Posted on March 25th, 2011
In Fisherman’s Spring, Roderick L. Haig-Brown writes, “In a world of great and varied beauty, nothing is more beautiful than water, especially moving water. I am aware of the beauty of water frozen into glaciers and icebergs, their immensity and power and the glorious light that the sun can summon from them. I have again and again admired the breathless early morning calm on lakes large and small and the reflection of the hills about them. The power of the ocean storms and the glory of ocean surf in sunlight have a magnificence beyond almost anything. Besides these splendors, the intimacy of a fisherman’s river may seem a slight thing. Yet I think that flowing water in all its forms is most beautiful of all.”
In this, Haig-Brown and I share common ground. While I relish both the still waters of mountain lakes and the tempest of the Pacific coastline, I believe there is nothing quite as satisfying as the moving water of a forested Oregon trout stream, or a high desert canyon river.
This early spring has been fairly mild in the Northwest and while it’s only mid-March, the buds of select foliage reveal their awkward selves from within the protective sheaths of insulating branches. The rains find the winter steelhead returning to the waters of their youth and generations of anglers tossing line, hook, feather, or egg to consider the prospect of shaking hands with an anadromous species truly unique to our corner of North America. The first weekend in April—with friends Greg Newland of Travel Portland and his pop Gary, the sort-of-retired “simple country doctor”—my eldest twig and I are reserved to drift the southern stretches of Oregon’s Umpqua River, the necklace of fluent torrents and tributaries dangling just above the nape of The Golden State. Oncorhynchus mkiss will be our aspiration, our pursuit, and our quarry.
This reach of the S. Umpqua requires that all native steelhead are to be released back into their cold waters to further substantiate their resident genealogy. But anglers hooking hatched fish (fin-clipped) are strongly encouraged to “tag and harvest” their catch. On last year’s trip, said spawn Logan and I each recorded our hatchery grab in the interest of sponsoring yet another journey; that most important sojourn to the coals. Beyond the most desirable parts, we employ every parcel of these 10-12 lb. fish. Heads and bones are roasted before entering the stockpot to later form a consommé or a bouillabaisse. Ruby filets become fare for the evening’s grilled or poached main, or a foamy chowder with her cured companion, bacon. Or they might be smoked, flaked, or otherwise reconfigured for smaller bites (with fresh dill, crème fraiche, red onion, and briny capers).
This isn’t complicated stuff.
The recipe that follows is a simple riff on the more involved crab cake and is intended to incorporate the slightly less handsome scraps from your trimmed filets and whatever else wasn’t feverishly consumed alongside whiskies the night before. You might engage these cast-offs with spicy aioli and fresh arugula, chives, and a squeeze of lemon. Like the tail-whisking conclusion to the steelhead’s waterborne odyssey, I steer the remainders—cooked or otherwise—towards finding their own previously determined end; a pre-dawn egg scramble. So it begins, with hot, black coffee. When the earliest of hours triggers an instinctive desire to move. New again, upstream.
1 lb. cooked salmon or steelhead filet
1 lb. freshly cooked potatoes, mashed
2 tbsp. butter, melted
2 tsp. wholegrain mustard
1 tbsp. fresh dill
1 tbsp. fresh parsley
the zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cups dried breadcrumbs (Panko, ideally)
Fresh ground black pepper
Arugula, chives, lemon (for garnish)
Flake the cooked salmon, discarding any skin and bones. Put it in a bowl with the mashed potato, melted butter and wholegrain mustard and mix well. Stir in the dill and parsley and lemon zest and juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Divide the mixture into eight portions and shape each into a ball, then flatten into a round. Dip the fish cakes in flour, then in egg and finally in breadcrumbs, making sure that they are evenly coated.
Heat the oil in a frying pan until it is very hot. Fry the fish cakes, in batches, until golden brown and crisp all over. As each batch is ready, drain on kitchen paper and keep hot. Garnish with arugula leaves and chives and serve with lemon wedges.
Note: Nearly any hot-smoked white fish, such as cod or haddock, work well for this dish. Smoked trout and salmon are fabulous here. And for the breadcrumbs, I recommend using Japanese-style Panko. You’ll thank me later.
Source: The Ultimate Book of Fish and Shellfish by Kate Whiteman.