The first time I bought a can of wild Alaskan pink salmon, I thought I was supposed to remove the bones and skin, just like a regular fillet of fish. It took me almost an hour to manage it and I was so frustrated by the end of it that after I made salmon cakes, I swore up and down that I would never buy canned salmon again.
Well, that didn’t happen. But I’ll tell you what did: I learned how to eat tinned fish in Latvia. I learned that the canning process involved in tinning fish at least partially, if not fully, cooks the fish, softening the bones so they may be easily and painlessly eaten. I also, and most importantly, learned that tinned fish is pretty damned good.
Latvia is famous for one of its biggest exports: sprats (šprotes). When I was in Liepāja, my husband showed me the wall of refrigerated tinned fishies, some packed in oil, some in tomato sauce, and so on. He picked out a couple of different brands that he enjoyed, one of which was Rīgas Zelts, still my favorite brand of šprotes. I picked out a loaf of bread and we took them back to our flat to enjoy before a movie.
Dubiously, I picked out a sprat and laid it gently on a hunk of bread, the oil drizzling itself over the bread’s nooks and crannies. The fish was thankfully missing its head, though not its fins, scales or other unmentionable fishie parts. I watched my husband take a large bite, shearing through the body of the fish with ease. I looked back at the fish, which seemed to look back at me. Shrugging my shoulders and thinking of the food rule I live by (“try anything and everything twice”), I took my first bite.
I had feared it would be slimy, or worse. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised. The fish was full of flavor, rich and meaty. The bones and skin were nearly unnoticeable, the fins a pleasant change of texture. I was hooked.
Within a few days, I’d badgered my patient, loving husband into buying me more tins, then began branching out into all the wonderful fishie snacks enjoyed by Latvians. Before I left Latvia in 2008, my mother-in-law made me one of her favorite fishie snacks: fried lamprey in aspic. That, however, is another story. (I’ll say this: Don’t be afraid of lampreys either. Really tasty critters but I can’t bring myself to eat the head and all its horrible teeth.)
The moral of this story is: Don’t be afraid of tinned fish. You don’t have to de-bone, just dump it in a bowl and mash it up. Within seconds, it’ll look just like tuna.
Easy Salmon Cakes [printable recipe]
Makes about 8 cakes
- 1 15 oz can pink salmon, drained
- 1/4 cup bread crumbs
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/2 medium onion, diced
- 1/3 cup sour cream
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 tsp basil
- 1/2 tsp crushed red chile flakes
- 1 tsp thyme
- 2 tsp dried parsley or 2 tbsp fresh parsley, minced
- 1 tsp lemon-pepper
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp hot sauce, such as Tabasco
- 2 – 3 tbsp oil
Combine everything in a large bowl. Mash together well. Form balls of the salmon mixture and flatten into patties about 3″ across and 1/2″ thick. Fry patties over moderate heat in a skillet with 1 tbsp oil until nicely golden brown, about 2 – 3 minutes per side.
Serve with Garlic Sauce, tartar sauce, mayonnaise or other creamy sauce.