Smoked pork has hogged the spotlight long enough. It's time bacon stepped aside and let smoked fish enjoy a little well-deserved attention. Smoked trout is my weekday lunch staple, but when it comes to weekend brunches or other special meals, I splurge on smoked salmon. In this recipe, pungent, smoky slices flavor a soft potato cake that is dredged in panko and cooked until crisp, then drizzled with an herbed crème fraîche. Bacon who?
In Japan, panko-crusted mashed potato cakes like this are called korokke ("croquette"), and versions of them can be found in restaurants, at supermarkets and in home kitchens. I have a special place in my heart for the first korokke I ever tried, a salmon-flecked version served with a spicy fish egg mayo.
So when a co-worker made a crisp potato cake with smoked whitefish, the wheels started turning. Flavorful, oily smoked fish seasons the potatoes without the need for a lot of extra salt, fat or dairy, resulting in cakes that feel creamy and moist yet light.
In this ode to my first korokke, a couple tablespoons of mayonnaise, a little lemon juice and pepper, and half a cup of chopped smoked salmon flavor and bind the mashed potatoes, while the crunchy panko coating adds textural contrast. A simple herb-flecked crème fraîche sauce brings in acidity and freshness. I'd be happy to eat these for brunch anytime, or even as a light dinner with a lemony salad and a glass of wine.
And since both the cakes and sauce can be made ahead and refrigerated, and the cakes are cooked four at a time in the oven, this is a practical yet elegant-looking option for a sit-down brunch. Take that, bacon.
Smoked Salmon Potato Cakes with Herb Crème Fraîche
For the crème fraîche
1/2 cup crème fraîche
2 tablespoons minced fresh herbs (dill, chives, parsley, etc.)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
For the cakes:
2 medium potatoes
4 ounces smoked salmon, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup panko
Salt and pepper
Lemon wedges (optional)
Make the crème fraîche: In a small bowl, whisk together the crème fraîche, herbs, salt, lemon zest and pepper to taste. Set aside at room temperature while assembling and cooking the cakes to let the flavors meld.
If cooking cakes in the oven (see Additional Notes below), preheat oven to 450°F and place a cast-iron or other oven-safe skillet on the middle rack to preheat.
Peel and chop the potatoes. In a medium pot, cover the potatoes with water and a big pinch of salt, and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until potatoes are soft. Drain.
In a large bowl, mash the potatoes and set aside to cool slightly. When cool enough to handle, add the salmon, mayonnaise and lemon juice and thoroughly mix with a fork. Add pepper and a little more salt if needed. Form the mixture into 3-inch patties. (Cakes will be very soft at this point. You can either chill them in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to an hour to firm them up, or proceed with the recipe, handling them carefully.)
In a wide, shallow bowl, beat the egg. Put the panko in another wide, shallow bowl or plate. Dip a cake in the egg, then in the panko and set aside. Repeat with the remaining cakes.
Pull skillet out of the oven. Coat the bottom with 2 tablespoons of oil. Place cakes in the skillet and bake for 8 minutes, flipping halfway through, or until the cakes are golden-brown and crisp. Serve with herb crème fraîche and lemon wedges, if desired.
• The cakes can also be cooked on the stove: Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Cook cakes, flipping halfway through, until brown and crisp on both sides.
• The herb crème fraîche can be made up to 24 hours before. The cakes can be formed and refrigerated up to 12 hours ahead. Dip them in egg and panko just before cooking.
Wine Recommendation from Mary Gorman-McAdams One of my all time favorite wine pairings with salmon is a minerally Chardonnay. Try avoid the big powerful oaky versions, as they will certainly overpower the dish. Cooler climate Chardonnay such as ones from from Chablis, Mâcon or New Zealand have enough bright acidity to cut through the richness of these salmon cakes and also the creamy palate texture to complement the salmon and crème fraîche flavors.
• 2010 Chateau de Maligny, Vieilles Vignes Chablis, Chablis France, $20 - Crisp, lovely chalky minerality, bright green apple and citrus flavors, nicely taut on the palate.
• 2008 La Carte Mâcon Lugny, Mâcon, Burgundy, France, $17 - Showing some nice honey notes, juicy grapefruit, yellow plum and red apple flavors and creamy mid palate.
Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW (Master of Wine), is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant.
(Images: Anjali Prasertong)