Food and Drink

Make a pile of smoky salmon cakes to dunk in Alaska chef Beau Schooler’s wondrous ranchovy sauce

Savory salmon cakes along with Beau Schooler’s ranchovy sauce

On occasion I get a present in the form of a new recipe to test via text from my friend Beau Schooler, a chef at In Bocca al Lupo down in Juneau. (You might remember his fabulous sourdough recipe.) We have a yearslong text thread going about Alaska-style cooking and lately we have been corresponding about salmon. I wanted to come up with something new that worked well for frozen fish. He sent me this fish cake recipe that uses a combination of salmon trim or freezer fish and smoked fish. Dunk them in “ranchovy,” a wonder-condiment he invented, and they are savory, funky, smoky, perfect.

Depending on what you have fish-wise, you can modify this a bit. You can use half as much smoked fish and increase the fresh, if you’re short. I probably wouldn’t recommend using more than half smoked fish. Also, give some thought to salt. Smoked salmon saltiness and texture varies a lot, depending. You might add a couple splashes of fish sauce, “if you’re feeling frisky,” Beau says, especially if you are reducing the smoked fish. My smoked salmon was salty so I held off on any added salt or fish sauce and mine is on the dry side, so I also added just a little more mayo.

The best part about these cakes is you can make them a few days ahead, refrigerate and fry them up just before dinner. They can also be frozen, though be sure to thaw completely before you fry. And, if you’re in a hurry and don’t have time to make the sauce, you can do like I do sometimes and stir a little wasabi or Sriracha in with some mayo. It’s not ranchovy, but it works in a pinch.

Beau’s smoky salmon cakes

2 teaspoons olive oil

1/4 medium onion, diced small

1 celery stalk, diced small

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1/2 bell pepper, any color, seeded, ribs removed, diced small

2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced

Pinch of salt

1/2 pound (about a filet) of raw salmon or salmon trim, skin removed, minced

1/2 pound smoked salmon, flaked

3/4 cup mayonnaise (Best Foods or Kewpie recommended)

3 cups panko, divided in two

Zest of one lemon

Neutral oil

Sliced lemon to serve

On the stove, heat the oil in a pan over medium heat and add onion, celery, pepper and garlic. Stir frequently, sweating the vegetables until they are soft and the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Don’t allow vegetables to brown. Remove from heat. In a large bowl, combine smoked and fresh salmon, zest, mayonnaise, 1 1/2 cups of panko and the vegetables. The mixture should hold together if you form it. Beau says, “If it feels loose or wet add a little more panko to tighten it up, if it feels too dry give it another tablespoon of mayonnaise.”

Divide the salmon mixture to form eight 4-ounce patties for large cakes or 16 2-ounce patties for appetizer-sized cakes. They should be about an inch thick. Pour the rest of the panko on a plate and roll each fish cake in it to coat. On the stove, cover the bottom of a large frying pan with oil. Fry cakes over medium heat in batches, 3 minutes a side, adjusting heat if they are getting too brown. Remove from pan to a paper towel-lined plate.

Ranchovy sauce:

1 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

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1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon fish sauce

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

In a small bowl, stir together all ingredients. Serve with fishcakes or anything you usually serve with ranch.

Julia O'Malley

Anchorage-based Julia O'Malley is a former ADN reporter, columnist and editor. She received a James Beard national food writing award in 2018, and a collection of her work, "The Whale and the Cupcake: Stories of Subsistence, Longing, and Community in Alaska," was published in 2019. She's currently writer in residence at the Anchorage Museum.

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