When I was 18 years old, I moved to Alaska and found myself in the middle of wonderful adventures in music, hunting, and fishing. My good friends Ginger Boatwright and Doug Dillard were about to play some shows the Summer I arrived. They invited me to join them and fill the fiddle slot. Good times were had!
I met plenty of friendly folks traveling around the state. Many became life-long friends. Some of the folks I met that first Summer and my family that lived there would often invite me along on their annual freezer-filling hunting and fishing expeditions. I even brought my dad along when he would come to visit from California. There was so much about Alaska’s bounty. Of course, respecting Mother Nature and taking only what you needed was paramount. And the idea of not having to go to the supermarket for meat was an incredible idea. It is a foreign idea to some, but it didn’t take me long to get used to making it happen all the time in the North Country.
I found a different way of life than what I grew up with in California. I had done some hunting and plenty of fishing, but not like what I was doing in the last frontier. It was more about subsistence, and the quality of Alaska’s protein is remarkable — the most organic, free range, healthy, and flavorful critters you can imagine, including deer, moose, caribou, salmon, halibut, cod, king crab, tanner crab, Dungeness crab, scallops … the list goes on and on. Harvesting the animals and packaging them for safe storage in the freezer or jarring/canning them for the shelf takes energy, but the rewards are immeasurable.
Alaskan summers were always filled with a plethora of flavorful, rich salmon. I have an affinity for it. Glazed, marinated, grilled, smoked, beer battered, poached, and even raw. Having so much around meant finding new ways to prepare it, as to not get tired of the same old, same old. So, I experimented and started making salmon cakes using ingredients I always have on hand like onions, carrots, and celery. These aromatics are often referred to as mirepoix. (Pronounced, MEER- pwah.) I often add garlic to it and use the combo for soup and sauce bases, too. In addition, caramelizing it in butter will get a sweeter, more complex taste. It’s a great starter for many dishes.
Here is the guide to one of my favorite uses of mirepoix and canned or jarred salmon. When I made this last, I was listening to Black Prairie’s A Tear in the Eye Is a Wound In the Heart. Enjoy!
1 pint jar of wild Alaska or Pacific NW Sockeye/Red or Chinook/King salmon, broken up
1/2 medium sweet onion, minced
1 medium sized celery stick, minced
1 small carrot, minced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 of a sleeve Ritz crackers, crushed into fine bits
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper
In a nonstick skillet on medium-high heat, caramelize onion, celery, carrot, and garlic in butter. Salt and pepper to taste. Let aromatics cool and then, in a bowl, mix with salmon, eggs, and crushed Ritz crackers. Form into 3-inch diameter by 1/2-inch thick patties. Heat olive oil in a skillet on medium-high heat. Place patties in hot skillet. Cook a couple at a time as to not crowd them in the pan. DO NOT MOVE THEM AROUND until they are browned on one side. Once brown, gently turn them over and let cook until brown on the other side. Should make about 4-5 patties.
Serve with steamed rice or potatoes, or green leafy vegetables, or on a sandwich.