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We are lucky to live a quarter-mile or so from a seafood market, with the boats supplying much of the fish and shellfish parked right out back. It’s a nice walk down to pick up something for dinner; we’re lucky to have the option and I know it. I try to cook fish at least once a week since we both like most kinds of fish and shellfish and I have gotten much less intimidated about preparing it. I make a mean fish taco, if I do say so, and can tell if my halibut is done with a glance at the grill. (I used to pull the unsuspecting fillet to bits to check for opacity, which kind of ruins the presentation. No more.)

Despite having a conveniently-located market and some confidence in my fish-cooking skills, there are some nights I can’t or don’t want to get fresh fish, so I always keep a few kinds of tinned fish on hand. I buy canned tuna at the farmers’ market (hooray for living in Seattle); use anchovies in oil, primarily to add depth to pasta sauces; bravely purchased some sardines, which I haven’t dared to open done anything with just yet; and always have a few tins of pink and/or red salmon on hand. I like salmon for healthfulness reasons, prefer its mild taste to tuna in many recipes and have perfected my salmon burgers to the point where they are on the meal plan every other week. Salmon burgers are so easy to put together and — I know this may shock you — I prefer them to hamburgers nine times out of ten. Also, because we live in a city on the water and I have crazy conditions that must be met by all meat purchased, salmon can be a cost-effective choice of proteins. In the summer, I serve grilled salmon burgers with lots of ripe, delicious tomato, crisp lettuce and a simple sauce of mayo (or yogurt) with lemon zest or garlic, or both. For now, I am content to eat my pan-cooked salmon burger with some baby lettuce from the farmers’ market and a zesty harissa mayo.

Salmon Burgers with Harissa Mayo (makes 2 burgers)

For the burgers:

  • 1 6-oz. can pink or red salmon*
  • 1/4 c. breadcrumbs (see below for a gluten-free variation)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 T. minced onion or shallot
  • 2 T. fresh parsley, chopped
  • 3 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon zest (optional)
  • pinch of salt & a few grinds of fresh pepper
  • buns/wraps of your choice (I like ciabatta rolls or pita bread)
  • lettuce/tomato/sliced onion to garnish

For the sauce:

  • 3 T. mayo
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp. harissa
  • 1 small clove of garlic, minced and then smashed into a paste
  • a quick squeeze of fresh lemon juice (about 1/8 tsp.)

To prepare the burgers, drain the tinned salmon and use a fork to break it up into small pieces in a medium size bowl. Add the breadcrumbs (depending on the salmon you use, you may want more than 1/4 c. breadcrumbs, but add more a little at a time), egg, onion, parsley, lemon juice and zest, salt and pepper and use the fork to mash/mix it all together. The salmon mixture will look crumbly but should hold together in a ball when you push it against the side of the bowl. Divide the mixture into two burgers. Heat a skillet with canola, grapeseed or olive oil just covering the bottom (about 3 T. or so) over medium to medium-high heat; when the oil is warm, but not smoking!, put the burgers in the pan. If they crumble a bit, don’t worry, just place the extra bits on the top and press them in gently. Cook the salmon burgers for about 4 mins. and then carefully flip them over and cook for another 4 mins. or so. The fish is pre-cooked, so you’re just looking for a pretty golden brown. Remove them from the pan to a wire rack or a plate covered with paper towel to remove the excess oil, then assemble your burgers with toppings of your choice and harissa mayo.

To make the mayo, just combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and mix. This sauce can be made with yogurt, if you prefer, and is delicious with chicken and pork, too.

Gluten-free variation: I’ve had success with these as a gluten-free meal, leaving out the breadcrumbs and adding an extra egg yolk for binder.  I used lettuce leaves as a “bun” and they were wonderful.

*I prefer to buy skinless and boneless salmon, even though it is a little more expensive (maybe $1 a can or so) because I am a little squeamish? uncertain? about the bones. However, I have used tinned salmon that was not boneless and it works just as well for these, with no noticeable taste or texture differences.