Canned fish. It’s one of those things that I feel like I should get to be better friends with. It can be very healthy. It can be ridiculously cheap. Here in the central states, it can be the only viable cheap option for fish of the non-cat variety.
But… it’s meat out of a can. I’m not sure why I have such an issue with this. I sense a vague tinny odor in any canned animal flesh, a subtle but pervasive smell that pollutes the taste of the meat, a faint stench that whispers cruelly in my ear, ‘You have no idea how long it’s been since this fish actually swam. Months. Years.’ Me, eyes wide and staring, mouth open in a silent scream.
I am fully aware that this aversion rests on no logic whatsoever, either scientific or internally within the rest of my life. I will greedily down slices of prosciutto, uncooked cured ham that is hung to dry, without refrigeration, for up to two years before consumption. I roll my eyes when friends worry aloud that their homemade sauerkraut might be going bad after six months, fishing a tangle out with my fingers and popping it into my mouth with aplomb. It’s not just a cans thing, either; I eat dishes with canned crushed tomatoes making up the bulk of the sauce a couple of times a week.
But once meat, whether it be beef, pork, chicken, ham, or fish, goes into a can, the picky little snot kid in me takes over. My nostril curls, bile rises in my throat. I just can’t do it.
At least, I couldn’t. Then I started working at a fine foods shop that served a few little house-made sandwiches, among them a tuna salad.
Tuna salad has ALWAYS been, to my taste, an abomination. Canned fish? Bound together with mayonnaise? 1 It was as though midcentury America, deep in the throes of its fetishistic love triangle with convenience and blandness, had barfed onto a slice of bread and called it a sandwich. But this tuna salad was different. It was… well, yummy, for lack of a better word. It was something I couldn’t get enough of. The tinny taste made no appearance in this preparation, and I think I figured out why.
The preparation was very simple. I made it many times. Just tuna 2, mayo, dried cilantro, and lime juice. Key lime juice, actually, which lent a slightly bitter, but eminently delicious, tang to the recipe.
As far as I can tell, it’s the lime juice that did it. I guess there’s a reason people have served fish with a slice of lemon for so long. 3 Acid makes that tinny, fishy taste disappear. Boom. Gone.
There are some non-citrus ways to make this happen, as well. Some herbs help; the cilantro in the tuna salad was probably added for good reason. Parsley or celery can perform a similar function. Cooking, especially dry heat like frying, also appears to cut down on canny flavor.Armed with this knowledge, I am now tackling an area of low-brow cuisine previously inaccessible to me. The following salmon/crab cake recipe was developed 4 from a Maryland Crab Cakes recipe that the wife and I tried out with some imitation crab 5 and enjoyed. Don’t skip the Old Bay, it’s got awesome taste and is super useful as an all-purpose seafood and poultry seasoning. Maybe I’ll be able to create a homemade spice mix of it one of these days. But for now, this is pretty dang non-fancy. And sometimes that’s what you want.
- 14-oz can salmon, drained
- 6-oz can crab, drained
- 1 egg
- 2.5 Tbsp mayo
- 1.5 tsp dijon mustard
- 1 tsp Worscht
- 1 tsp Old Bay
- 1 stalk celery, minced
- 2 tsp dried parsley
- .5 cup ground almonds (or breadcrumbs, for non-Paleo-ers)
- canola or coconut oil (if frying)
- Mix all ingredients well.
- Using your hands, roll into spheres about the size of a golf ball, then carefully (so that they don't break apart) smash into discs about an inch thick. Put the discs in the fridge for one hour. (Easiest done on a plate with waxed paper. Don't stack the cakes!)
- Heat oil in skillet on a burner turned to medium. When the oil is hot (a drop of water sputters the instant it hits the skillet), put a batch of cakes in the skillet. Just do a few at a time; they shouldn't touch each other. Smash them down a bit so they make good contact with the pan, and fry three minutes. Don't touch them in that time or they might break up.
- After three minutes, flip them carefully with a spatula and cook them three minutes on the other side. Set them aside on a paper towel to drain.
- Repeat with remaining cakes.
- Cool a few minutes and eat 'em. Good with Siracha.
- Preheat oven to 400°.
- Either grease a cookie sheet or cover it with parchment paper. Put all your cakes on the pan.
- Cook for ten minutes, flip, cook another ten minutes.
- Cool and eat. Still good with Siracha.
- Pretty much any minced or flaked fish or shellfish could be used in this recipe.
- This was before I realized how tasty and useful mayonnaise could be. ↩
- Water-packed, so don’t give me any of that ‘Oh, you hated tuna because you never had this artisan olive-oil packed albacore!’ crap. ↩
- This is a ‘duh’ moment for me on the level of, ‘Man, why is my food always tasting so dull? Why is everything I make so boring to eat? I feel like I’ve tried everything… Maybe if I add a little salt… Oh.’ Yeah, there’s very good reason that pretty much the entire human race has flavored food with salt for the past ten thousand years. ↩
- AKA, pretty much straight-up stolen ↩
- Wow, we’re really plumbing the depths of ‘low-brow’ here, aren’t we? I’m gonna have to change the name of the blog to ‘Trailer Park Paleo’. (I can say this, I lived in a trailer on more than one occasion.) ↩