Thursday, May 31, 2012

Thai-Style Salmon Cakes

After taking a break for the last month to wrap up the semester and not worry about taking decent shots of our meals, I'm ready to start posting again.  While posting regularly is not terribly difficult, it's so much easier to not post at all.  It's analogous to following an exercise routine: the first couple of days you slough off you feel guilty, but the longer you go without following the routine the easier it gets.  Then you wake up one day and find yourself needing to catch your breath after bending down to pick up your paper.

Tod mun pla, fried fish cakes, are a popular item on Thai menus. Fresh, light, and bursting with flavor, they are a nice way of starting off a meal or as an accompaniment to cocktails.  While tod mun pla are fried, these salmon cakes, which are adapted from Cindy Pawlcyn's Big Small Plates, are grilled.  Intended to be served as appetizers, we had them as the main course for a recent dinner. 

These are less aggressively spiced than typical tod mun pla.  There is no Thai curry paste added to the fish.  As much as I enjoy salmon, I think these might work better with halibut or cod.  Salmon is such a rich fish that it overwhelms these somewhat.  I was afraid they would end up sticking to the grill, but they were quick and easy to cook with no sticking problem whatsoever.  We used Boston or Bibb lettuce to wrap the patties, but you could use Iceberg if you wished.

adapted from Big Small Plates

4 ounces haricot verts, or young green beans
1 pound skinless salmon fillets, pin bones removed
1 stalk lemongrass, outer layers peeled, and white inner section minced
4 small shallots, peeled and minced
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
3 to 4 TBS minced cilantro
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 kaffir lime leaves, central vein removed, thinly sliced
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp fish sauce
pinch of salt
pinch of freshly ground black pepper

Bibb or other lettuce leaves
nuoc cham
finely grated carrot
finely grated daikon
fresh lime slices

Cut the haricot verts into 1/8 inch slices.  Blanch in boiling water for 30 seconds.  Drain and place in an ice bath.  When the beans are cold, drain them and dry on towels.

Cut the salmon into 1/2-inch pieces.  Chill.

Mix the minced lemongrass, shallots, ginger, cilantro, garlic, lime leaves, sugar  and fish sauce in a small bowl.  Chill this mixture for 30 minutes.

I prefer to chop the salmon into fine pieces with two knives; otherwise, pulse briefly in a food processor.  You want to make sure you don't end up with a smooth paste.  Gently mix the salmon with the chilled herb mixture and the blanched haricot vert slices.  Season with salt and pepper. 

Form the salmon mixture into small patties about a half inch thick with a one and a half inch diameter (1,25 cm x 3,75 cm). 

Brush the patties with oil on both sides and grill over  hot coals for a couple of minutes on each side until nicely caramelized.  They can also be pan fried in a nonstick skillet for 3 to 5 minutes each side until golden brown.

Serve with lettuce leaves to wrap.  Top with finely grated carrot, daikon and nuoc cham.  Squeeze fresh lime on top if you wish.