Even when you’re a northerner through and through, and you cherish each of the four seasons, there are times when winter starts to wear on you. Just a little bit.
There are times, when it’s been a while since the snow cover has been refreshed and a while since the temperature has been above single digits, and it starts to feel drab and dreary and repetitive. It loses its luster the way snowbanks do as they get trampled over and sprayed with dirt.
But then, in the midst of all that, you may have a morning where you wake up to hear the cheery whistle of a songbird, “twee-ooo,” letting you know that it may get up into the teens today, and suddenly the world feels a little more alive. Then, the clouds may roll in and blanket everything with 4 or 5 inches of fresh powdery snow, and the world feels a little more clean. And hopefully, on such a day, you’ll decide not to go cross-country skiing on the groomed trails, even though you have a 50 km race you were supposed to be busting your butt training for, and instead go tromping in the woods, playing tag with the dog, searching for animal tracks, and making snow angels, and then you’ll remember why winter is gorgeous and magical.
Even the most wonderful things need paying attention to, or you’ll forget how very wonderful they are.
Although the new snow has us well on our way to feeling restored, we’ve been feeling a little chilly and a little tired in these parts. Which has been exactly the perfect excuse to break out old favorite standards when meal times roll around.
These salmon cakes are one of the best of the best, in my opinion. They’re one of my favorite takes on one of my favorite staple meals. One day several years ago, feeling torn between pepper crusted steak with horseradish sauce or salmon with aioli, I decided to combine the two.
What emerges from this happy union is perhaps better than either starting point. You get crunchy but tender patties of salmon tinged lightly with the flavor of mustard. The peppery crust is crisp and nose-tinglingly punchy, but it gives way to silky fish in the center. The horseradish cream sauce has its own balance of spicy and silky, the cream softening the bite of the horseradish so you can taste all the different facets of its tangy, mustardy flavor.
Eat leftovers for breakfast on toast (perhaps even with a poached egg!) and your day will perk up in a remarkable way. It’s really good stuff. Like winter is. Seriously.
Pepper Crusted Salmon Cakes with Horseradish Sauce (makes about 6 medium-sized cakes or more smaller appetizer-sized cakes – the recipe also doubles really nicely to feed more)
- 1 pound salmon (wild caught)
- 1/2 cup creme fraiche
- 1 Tbs. prepared horseradish
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- sea salt and fresh ground pepper
- 2 Tbs. very finely chopped red bell pepper (use a food processor)
- 2 Tbs. very finely chopped flat leaf parsley (you can food process this too)
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. prepared horseradish
- 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1 cup Panko bread crumbs, divided (gluten free breadcrumbs work quite well as a substitute if you’re gf)
- 1 Tbs. (generous) coarsely ground/cracked black pepper
- olive oil for frying
- Preheat your oven to 350F. Place the salmon in a baking pan with a half-inch of water. Bake/poach until just cooked through, 20-25 minutes. Remove from the pan and allow to cool slightly. Blot dry with a paper towel and remove the skin.
- In the meantime, in a small bowl combine the creme fraiche, 1 Tbs. horseradish and lemon juice with a pinch of salt and pepper. If you’d like a slightly garlicky sauce, you can add a smashed piece of garlic and let it sit with the garlic in it while you prepare everything else. Then, fish the garlic out before serving. Set sauce aside.
- Put the salmon in a bowl, add the minced bell pepper, parsley, salt, mustard, mayonnaise, remaining horseradish, and a half cup of breadcrumbs. Stir with a fork to combine well and fluff. If it seems too wet or too dry to be able to form cakes, add mayo or bread crumbs as needed. This is something I do totally by feel, so I can’t say for sure exactly the quantities I wind up using.
- Form the salmon mixture into 6 patties (or more smaller patties, if you want to make them as little appetizers), place them on a wax paper lined baking sheet and refrigerate for 30 minutes. (During this time you can prep any vegetable you are going to have on the side.)
- Mix together the remaining half cup of Panko and the cracked pepper on a plate or in a shallow bowl. Heat a large splash of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Gently dip the salmon cakes in the pepper mixture, lightly coating both sides (be careful when you handle them, as they are a bit fragile at this point). You may need to add a touch more breadcrumbs and pepper depending on how thickly you coat your cakes. Fry the salmon cakes until golden brown on both sides, about 3-4 minutes per side.
- Serve the salmon cakes over a salad or accompanied by roasted vegetables with the horseradish sauce for spooning all over them.