I am hoping to dispel any misgivings you may harbor from uninspired encounters with tuna burgers that you may have had in your past.
But Canned tuna fish cakes?
Well, as the old English saying goes “penny wise and pound foolish.” Erring on the side of thrift in this case has its surprising rewards. Yes of course you could go out and spend a small fortune for the finest fresh tuna that money could buy. But, with a dash of know how and a pinch of tempered seasonings, a can of tuna can be transformed into beautifully light fish cakes that are every bit as beguiling as fresh tuna cakes or, for that matter, fresh crab cakes at a fraction of the cost.
These tuna cakes, topped with a horseradish sauce and crisp watercress, are wonderful just as are, or try them tucked into a toasted bun for a light and zesty sandwich.
Tuna Fish Cakes: makes 6
- 2 cans chunk white tuna packed in spring water
- 3 tablespoons minced shallots
- 1/3 cup finely diced celery
- 3-4 teaspoons capers, rinsed and drained
- 2 tablespoons finely sliced flat leaf parsley
- ¼ cup mayonnaise
- ¾ teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
- 1 large organic egg
- 2 tablespoons full fat Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
- pinch of cayenne
- 1¼ cups bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon butter + 1 tablespoon olive oil
- rolls, lightly toasted (if making sandwiches)
- several hands full of fresh crisp watercress
- lemon wedges
Carefully remove the tuna from the cans without breaking it up too much and place in a colander. Drain well and transfer the tuna to a mixing bowl.
Add the shallots, celery, capers, and parsley to the bowl and gently fold the ingredients together.
In a small bowl combine the mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, and lemon juice and whisk together until smooth. Spoon the mixture over the tuna mixture and fold it in until well combined. Sprinkle ¼ cup of the bread crumbs over the surface.
In another small bowl combine the egg, Greek yogurt (or sour cream), and the cayenne and whisk together until smooth. Spoon over the tuna mixture and fold in until evenly combined. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for 1 hour or place in the freezer for 20 minutes.
Spread the remaining bread crumbs in a shallow bowl.
With the tuna mixture well chilled, fill a 1/3 cup measure with the tuna mixture and place the mixture in the palms of your hands. Gently form it into a 2 ½ inch round cake about ¾ inch in thickness without compressing any more than is necessary for the cake to just hold together.
Gently blot the cake with a paper towel and then dredge the cake in the bread crumbs to coat evenly. Gently pat the crumbs onto the surface of the cake and transfer it to a parchment lined tray.
Make the remaining tuna cakes and cover the tray with cling film. Refrigerator for 30 minutes or place in the freezer for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350f/180c
Place a medium size heavy bottomed non stick skillet over medium low flame on the stove top. When hot add the butter and oil oil and swirl the pan. When the fat starts to bubble gently place 3 cakes in the pan without crowding and brown for 2 to 2 ½ minutes. The cakes will seem quite delicate but they will firm up a bit once they have browned. Very gently turn the cakes over and brown another 2 ½ minutes. Transfer the cakes to a baking tray and set aside.
Brown the reaming three cakes, place them on the baking tray.
Transfer the tray to the preheated oven. Bake for 12-15 minutes. The cakes should be nicely browned and just slightly firm to the touch. Do not over bake!
Transfer the cakes straight out of the oven to a platter or individual plates. Top with the sauce and generously garnish with crisp watercress and lemon wedges to the side.
If you are making sandwiches, have the rolls halved and lightly toasted. Spread a little sauce on the bottom half of the roll. Place the tuna cake in the center. Top with a nice dollop of sauce and a generous bunch of watercress. Serve with the top of the bun ajar. Spritz with a little lemon juice, adjust the top of the bun over all and dig in!
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons full fat Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
- 1½ to 2 tablespoons horseradish
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- sea salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
You might also like to try Maryland Crab Cakes (see recipe here)
I was recently having a conversation with a friend about ways to cook salmon to serve on a bed of spinach when, out of the blue, kulebiak popped into my head. Kulebiak, a Polish pastry filled with fish and cabbage, was a go to solution for many a dinner party in my catering days, but it had somehow fallen off my radar, but thankfully not forgotten! I was really excited to get into the kitchen and revisit this old Polish favorite.
Kulebiak is a traditional dish rooted in the Slavic countries with variations in each region. Essentially a pastry dough filled with fish (salmon or sturgeon) or meats along with cabbage or sauerkraut. Other accompaniments that may be included are mushrooms, herbs, rice, or potatoes.
For cooks and hosts alike Kulebiak is is a main course solution that can be prepared in advance and baked off just before serving. All of kulebiak’s savory goodness will be revealed for your guests with the stroke of a fork!
Following traditions, the recipe that follows sticks to the simple paring of salmon and cabbage in puff pastry served with a lemony sour cream sauce. Be that as it is, feel free to try other combinations. The possibilities are endless for this easy entertaining solution.
Salmon and cabbage Kulebiak serves 4
As there are several steps for this recipe it would be best to read through the entire recipe before you begin preparations.
Preparing a broth for blanching the cabbage:
- 3 cups water
- 1/3 cup gin or vodka
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 small onion, peeled and diced
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
- several sprigs of celery with leaves
- 1 sprig of fresh thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 6 juniper berries
- 10 black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Place all the ingredients for the broth in wide sauce pan or skillet that has a tight fitting lid. Bring to a boil and lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.
While the broth is simmering you can prepare the cabbage leaves for blanching.
Preparing the cabbage:
- 1 large head of green cabbage
- blanching broth
Slice off the stem of the head of cabbage and remove the outer leaves and discard. Begin removing the leaves being careful to keep the leaves intact. Once all the leaves are separated, using a sharp knife, remove the center rib of each leaf at the stem end and discard.
Bring the prepared broth back to a rolling boil and promptly add the cabbage leaves to the pan and cover with a lid. Cook for 4-5 minutes until the cabbage leaves are soft, pliable, and translucent. Carefully remove the leaves from the pan and spread them out on a kitchen towel to dry. Set the broth aside and when cool strain. Discard the solids, and reserve the clear broth to season the sauce.
Preparing the salmon:
- 20 oz side of salmon, skinless and boneless
- prepared blanched cabbage leaves
- ½ cup freshly chopped dill leaves
- sea salt
- freshly ground white pepper
- sheets of butter puff pastry, thawed
Slice the side of salmon into 4 equal portions approximately 5 ounces each. With a very sharp knife in hand place the palm of your other hand on top of the salmon fillet lengthwise. Horizontally slice the salmon fillet lengthwise into 1/8 inch thick strips. Stack the strips and set aside. Follow the same procedure for the remaining salmon fillets.
Working with one portion at a time, place a slice of salmon in the center of a cabbage leaf, stem to stern. Scatter the top with dill and season very lightly with salt and a twist of pepper. Wrap the cabbage leaf over the salmon to enclose it in the leaf.
Continuing, drape another cabbage leaf over the first cabbage wrapped layer. Place another slice of salmon in the center, add dill and salt and pepper, and again wrap the cabbage leaf over the salmon. Repeat the same procedure with the remaining salmon strips, stacking one layer on top of another.
Then place two cabbage leaves overlapping on your work surface and place a stacked bundle of salmon in cabbage leaves in the center. Wrap the left side cabbage leaf over the stack and tuck under the stack, Then do the same with the right cabbage leaf. Place on a tray, cover with cling film, and refrigerate.
Place a sheet of cold puff pastry dough on your work surface and cut out a rectangle or oval shape about ½ inch larger than the stacked bundles of salmon and cabbage. Cut a second piece of puff pastry dough about an ¾ of an inch larger than the bottom layer and place on a tray. Cut the remaining pieces of puff pastry and transfer the tray to the refrigerator until you are ready to assemble the kulebiak for baking.
Preheat the oven to 425f/220c. Have ready a baking tray lined with parchment.
Prepare and egg wash:
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon milk
Whisk the egg and milk together and set aside.
Working with one portion at a time, place the smaller piece of puff pastry on the baking tray lined with parchment and place a salmon bundle in the center. Brush the edges of the pastry with egg wash. Then center and drape the larger piece of puff over the bundle of salmon and align the top and bottom edges of the puff pastry and press to seal. You can then crimp the edges by folding the dough over itself, like you would when making empanadas, or simply crimp with a fork. Repeat the same process for the remaining portions.
Return the kulebiak to the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.
When you are ready to bake bush the surface of each kulebiak with egg wash and slice a small opening in the center top to vent steam while baking.
Promptly transfer the tray to the oven and bake about 25 minutes. The surface of the pastry should be nicely golden browned when finished.
While the kulebiak is baking you can prepare the sauce.
Preparing the sauce:
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice or more to taste
- 1 to 2 tablespoon cooled broth or to taste
- 2 tablespoons freshly chopped dill leaves
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
- sea salt to taste
Combine all the ingredients and whisk until smooth. Refrigerate the sauce if not using immediately.
Remove the kulebiak from the oven. Lightly dust the tops of each with paprika and serve along with a pool of sauce to the side on each serving plate.
Now that fall has arrived and temperatures have waned soups are very much on my mind. One of the most satisfying soups I can think of is Japanese miso soup. It is simple to prepare and the warming pleasures of miso soup for breakfast, lunch, or dinner are well worth so little effort.
As I started thinking about this post a favorite Japanese film came immediately to mind; Tampopo. It is a sweet and very very funny comedy about Tampopo’s quest to make the best noodle soups for her noodle shop in her village. It says everything about achieving perfection in all things Japanese, including in the kitchen, and well worth a watch for some very lively and entertaining inspiration.
Ichiban Dashi, a clear light amber colored broth, is the foundation for many Japanese dishes like soups (including miso soups), simmered dishes, sauces, marinades, and salad dressings. Its essence is in its simplicity, using only three ingredients. Water, kombu seaweed (kelp), and Katsuo bushi (shaved dried bonita flakes). The resulting clear light broth has a subdued mellow smoky flavor with an underlying sweetness and a hint of the salty sea that belies its rich nutritional content.
Kombu is cultivated in the icy mineral rich waters of Hokkaido, Japan’s northern most prefecture. After harvesting the kombu is air and sun dried into a hard leathery textured bark like strips. Kombu contains numerous nutrients including natural glutamic acid which contributes an umami (pleasant savory) taste to the dashi broth. More about umami taste in my next post.
Katsuo/bonito is a type of Japanese tuna. The fish is boiled, the bones removed, and the flesh smeared with a fermented fish paste. The fish is then set aside to marinate and then sun dried. Once completely dry the fish is smoked until it is very dry and hard. The bonita is then thinly shaved into flakes called katsuo bushi that look very much like planed wood shavings.
Dashi preparation involves slowly simmering strips of dried kombu in water to extract the flavor and nutrients from the kombu into the broth. Just before the water comes to a boil the kombu is promptly removed from the pot to avoid any bitterness to the finished broth. Katsuo bushi/shaved dried bonito flakes are then added to the pot. Once the water returns to a boil the pan is promptly removed from the heat and set aside until the shaved bonita flakes sink to the bottom of the pot. The broth is then strained and set aside. This preparation’s success is all about timing!
This may appear to be a little complicated, but really the whole process takes no more than fifteen minutes from start to finish. There are packaged instant dashi powder sachets available, but the results using the traditional method of making dashi is far superior and more nutritious in every way.
To make Miso-shiru soup, miso is stirred into a small quantity of dashi until dissolved and then whisked into the hot dashi broth and poured into a soup bowl that may include some cubed tofu, a few sprigs of chives, and a dash of sancho pepper. That’s all there is to it!
The ingredients, as unfamiliar as they may sound, should be readily available at larger supermarkets, Asian markets, health food stores, or online as a last resort.
Ichiban Dashi (first dashi) makes 2 quarts
- 1.9 liters/2 quarts cold spring water
- 1 oz/25g dried kombu strips
- 1 oz/25g dried bonito flakes
Fill a medium size soup pot with cold spring water.
You will notice some white powder on the kombu which contains nutrients and will add flavor to the broth, so do not rinse it before placing the kombu into the pot of water.
Put the kombu into the pot of water and place on the stove over medium heat. Bring the water to a slow simmer without boiling for about 10 minutes. The kombu will soften, unfurl, and turn a deep green as the water nears the boiling point. As mentioned it is important that the kombu is removed from the pot before the water comes to a boil to avoid any bitterness in the broth. Using tongs remove the kombu and set aside to make a Niban Dashi (second dashi) with a more assertive flavored broth later.
Bring the broth back to a full boil and then add a little cold water to bring the temperature down a bit and add the bonito flakes without stirring. As soon as the water returns to a boil promptly remove the pot from the heat and set aside. Once the bonito flakes settle to the bottom of the pot, skim off any foam from the surface of the broth and discard.
Line a fine mesh strainer with cheesecloth and strain the both into a clean bowl and set aside to cool. Reserve the bonita flakes to make a Niban Dashi (second dashi) later.
The dashi can then be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4 days or frozen for later use.
Niban Dashi (second dashi): Reusing the kombu and bonita flakes from the first dashi will produce a deeper flavored dashi that is useful for simmered dishes, sauces, and dressings.
Follow the same procedure, adding the reserved kombu and bonita flakes from the first dashi, in a fresh pot of water. Bring to a near boil, remove the kombu, and then lower the heat and simmer until the broth is reduced by a third. Then add ½ oz/14g fresh dried bonita flakes and promptly remove from the heat. Let the flakes settle to the bottom of the pot, remove foam, strain, and refrigerate or freeze.
Miso is a Japanese fermented soybean and grain paste. All have a high protein content and rich in vitamins and minerals.
Shiro miso; aka white miso is pale light color with a mild and slightly sweet flavor.
Shinshu miso; yellow miso is a yellowish brown color with a bolder flavor and more salty.
Aka miso; aka red miso is dark red brown with an assertive flavor and the most salty miso.
Miso-shiru (miso soup) basic: serves 4
- 4 cups Ichiban Dashi (first dashi)
- 3-4 tblespoons Miso of choice
- ½ block firm tofu cut into small cubes
- ¼ cup thinly sliced scallions
- Optional: shiitake mushrooms, seaweeds, assorted Japanese herb stalks, sansho pepper as a seasoning.
Heat the dashi to a near boil.
Place the miso in a small bowl and ladle some of the hot dashi into the bowl and whisk the miso into the broth until completely dissolved. Then slowly pour the miso mixture into the hot dashi and stir until well combined.
If you are using mushrooms or seaweed stir them into the soup as well.
Heat the soup for an additional 1 or 2 minutes until piping hot without boiling.
Place the cubed tofu and scallions into individual serving bowls and ladle the soup into the bowls.
Garnish with Japanese herbs if using and serve. Sancho pepper, with a light lingering peppery citrus after taste, is a nice additional seasoning at the table.
….or pesce al cartoccio. Both a French and an Italian method of cooking fish in an enclosed parchment paper pouch along with herbs, lemon juice, butter, and sea salt. It couldn’t be simpler. The fish is delicately infused with the essence of the herbs and moistened with the released juices from the fish as it steams to perfection in less than ten minutes. This, to me, is the ultimate way to cook fresh seafood. The delicate flavor of the fish is beautifully preserved and complemented with a seductive aroma of citrus and herbs that is released when the parchment pouch is sliced open at the table to everyone’s surprised delight.
Perfect for entertaining! All the preparations can be done in advance, with the baking done just before serving.
Poisson en Papillote Serves 4
Needed: 4 sheets cooking parchment 12” x 15” a large baking tray
- 4 6oz fish fillets
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup finely sliced scallions, including the green parts
- 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- freshly ground white pepper
- flaked sea salt (Maldon)
- ½ cup gremolata (see here)
- 4 tablespoons fresh green peppercorns (or capers)
- 4 lemon wedges
Preheat the oven to 435f/225c Place the baking tray in the oven in the center position.
Fold the parchment paper in half and cut into a half heart shape as pictured. Set aside.
For each serving, open a heart shaped parchment paper and place thin slices of butter about 1 1/4” to the right of the center fold. Scatter sliced scallions over the butter and spritz with a little lemon juice. Place a fish fillet over the butter and spritz a little lemon juice over the fillet. Season the fillet with salt and pepper. Place several thin slices of butter over fillet and scatter gremolata generously over the butter. Spritz a little more lemon juice over the gremolata and scatter green peppercorns over and around the fish.
Fold the left side of the parchment over the fillet making a half heart shape.
Beginning at the top of the folded parchment, at the cleavage point if you will, begin folding the two sheets of parchment together by making triangular pleats, pointed at the top and widening at the bottom. Double fold the first pleat and crease the pleat firmly. Then proceed making the next pleat beginning by folding a little of the last pleat into the new pleat. Continue to pleat the parchment until you reach the bottom of the pouch. Give the end of the final pleat a good twist and fold it under the pouch. The pouch should now be tightly sealed. Don’t worry too much about how it looks! The objective is to make the pouch air tight so the steam is contained when baking the fish. Practice makes perfect!
Place the finished pouch on a baking tray and continue making the remaining pouches.
When finished, the papillotes can be baked promptly or covered with cling film and refrigerated. Ideally the papillotes should be prepared not more than an hour before baking so there isn’t too much moisture seepage which will weaken the parchment. Be sure to bring refrigerated papillotes to room temperature before baking.
Transfer the prepared papillotes onto the preheated baking tray in the oven and bake for 8 to 10 minutes. You will see the pouches puffing up as the steam builds up inside the pouch. Do not over bake. The steaming will work its magic within the 8 to 10 minute window, or 1 or 2 minutes longer if the fish fillet is more than 1 inch thick.
Promptly remove the papillotes from the oven, transfer them to individual serving plates, and deliver them to the table.
This is the moment for some kitchen theatrics! Using a very sharp knife or scissors cut a large X by length and breadth into the top of the parchment. Folding back the flaps of the parchment releases a billowing cloud of aromatic steam and reveals the fish in all its succulent gorgeousness! Voila!
As pictured, I love to pair poisson en papillote with another French classic, a potato gratin! (see here)
The ethereal quality of the fish along with the rich earthiness of the gratin make for a very pleasurable eating experience.