Skip the crab and enjoy some fantastic fish instead

In today's "Home with the Lost Italian," Sarah Nasello shares her crowd-pleasing recipe for Savory Salmon Cakes.

Sarah's Savory Salmon Cakes are easy to make, affordable and filled with crowd-pleasing flavor. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
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Salmon is a mainstay in our weekly menu plans. This beautiful fish is not only rich in omega-3 fatty acids, but also an excellent source of protein and B vitamins and a host of other vitamins and minerals that are essential for good health.

In other words, salmon is one of the healthiest foods on the planet, and even better? It is delicious, especially when it comes in the form of my Savory Salmon Cakes.

I love a good fish cake. Since my allergy to shellfish prohibits me from enjoying the mother of all fish cakes — the Maryland Crab Cake — I have made cakes with a variety of fish, including walleye, ahi tuna, halibut and cod, all using the same recipe for the Maryland-style crab cakes we used to make at Sarello’s (our former restaurant). None have been as mouthwateringly scrumptious as my salmon cakes.

A crispy shell encases an interior that is chock-full of savory salmon. Sarah Nasello / The Forum


In addition to its amazing health benefits, salmon is rich and almost meaty in flavor. While certain varieties may be more sought after than others, Atlantic salmon is our go-to weekly choice. It is milder in flavor than wild varieties like Sockeye and Coho, affordable and often the easiest to find. You can purchase it in individual fillets at the grocery store, or in whole sides (even more affordable) at big box stores like Costco and Sam’s Club.

Recently, we made a batch of Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes and a batch of Atlantic Salmon Cakes and held a side-by-side comparison using the same recipe for each fish. Since I am unable to enjoy shellfish, I simply observed as my husband and son enjoyed this seafood feast.

Salmon fillets are baked until droplets of white fat are released and tender flakes are fully opaque. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

Perhaps it was my inner food snob (or just plain envy) that convinced me the crab cakes would emerge as the obvious winner. After all, crab is the original fish cake, and I respect that.

No one was more pleased than I when, after devouring several cakes of each variety, Tony and Gio both declared the salmon cakes the winner.

Hands are the best tool to break the salmon fillets into large, meaty chunks. Sarah Nasello / The Forum


Turns out, the crab cakes were simply too rich to have more than just one or two. But the salmon cakes? Suffice it to say that there were no leftovers, only disappointment that I hadn’t made more. This was a win for me on two fronts: the price difference between crab meat and salmon is significant, and I could finally feel like my men weren’t sacrificing flavor on my account.

My salmon cakes are easy to make and versatile enough to serve in myriad ways and sizes — as an appetizer, a main course, or as a sandwich between your best buns. They can be made several days in advance and reheated before serving or even served at room temperature.

The salmon mixture can be formed into shapes of any size and can be served as an entree, appetizer or filling for a sandwich. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

Better still, you can freeze the cakes either fully cooked or uncooked and have them ready to serve whenever you desire.

These Salmon Cakes are full of savory flavor. Not a richness, per se, but a terrific umami experience. And if you don’t know what that means, all you need to do is make Sarah’s Savory Salmon Cakes to find out.

Bell pepper and red onion bring flavor and crunch to the salmon cakes, and should be diced into small pieces no larger than a quarter inch. Sarah Nasello / The Forum


Sarah’s Savory Salmon Cakes

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Makes: about 3 to 3 ¼ pounds of salmon cake mixture (12 to 13 four-ounce large cakes, or 24 to 26 two-ounce medium cakes, or dozens of small cakes)


2 pounds salmon fillet

½ cup real mayonnaise

¼ cup Dijon mustard

6 dashes Tabasco

7 dashes Worcestershire sauce

2 eggs

2/3 cup orange bell pepper, small-diced into ¼-inch pieces

2/3 cup red onion, finely chopped

Juice of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon garlic powder

2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning

2 ½ to 3 cups panko breadcrumbs

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon ground pepper

Vegetable oil for frying

The salmon cakes cook quickly in hot canola oil, taking only two to three minutes per side until golden brown and crispy. Sarah Nasello / The Forum


Preheat oven to 400 degrees and position the oven rack in the center. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and drizzle lightly with olive oil.

Place the salmon fillets on the baking sheet and rub each side in the oil until lightly coated. Sprinkle the top of each fillet with kosher salt and ground pepper.

Bake the salmon in the oven until white droplets of fat appear and the fillet is fully opaque and flaky in the center, about 16 to 20 minutes. Let the salmon cool for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, use a whisk to combine all the remaining ingredients except the breadcrumbs.

Once the salmon is cool, use your hands to break the fish up into small pieces about ½-inch in size, adding it to the bowl as you break it. Add 2 cups of breadcrumbs to the mixture and use a rubber spatula to gently fold the ingredients together until well-combined.

Test the mixture by squeezing some in your hand: If liquid leaks out, it is too moist, so add more breadcrumbs, ¼ cup at a time, until the liquid appears fully absorbed and the mixture begins to clump together. Expect to use 2 ½ to 3 cups of breadcrumbs. The mixture is ready when it can hold the form of a cake.

Refrigerate the mixture for 30 minutes so that it can firm up before forming the cakes (this step can be skipped if short on time).

To form the cakes: Use your hands to pat the mixture into round cakes about 1 inch high and place on a baking sheet lined with foil or wax paper.

Heat ½ cup of oil in a 10-inch pan over medium-high heat. Test for readiness by tossing in a few breadcrumbs. If they sizzle, the oil is ready.

Place the cakes in the pan, being careful to leave a little space between each cake. Saute on each side until golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes each side. Place the finished salmon cakes on a plate or baking sheet lined with paper towels.

Serve immediately or place in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 4 days. The cooked cakes can be served at room temperature or reheated in the microwave or oven until heated through.

To freeze: Fish cakes can be frozen either cooked or uncooked. Place on a baking sheet lined with foil, wax paper or parchment (let cooked cakes cool to room temperature before freezing). Freeze for 2 hours until firm and frozen. Wrap each cake in plastic and store in a freezer bag or airtight container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Thaw to room temperature before reheating or cooking.

Sarah’s Tips:

  • If using a whole side of salmon, remove the skin and cut into 4 or 5 fillets.
  • Sides of salmon often come with the skin still on, which has to be removed before baking the fillet. Some butchers will remove the skin by request, and Costco often has sides for sale where the skins have already been removed (and the price difference is negligible).
  • The cakes can be made and formed in advance and refrigerated for up to 3-4 days before cooking.
  • If preparing many cakes at once, keep them warm in a 200-degree oven after frying, until ready to serve.
  • For a quick aioli dipping sauce: Combine 1/3 cup good mayonnaise with 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 clove of garlic (finely minced), 2 tablespoons finely chopped chives, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper.

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“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at

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