I’ve been wrapping up our annual trip back home to the Pacific Northwest of British Columbia. This year’s adventure was full of lazy days at the beach, boisterous family reunions with cousins I haven’t seen in close to twenty years, peaceful explorations through lush, moss-draped forest groves, mountain hikes with incredible vistas, refreshing lake swims…
And plenty of delicious food—including some seriously incredible seafood, caught mere hours before the meal and savored at the peak of freshness.
We always enjoy at least one salmon dinner when I come back to visit family. And even though there are at least six of us at most dinners, we’re invariably left with some leftovers to use in a subsequent meal.
Repurposing seafood into cakes is by far my favorite way to use up the leftovers. Fish cakes include other ingredients to bulk them up, so they’re a great way to stretch the leftovers and feed more people, and you can also get creative with different flavor profiles and combinations of herbs, spices, and vegetables.
Harissa is a traditional North African spice paste of peppers, garlic, and warm spices such as coriander, caraway, and cumin, with a subtle smoky heat and huge flavor. You can make it fresh, but it’s also easy to find in most grocery stores these days. Dry harissa spice rubs are also quite common and make a good option if you can’t find the fresh paste. Harissa packs a punch, so it makes a great marinade or spicy condiment. It works amazingly well with salmon, which has an assertive flavor of its own and won’t be overpowered by the spices.
Preserved lemons are another staple in North African cooking. The closest thing I can think of in terms of their unique flavor is lime pickle, which is prevalent in Indian cuisine. Whole or wedged lemons are cured in salt, resulting in a tart, briny pickle with an unparalleled bright, citrusy flavor. A little goes a long way, and once opened they last for years in the fridge. Preserved lemons also harmonize perfectly with the smoky harissa and salmon in this recipe.
These cakes can be made with freshly cooked and flaked fish, leftovers from a previous meal, or even canned salmon should you desire. Quick to put together, you can get them on the table in under thirty minutes. This is a great meal for those busy work weeks, especially with the school season upon us. Serve hot, at room temperature, or cold for a picnic. But my favorite is piping hot, straight from the pan, alongside a salad or more substantial side such as rice or couscous. These salmon cakes also make a delicious sandwich if you make the patties slightly larger, then serve on toasted buns with the yogurt and some crisp lettuce.
Moroccan-Spiced Salmon Cakes
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
For the harissa yogurt:
½ cup plain yogurt
½ teaspoon harissa paste or spice rub (or to taste)
½ teaspoon lemon juice
Salt, to taste
For the salmon cakes:
8 oz. cooked, flaked salmon
4 green onions, finely chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
½ cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1 tablespoon melted butter
2 tablespoons quality mayonnaise
½ cup almond meal or breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon harissa paste or spice rub (or to taste)
1 large egg
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1½ tablespoons finely chopped preserved lemon or an additional 2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro or mint
Salt and pepper, to taste
Butter or oil, for frying
- Whisk together yogurt ingredients and set aside in the fridge.
- Combine all salmon cake ingredients in a bowl. Adjust seasonings and spice level to taste (not all harissa pastes are created equal).
- Preheat oven to 200°F. Heat butter or oil in a shallow pan over medium heat, until hot. Form patties the size of your liking (I like mine about 4 inches in diameter). Fry in hot oil until deeply golden on one side, then flip over with a spatula and cook until deeply golden on the other side. Be careful not to crowd the pan.
- If you need to make them in batches, transfer first batch to preheated oven to keep warm while you cook the remaining salmon cakes. Wipe pan clean with paper towel, then heat up a little more butter or oil before cooking the next batch.
- Serve hot, warm, or cool. Chill remaining cakes to enjoy later with a dollop of yogurt.
Image from Briana Goodall.