A pescatarian comes to visit
We are awaiting the arrival in a few days of our nephew Josh, his wife Jen and their 13-year-old son, Sammy. When they visited a year ago, it was announced that Sam had become a pescatarian. Who had heard the term before? Not I. I looked it up. “A person who does not eat meat but does eat fish.” But there was more: he ate only finned fish, no shellfish. I couldn’t imagine why this was the case, particularly since I’m mad for scallops, shrimp, lobster, mussels, clams and oysters. Some animal lovers won’t eat something they would rather pet, but that doesn’t explain this aversion. Perhaps, like many, he has an allergy, or maybe he was influenced by the Kosher summer camp he attends and adores. That would definitely rule out shellfish. Meanwhile, his folks are happy eating pork chops and throwing seafood kebobs on the grill.
I am not a relaxed hostess, nor do I take feeding loved ones, or anyone for that matter, lightly. So, I have been lying awake nights thinking of what to prepare when my nephew and his family arrive. Last summer I grilled wild Alaskan sockeye salmon fillets, deep orange in hue, with a citrus glaze. The fish had been spread with a mixture of dark brown sugar, lemon and orange zest, salt, and pepper. Wild salmon is way more flavorful than farmed salmon, but difficult to find and expensive. I traveled quite a distance to obtain the wild stuff. The meal, served with a tangy Vietnamese coleslaw, was a great success. Sammy proclaimed it the best salmon he’d ever eaten.
Even a full year later, I am unwilling to serve something I’ve already made for family members I don’t often see. An alternative, salmon burgers made with fresh fish came to mind, and I searched various recipes, cobbling together one that combined components that made sense to me, then thought about sauces that would complement the burgers. Tarragon mayonnaise, similar to tartar sauce, and tzatziki (Greek cucumber and yogurt sauce) both sounded perfect, and I like the idea of giving folks a choice.
It’s a rule of thumb that one never serves company a dish one hasn’t already tested, and I adhere to that reasoning because I have, on occasion, served my sister (for whom I cook daily) a meal I was less than satisfied with. Though Janet couldn’t be more gracious and forgiving, I am crestfallen when I don’t deliver the goods. I was able to find wild salmon on a trip to New York City for the test run, though I’ve come to believe that these burgers could be made with farmed salmon or a combination of the two. What’s important is the inner texture of the burger and crispness of the outer crust, plus the flavorful sauces that top them. I will be serving them on toasted brioche buns, but Janet and I had them today atop mixed greens. Janet proclaimed them the best salmon burgers she’d ever eaten. Now we’ll have to wait and see what the pescatarian has to say.
1 1/4 pounds center-cut salmon filet, preferably wild, skin and any pin bones removed
2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 – 3 scallions, white and light green parts, finely chopped
2 tsp. grated lemon zest
2 Tbsp. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 cup plus 1/4 cup Japanese panko breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 – 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
Cut three-quarters of the salmon into quarter-inch cubes. Transfer to a large bowl. Cut the remainder of the salmon into chunks and put in the bowl of a food processor. Add mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice and lemon zest. Pulse until a paste forms. Scrape the paste into the bowl with the diced salmon. Add the scallions, parsley, 1/4 cup panko, salt and pepper to taste. Gently mix to combine. Form the salmon mixture into four patties, each approximately 4 inches wide and 3/4-inch thick and place them on a lightly oiled baking sheet and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least a half hour. Remove the patties from the refrigerator and spread the remaining panko in a shallow bowl. Press the patties one at a time in the panko, turning to coat both sides well. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large non-stick skillet large enough to hold all four patties (or use two smaller skillets) over medium-high heat. Add the patties and cook until browned on the bottom, about 3-4 minutes. Turn and cook until the other side is browned, adjusting heat if necessary, 3-4 more minutes, until springy to the touch. Transfer with a wide spatula to a paper towel-lined plate to drain and salt lightly. Serve on toasted brioche rolls or atop mixed, lightly dressed greens, and top with sauce of your choice.
Makes about 3/4 cup
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/8 cup plain yogurt
1 scallion, white and light green parts, sliced lengthwise, then chopped
1/2 tsp. snipped chives (optional)
1 tsp. small capers, preferably in salt, rinsed thoroughly
2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh tarragon leaves
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. prepared white horseradish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Cover and chill until ready to use.