Salmon cakes from a dollar store gourmet

Recession-era cooking doesn't have to feel like cutting back. Here's a full menu that feels generous

Published September 28, 2010 1:01AM (EDT)

The standby fish in my childhood is salmon from a can. Mom could feed her family of five with one can of salmon and a few pantry ingredients, frying up salmon croquettes. I make salmon croquettes, too, although I've adopted my husband's name for the dish: salmon patties. I don't know why, maybe it's a Georgia thing, but that's the way the dish appears on meat-and-three menus around here.

We used to eat salmon fillets and steaks regularly, in the mid-'90s heyday of Thursday night's NBC Must-See TV lineup. I made my killer teriyaki sauce with extra garlic and ginger and heated up the small nonstick skillet I use for scrambling eggs. I coated the pan with just a bit of oil, slid the fillet in, let it sizzle on both sides and poured the teriyaki over all, being careful not to let it cook too much, or the sauce, which is half sugar, would burn to an acrid mess. This was B(efore) K(ids), so my husband and I would eat the salmon with rice and stir-fried broccoli while watching "Seinfeld" and whatever came next. 

Here's the thing: I went to the supermarket today to buy salmon for my salmon in a small pan with teriyaki. At the seafood counter, the price was $8.99 a pound. On sale. Let's be frank here, Francis (I've wanted to write that for so long): It's the end of the month, one of my daughters had a cavity filled, we have checkups and birthdays this month, and despite this week's headline that the recession ended 14 months ago, I just didn't feel up to paying $8.99 a pound (on sale) for fresh salmon, so I headed to my neighborhood dollar store.

Dollar stores are hot; did you know that? At least, according to this New York Times article about how stores such as Dollar General stock goods in smaller packages that are less expensive to appeal to customers living paycheck to paycheck. At Dollar General, I paid $2.25 for a 14.75 ounce can of Alaskan wild-caught salmon. The same can at the grocery store cost $2.59.

Here are my salmon patties. I've tried a few recipes over the years, mostly from the back of the can, but I always go back to the late-'80s Pillsbury Cookbook version, with just a few adaptations. Pillsbury was my bridal shower cookbook, and my beaten-up, stained copy is missing both covers, but, thank goodness, the recipes still work.

Salmon Patties

These can be seasoned with fresh herbs, if you happen to have them on hand or in the garden. Dill is upscale, fresh parsley is fine, and dried parsley from the spice drawer is authentic to my childhood memories.

Yield: 6 patties


  • 1 (15-ounce) can salmon, undrained
  • 4 cups fresh bread crumbs from 8 slices white sandwich bread, divided
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • ½ small onion, finely chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • canola oil for frying


  1. In a bowl, place salmon. Pick through fish, pulling out skin and icky dark stuff. Mash the bones between your fingers (the bones are supposed to be good for you, all that calcium).
  2. Add remaining ingredients, until you have a fairly wet mixture that will hold its shape. Pour remaining bread crumbs into a pie dish. Shape mixture into 6 medium patties, about 1 inch thick and 3 inches across. Place patties in bread crumbs and gently coat with crumbs on both sides.
  3. Pour oil into medium skillet and heat until it comes up to frying temperature. I drop a few bread crumbs into the hot oil to see if they will sizzle.
  4. Fry the patties in the oil until golden brown, about 3 or 4 minutes on the first side, and a minute less on the second side. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate. 

For the rest of Lucy's menu, including macaroni and cheese, black eyed pea vinaigrette, and butterscotch peach tart, click here.


By Lucy Mercer

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