Updated: Canned Salmon Challenge Recipes From Tom Douglas, Holly Smith

Leslie Kelly
Tom Douglas' Wild Salmon Melt

Americans really should eat more seafood. If everybody ate fish just twice a week, we’d be a whole lot healthier.

That’s the noble mission of a Washington D.C.-based non-profit called Seafood Nutrition Partnership, run by Linda Cornish, a go-getter, who makes regular trips to Seattle to meet with sponsors of this fairly new initiative.

Over a recent lunch with Linda at TanakaSan--citrus cured salmon and chili char squid on the table--I cooked up an idea that might take a teeny step toward realizing that goal. How about a canned salmon challenge? Especially fitting during National Seafood Month.

Any chef worth his or her salt can cook a beautiful piece of salmon, but what would they do with canned fish? We’re so fortunate to live in a place where quality seafood is no problem, but what about much of the rest of the country? I’d rather eat canned wild salmon caught in Alaska than farm-raised any day.

And, canned salmon is economical. As much as I love cooking and eating fresh fillets, paying $14 a pound and more--heck, I saw Copper River salmon going for $40 a pound this year--it’s become only an occasional splurge on a tight budget.

So, I sent out a canned salmon challenge to a whole bunch of chefs and a few of ‘em bit.

Tom Douglas said: "My Seatown cooks assemble outrageously tasty tuna melt sandwiches with poached fresh albacore, but I put a delicious spin on their classic by using the same dressing on wild salmon from a can."

Seatown’s tuna melts are served with chips and a crisp wedge of dill pickle. For the crispest pickles, buy whole pickles, not wedges, and cut them right before serving. We use our own onion sandwich buns made by the Dahlia Workshop bakers. Look for the best quality sandwich buns you can find. 

Wild Salmon Melt

For the dressing:

1/2 cup mayonnaise, such as Best Foods
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
1 heaping tablespoon Mama Lil’s Mildly Spicy Pickled Peppers in Oil, drained
1/4 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1/4 teaspoon prepared horseradish
A squeeze of a fresh lemon wedge (about 1/2 teaspoon)
1 tablespoon minced celery
1 1/2 teaspoons minced red onion

To finish the salmon salad and the sandwiches:
1 6-ounce can wild salmon, such as Honey Boy, Icy Point, or Wild Planet, drained
2 good-quality sandwich buns, split
Softened butter as needed for buttering buns
4 slices Beecher’s Jack Cheese (about 1/4-pound total)
Pickle wedges and potato chips for serving

To make the dressing, combine the mayonnaise, mustard, peppers, Old Bay, horseradish and lemon juice in the bowl of a food processor or mini food processor. Process until everything is smooth and combined, then transfer the dressing to a bowl. Fold in the celery and red onion. (Keep the dressing refrigerated if not using right away.)

To make the salmon salad, in a bowl, remove any bones and skin and then mash the salmon with a fork then combine with about 4 to 5 tablespoons dressing, or as much as you need to make it nice and creamy, mixing and mashing well. Taste and season with more lemon juice, horseradish, and Old Bay (which is salty) if needed. (You will have a little of the dressing leftover, which you can store, refrigerated, for another use.)

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Spread the cut sides of the buns with soft butter and place a sauté pan or a griddle over medium heat. Place the buns in the pan, buttered sides down and heat until the cut sides of the buns are golden and toasty, about 3 minutes, watching carefully and adjusting the heat as necessary. Remove from the heat. Place the bottom halves of the buns, cut sides up, on a baking sheet and top them with the salmon salad, dividing it evenly between the buns and spreading it gently to cover the entire surface of each bun. Top the salmon salad on each bun with 2 slices of cheese. (The salmon should be completely covered with cheese; use an additional slice if necessary.) Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake until the cheese is melted and the salmon is lightly warmed about 5 to 6 minutes. (Note: We don’t put the top halves of the buns in the oven because we like them to stay soft and not get dried out. You can keep the top halves of the buns in in the turned-off sauté pan while the cheese is melting on the bottom halves.)  Remove the pan from the oven, transfer the buns to two plates, cover each sandwich with its top half and serve immediately with pickle wedges (cut from whole pickles just before serving) and potato chips.

Yield: 2 sandwiches

Holly Smith from Cafe Juanita went the pasta route: "This one is straightforward and yummy and the salmon really comes through."

Salmon and Olive Pasta with Fresh Herbs and Capers
1/2-pound dry pasta such as Rustichella d’Abruzzo Chitarra

3 tablespoons capers, drained
6 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 ounces extra virgin olive oil
zest of 1 lemon
4 tablespoons kalamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped
1 bunch Italian flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons mint, fresh, picked and roughly chopped
1/2 bunch chives, finely chopped (about 1/4 cup)
Pinch chili flakes
1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano freshly grated
4 ounces dry Vermouth, preferably Dolin
1 6-ounce can of salmon, drained and flaked
Optional: 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Optional: breadcrumbs toasted in butter and extra virgin olive oil to garnish

Cook pasta in well-salted boiling water per instructions on package. Ideally, cook 1 minute less than instructed and finish cooking in the sauce as described below.

While pasta is cooking heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add garlic and swirl to keep it from clumping. Lower heat to medium-low and add half the chili flake. As garlic begins to just turn golden (1-2 minutes) add all the vermouth, olives and half the capers. Raise the heat and bring to a strong simmer. Add optional butter and reduce to sauce consistency. Add lemon zest and herbs and taste. Add remaining capers along with the pasta. Bring some of the pasta water with the pasta (1-2 ounces) to help finish the cooking of the pasta and make a nicely bound sauce. Add half of the cheese and toss to combine.

Taste and adjust seasoning with cheese, salt, cayenne or lemon (juice or zest), as desired.

Once the pasta has absorbed all of the liquid let it rest off heat for 1-2 minutes while you warm pasta bowls. To plate serve pasta with flaked salmon on top to gently warm, or you can fold in last minute to the pasta then plate. Serve remaining cheese at the table for guests who choose to enjoy more. If desired top with toasted breadcrumbs.

Serves 2-4.

Jason Wilson from Crush and the hotly anticipated Miller’s Guild, who was skeptical, but game. “OMG canned salmon?” he shot back in an email before coming round with a composed salad and this assessment: “I love the convenience and it wasn’t bad at all.”

Here’s his recipe:

Salmon & Beet Salad with Butter Lettuce
2 small cans Loki Island Chum/Silver Salmon

1 can organic roasted and sliced beets
1 tablespoon jorseradish sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
2 heads butter lettuce, washed and cut in half
1/2 cup chopped bacon
1/4 cup sliced cucumbers
3 tablespoon sour cream
2 tablespoon chopped green onions
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
Salt, to taste

Place the bacon in a saute pan and render the bacon until crisp on medium heat. In a small mixing bowl, combine the sour cream, horseradish, mustard, green onions and black pepper for a dressing.

Drain the liquid from the salmon cans. Drain the liquid from the beets and build individual salads. Dress the lettuce with dressing and season lightly with salt garnish with the cucumbers, salmon and beets.

Serves 4.