Thursday, April 12, 2012

Spicy salmon roll burgers

Ottawa's culinary evolution occurred fairly recently. I grew up here and have seen the city's tastes expand as different cultures colonize it. The population has grown and urbanized. Ottawans are demanding a more varied cuisine.

Sushi is a good example of a food introduced early in the foodie trend, and is so ubiquitous now that many people will probably find peculiar the idea of living without it. Few among my parents' circles had ever tried the raw fish-'n-rice delicacy, much less eat it on a weekly basis. I doubt that they thought in the 1970's that their children would be slinging back the stuff in malls or in their cubicles.

I have never been to Japan and I didn't have a Japanese friend until I moved to the UK for grad school. So it was quite late that I discovered that sushi preparation here differs from that in Japan. The chefs' training is very lengthy and difficult, regulations dictating the handling of food are stricter, and the Japanese palate and cultural norms emphasize different consumer tastes than ours. No big surprise. What is fascinating is how we have translated sushi culture to something that has become so familiar.

When I went to design a burger concept then, my mind drifted to sushi. Here is a quintessentially North American food paying homage to a North American spin on a foreign food. It's like authenticity's second cousin. Anyway, I selected one of my favourite maki and went to town.

I give you the spicy salmon roll burger. A wild sockeye burger with ginger, garlic and green onion; topped with toasted nori, avocado and Sriracha mayonnaise. I forgot cucumber in mine, but the burger needed it (see why below), so I'm going to add cucumber to the recipe. I served it - wait for it - on a roll.

Salmon burgers are healthier alternatives to beef burgers if you're feeling like you need a break from red meat. I've got instructions and other salmon-related trivia after the break.


Before I go on, let's talk about salmon. Atlantic salmon, which most of us in Eastern/Central Canada will be familiar with, is inferior to its wild Pacific cousins. It's inferior in every way: taste, colour, nutrition, sustainability, the lot. If presented with the choice I'll buy frozen fillets of wild salmon over the Atlantic fresh stuff any day, unless I know for certain that the farmed option is practiced in a sustainable fashion, such in as a land-based closed-loop facility.

A bunch of salmon, brought to you by the
U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service

Atlantic salmon has had a bit of a black eye lately, with fish farms in the Bay of Fundy facing disease outbreaks. It's one of a string of issues with its production, namely that it often requires the fish to receive high doses of antibiotics (think factory cows), and contaminates the surrounding environment with feces. Needless to say, it is best to stay away. I highly recommend going to SeaChoice to learn more about the state of our oceans and rivers, and how to select sustainably caught or farmed fish at your local fishmonger.

Ethics aside, I wholly prefer wild salmon to Atlantic. It has a leaner and meatier texture that is carnivorously satisfying, not to mention considerably healthier. A quick visit to NutritionData reveals that 100g of raw Atlantic salmon contains 208 calories, whereas 100g of wild sockeye contains 168 calories. Now I know you didn't come to a burger blog to read about calories, but if I'm promoting fish burgers as a healthy beef burger alternative, I have to back up my claim.

The burger - makes four patties

The burger is flavourful but not hit you in the face flavourful, and that is on purpose. I wanted to capture the subtlety of sushi.

You will need a food processor for this recipe.

500g wild salmon fillet - I used sockeye, but use what you can find. Each species of Pacific salmon has a different flavour that is very evident if you try them back to back.
6 green onions, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
Oil for frying (optional)
Salt and pepper to season

(You'll notice I did not use fillers or binders)

8 6cm x 6cm sheets of nori, toasted
1 field cucumber or 1/2 English cucumber, sliced in 2mm thick slices
Flesh of 1 ripe avocado
2 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tbsp Sriracha sauce
1 bun/roll

If the fillet has skin, you'll want to remove it before processing. To do this, watch this video. Bear in mind that you're about to chop the flesh up to oblivion, so don't worry if it's a hack job like mine. If you'd like, you can grill pieces of the fish skin until they are nice and crispy, and add it to the burger, but I chose not to.
Hacked fish. Avocado. Nori package. Grater post-ginger.

Throw all the patty ingredients in a food processor. Pulse until you have a fine chop but can still identify the ingredients. Form into four patties. That's pretty much it.

As with all burgers, cooking time varies depending on the cooking method you choose to employ. I cooked the burgers on an indoor grill and they needed about four minutes a side on medium-high heat. Barbequers should employ a medium heat, and don't leave them unattended. If pan-frying, add a bit of oil to the pan first. It is very important not to overcook wild salmon; as it has little inherent fat it can turn from appetizing to dry very quickly. Also, salmon is not as dense as beef or chicken, so expect it to cook through quicker. Just ensure that there is slight give in the centre of the patty. Fresh fish can be enjoyed raw, but given that you'll have bits of garlic and onion in there, you'll want to subject them to a bit of cooking to soften their strong flavours.

I used an Italian white bun with a firm crust and a soft crumb. It worked beautifully. Your bun selection should be non-obtrusive to allow for the subtler flavours to come out.

Mix the mayo and Sriracha together to make your Srimayo, but don't overdo it on the burger. Keep it to a teaspoon per bun side and only add more if your burger came out on the dry side.

When I made my version I neglected the cucumber by accident; this was a serious oversight. The crunch and freshness would have contributed significantly to the burger and tied it together. Who knew that such a mild fruit would have such an impact?

Three other topping notes of import:
(1) Nori is wafer thin and toasts very quickly. Be careful not to burn it. Use a small pan and flip it carefully; please don't try this on the BBQ. You'll be able to see it change colour slightly as it cooks.

(2) Lightly salt the avocado before adding; it will enhance the flavour greatly. Add it whipped or sliced. That's your call.
There she is, Miss Sockeye Burger.


Bun top
Bun bottom

I served the meal with fried sweet potatoes and more of the Srimayo.


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