This past summer, my family drug our 180 Sea Ray lake boat from the desert to Northwest. The drive alone took over 16 hours. Once we reached our destination, the San Juan Islands, we rode a ferry from Anacortes, Washington to Orcas Island. We had a rental house on the west shore of the island and spent seven days touring the San Juans in our lake boat. It was amazing! We went crabbing, salmon fishing, searched (unsuccessfully) for whales, and even took the two hour boat ride to Victoria, Canada. My husband said we were safe, but I think he may have a death wish.
While in the San Juan Islands, we met the local legend, Popeye. Popeye is a one-eyed harbor seal who has frequented the Friday Harbor area since 1995. She is such a legend in the area, she has been named the official seal for the port and has a statue in the park near the marina. If nothing else, you should venture to the San Juans just to search for Popeye! She loves to visit.
Our trek to the Northwest supplied us with plenty of Dungeness crab and pink salmon, also known as the humpback salmon or “humpies” to the locals. Pink salmon fishing was very different compared to lake fishing. The pinks are very aggressive fish to any lure that is neon pink, but getting them in the boat is another story. They are said to have a “rubber mouth.” At first, I did not understand what this meant; however, after trying to pull one in the boat and having its lips literally rip off, I understood. Their mouth is very soft. You have to really develop a rhythm for pulling them aboard.
People also said pink salmon are good for one thing: smoking. They really did not have a very good reputation in the area. They ruin the good fishing, king salmon fishing, because, they are too numerous, bite too easy, and did not have a tasty reputation. We froze what we caught and decided to work with them when we arrived home. Once home, we cooked up a little piece to see what we were working with. Upon a single bite, I knew the perfect use for this fish: salmon burgers!
My favorite salmon burger is a ginger wasabi recipe. I love the combination of the almost sweet tasting salmon with the spicy wasabi and zesty ginger. Makes me hungry just talking about it right now. For salmon burgers, you will need about a pound and a half of salmon for four burgers. You also want to invest in a nice Kaiser bun, crispy lettuce, ripe tomatoes, good REAL wasabi, and a good companion for your burger. For our companion, I made fresh cut baked French fries.
Our salmon was fileted and still had the skin on. It is very easy to remove the salmon from the skin, as long as you have a sharp knife. You will also need to remove the pin bones using needle nose pliers. Once the salmon is removed from the skin and pin bones gone, you are ready to start working!
First, cut your filet into three rough pieces and toss it in the food processor. Pulse the salmon four or five times. You want to chop all the salmon up, but don’t pulse it so many times that you create a salmon paste. Put your salmon in a large bowl and start adding your vegetables and spices. First, chop your red bell pepper and scallions (also known as the green onion, my husband asks what scallions are every time) and drop in with your salmon. Before I move on, I just want to say the bell pepper can get juicy if you try and mince it too small. If you see a lot of excess juice from your bell peppers, try and not pour that extra juice in with your salmon because it will make for a very wet burger. Next, add your garlic, minced, and three quarters of your ginger. I bought a hand grater for two reasons. The first was to zest lemons and limes. The second reason was for ginger. Chopping up ginger is difficult, but grating ginger is easy! I would suggest getting a simple hand grater if you use ginger often, it helps. Finally, add your tamari (which is a dark soy sauce you can find in the Asian section of your grocery store), steak seasoning (my favorite is McCormick), sesame oil, and black pepper. Give everything a quick stir to combine and start forming patties!
For cooking your patties, you can either heat up a pan and grill them on the stove or you can go the barbeque route. I have done both. The pan is easier. Salmon patties tend to be a bit more juicy than beef or turkey burgers. They also tend to fall apart easier. The burgers are spatula friendly in the pan; however, the barbeque definitely adds more flavor and kicks the burger up a notch as long as you don’t drop your patties through the grill. Whichever route you choose, you want to preheat to a medium high level and drizzle your burgers with a bit of canola oil. Salmon burgers cook up relatively fast, needing only five to six minutes per side. I actually let mine go a little bit long because I like the outside to get a little crunchy. I find you can do this with a salmon burger because the patty is juicy enough to take the extra heat without completely drying out your meat.
While the burgers are cooking, you want to mix up your secret to making this a phenomenal burger instead of just an ordinary burger: ginger wasabi mayo. For the sauce, you simply combine your mayonnaise, wasabi, the rest of your grated ginger, and lime juice. The key to this sauce is using real wasabi! It adds some serious heat to the burger, but in a good way. Since wasabi can make your sauce INCREDIBLY hot, I would suggest adding half the recommended amount and building for your own taste from there.
Now, for the companion to your salmon burger, fresh cut baked French fries. You will need to start your potatoes early. The earlier the better. I used russet potatoes for my fries, but Yukon works well also. The key to great homemade fries is soaking them in water. Clean your potatoes like you normally would and cut them up how you like them. After your fries are cut, place them in a water bath. You want to start the fries in the water bath at least two hours before you plan on baking them. I say at least two hours, but the longer the better, so you can start them the night before even, if you remember. Soaking the fries in water releases starches from the potatoes, resulting in a crispier fry! You can also use this technique for frying. After the potatoes have soaked, be sure to dry them off before seasoning and putting them in the oven.
Before cooking your fries, pour a little canola oil over them. I like to sprinkle mine with the steak seasoning used in the salmon burgers, but you can also use just salt and pepper. Get your hands down in there and really mix that oil, coating all the fries. Place the fries in a 400 degree preheated oven and let them go at least 25 minutes. If you want crispier fries, you can let them go 30 or even 35 minutes, just be sure to keep an eye on them.
It’s time to plate up! Take your salmon patty and place it on your Kaiser bun, which you can heat up on your griddle if you are looking for a little extra crunch. Add a piece of lettuce, a slice of tomato, an onion if you are so inclined, and a nice drop of your ginger wasabi mayo! Sounds great, right?
I had to think about what I wanted to pair with this meal. Salmon burgers have tons of flavor. At first, I thought about adding a beverage that wouldn’t take away from the flavor of the fish; however, after I read around and thought about it, I decided I wanted a wine or beer that had enough flavor to stand on its own but also compliment the salmon. For wine, I would suggest a pinot grigio or Riesling. If you are a red person, I would go with a pinot noir. I had to go with my very favorite wine for this meal, Kung Fu Girl! Kung Fu Girl is a Riesling made in, how appropriate is this, Washington. It has a mildly sweet taste. This wine is extremely aromatic, something I really enjoy in a wine. You can easily detect the Asian pear, peach and floral scents. I think it has a mild taste of apple, but that may just be me.
For a beer, I went with Kirin Ichiban. Kirin is a pale lager. I have had it primarily at sushi restaurants. It pairs nicely with fish, particularly the salmon, and it holds up really well to the wasabi flavor. A few other beers I would recommend are Sapporo, Tsingtao, and Asahi. They are also beers I think hold up well to the spice and zest of wasabi and ginger.
* 1 1/2 pounds salmon filets
* 2 cloves garlic, minced
* 3 inch piece of fresh ginger, grated
* 3 tablespoons tamari
* 2 scallions, chopped
* red bell pepper, chopped
* 2 teaspoons sesame oil
* 2 teaspoons steak seasoning
* black pepper
* 1 tablespoon canola oil
Ginger Wasabi Sauce
* 3/4 cup mayonnaise
* 2 tablespoons wasabi paste
* 1 lime, juiced
The Final Touches
* Kaiser bun