – and eat a lot of similar things during my honeymoon in Hawaii!!

    • rivka October 5, 2012,

      Yay for honeymoons! These are a bit Hawaiian, aren’t they? They’re actually from Donna Hay, who is Australian, but they have some of that beachside flavor going on. Have a blast!

  • Liz Rueven October 6, 2012,

    These fresh flaves have me tempted to keep these lovelies raw! Thanks for helping us to transition to Autumn with this flavor shift as we welcome ginger back to the markets.

  • LukePF October 9, 2012,

    Oh, these are happening TONIGHT. I’m going to see if I can’t grab a yuzu to zest from Hana, though, as I am NOT running around looking for makrut leaves on a Tuesday. 🙂 Thx for highlighting these; I’ve read through the Essential NYT like twice and get overwhelmed by the choices… so many things to make!

  • AntoniaJames November 13, 2012,

    Am so glad you tried and posted this recipe. These salmon cakes look great! I plan to try them within the next week. Here’s a tip about keffir leaves. Many produce markets that are run by Cambodians and southeast Asians (here in the SF Bay Area at least) keep a large stash of them in their freezers in the back, for anyone who asks for them. They hold perfectly well in the freezer, so (whether you get them fresh or frozen) buy lots of them, to put in your own freezer. They’ll last at least 6 months, so it’s easy to have them on hand when you need them! ;o) P.S. Lemongrass also freezes well. In fact, it’s much easier to chop when frozen. I peel off the hard outer skins, cut the stalks into six inch lengths, then tuck the bag into my freezer.