Friday, September 4, 2009

Cooking Along with Melissa: Salmon Fishcakes Supper

As you may remember, last week I tried out some of the recipes from the new The Next Food Network Star cooking program on Food Network, $10 Dinners with Melissa D'Arabian. Since I'd had a reasonable amount of success last time, and simply because I am really enjoying the show so far, I decided to make her next menu as well this week. She prepared something I already am very familiar with, Salmon Fishcakes, which I make pretty much any time I have leftover salmon. To accompany the salmon fishcakes, she made some oven roasted asparagus and an orzo pasta side dish. As always, Melissa promised that everything would be fairly inexpensive and easy to prepare. While I am not quite as concerned about the ease of a given recipe, I am always concerned about the cost, especially these days when constantly reminded of how many other people out there still need a decent job. And after all, the entire premise of the show is to prove that you can serve 4 hungry people a nice meal with a budget of just $10.

Off to the market I ran.. well erm ... ok I drove. Running to the market is something I blissfully could do in London, not in the sweltering heat of Florida. Ok fine, so I never actually ran.. but I did quite often walk to the market at least. Anyway.. my first stop, as always, was the produce department. Melissa did mention that the asparagus called for in her recipe might be pricey when it is off season, but would fit her $10 meal budget when it is fresh and in season. Florida only seems to have two seasons, nearly endless summer and something less humid than summer. Does this mean my asparagus was going to be cheap? Nope, $2.49 a pound and a tiny bundle weighed over a pound, so the asparagus was bypassed for some much more reasonably priced and very fresh looking broccoli. I decided I would simply steam the broccoli as usual and just add the vinaigrette Melissa had used on her asparagus at the end. This worked out ok, but neither my daughter nor myself were huge fans of the flavor of the vinaigrette with the broccoli.

I already had some Orzo in the house that I had dragged with me all the way from London, and all of the remaining ingredients for this dish were standard items I always have in my kitchen anyway: lemon zest, chicken stock, basic seasonings, garlic. The only thing I needed to buy for it was the fresh thyme, since I no longer have a fresh herb garden to randomly pluck from like I did back in the UK. /sigh. Well, at least this was not pricey, and honestly I am certain you could substitute whichever herb you like as long as it is colorful and fresh. The orzo, just in case you didn't happen to tuck some into your bags upon leaving London, did indeed fit the budget - it was about $.99 for a whole box, and you only use 3/4 cup in the recipe for 4 servings.

Next stop was the canned foods aisle for a tin of canned salmon. I was really very hesitant about this ingredient, since I don't usually like it canned. When I make my own version of fishcakes, I use up whatever leftover fresh fish I had made the night before. However, Melissa had pointed out that the canned salmon was very inexpensive and would taste great in her fishcakes. I decided that if the same tin Melissa had used was on sale, I would give it a try. I stood before the rows of red tins and glared at the little sale card. I could have chosen the smaller pretty pink cans of de-boned and de-skinned salmon, but they were more pricey, and I was trying to stick to the spirit of the tv show here. So I dropped the red Alaskan on sale salmon into my cart and mentally groaned at the thought of having to pluck out all the nasty bits of slimy skin and brittle edible bones. Does anyone besides the family cat ever actually eat those bones anyway? /shudder.

As for the orzo recipe, the remaining ingredients needed were all staples in my house, a potato, a small onion, some breadcrumbs, basic seasonings, a bit of mayo, a little Parmesan, Dijon mustard, bacon. The thought of a bit of bacon and potato mixed into my fishcakes filler sounded very appealing to me, not to mention I had a half bag of potatoes as well as some leftover bacon to use up in my fridge at home.

The entire menu, barring the 20 minutes I had to spend plucking bones out of my canned salmon, really came together very quickly and with great ease. The fishcakes were very straightforward - mix everything together, form into small patties, roll in some seasoned breadcrumbs and pan fry in what seems to me to be an excessive amount of oil. My usual recipe for fishcakes requires only a tiny bit of oil. I really don't think you need you need 1/2 cup, 1/4 cup total was fine and even then, I'd still use less next time.

Despite my misgivings about the canned salmon, these little cakes were flavorful, and filling. I thought the bacon in these was wonderful. I would make them again, but I would definitely prefer to use leftover fresh salmon or, if I really wanted to stick to canned fish, I'd try them with albacore tuna in water. I think smoked haddock would also be marvelous in this particular recipe. If you'd like to try out Melissa's recipe, you can find it here.

As for the side dishes, I was pretty happy with how the orzo turned out in general. Melissa had described it as having an almost risotto-like consistency, a bit creamy and smooth, only using pasta instead of rice. I'm not sure I'd quite call it creamy in the same sense, but it was definitely a different and tasty way to serve orzo, an ingredient which I have usually relegated to the role of a soup noodle. In this recipe, the orzo gets cooked in chicken broth that has been flavored with some fresh garlic and hot pepper flakes, although there was absolutely no heat at all in the finished dish. You could easily add any sort of seasoning you prefer to this, and just keep the same method of simmering it slowly in the stock to give it that smooth texture. The recipe for the Orzo with Thyme & Lemon Zest can be found here.


  1. Thank you :) It was yummy, very easy.

  2. Those salmon cakes look incredibly tasty Heather. Orzo is not something I've been able to get very easily over here though. Yours looks great. I dont' thnk I would like living in endless heat and humidity.

  3. I love the way you write about things; you make plain ordinary into something very interesting and extraordinay!Being the Foodie that I am I was following around and could actually see what you were doing.I use orzo quite a bit; we love it for a change fro rice. Thanks for sharing. I am still pretty green at blogging; you inspire me.

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  5. Marie - Thank you so much :) I used to be able to easily find orzo at the green grocer/Turkish market down the end of my street in NW London. They always seem to stock a good selection of pasta shapes that the bigger stores didn't always carry.

    Sage - aww thank you for your lovely comment /blush