Double Salmon Rigatoni Pasta Cream Sauce, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Canned Salmon

February 29, 2012
4 Ratings
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

Do you remember how Marcel Proust wrote so rapturously about petites madeleines and how the very smell of those little cakes instantly transported him back to his childhood? I have a similarly strong - but completely opposite - reaction to the sight of those 15-ounce cans of cheap pink salmon you find in the supermarket. When I was growing up, those cans figured prominently in my mother's recipes for Salmon Croquettes, Salmon Loaf, Creamed Salmon and Peas, and something called Salmon Surprise. I think the surprise was my father didn't divorce my mother on the spot the first time she served it. But then. he only ate it after a cocktail. Or two. As for myself, whenever I saw a can of that mushy, water-logged pink salmon sitting on the counter, next to the bread crumbs and the jar of dried parsley, I would either wangle an invitation to dinner at a friend's house or, failing that, simply disappear until dinner was over. This strategy worked pretty well most of the year, but during Lent - when our house went meatless for 40 days - it meant there were numerous occasions that I wound up eating burgers or hot dogs at the neighbors as I avoided yet another round of salmon patties at home. Considering how truly awful they were, I didn't think I would be subject to eternal damnation for eating meat during Lent, but I still felt guilty. And I still loathed canned salmon. Fast forward several decades, to last week in fact, when this contest was announced. Right then, I decided it was time to face up to - and face down - my long-standing aversion to canned salmon. For the first time ever, I went out and purchased a can of salmon. Not the salmon of my childhood but a small, tuna-sized, BPA-free can of line-caught, sustainably fished, greenly produced wild red Alaskan salmon. I must admit, I opened it with a good deal of trepidation, but to my delight, it didn't smell awful. In fact, it smelled like ... nice, fresh salmon. I ventured a tiny forkful, and then another. And another. And decided to try in in a previous recipe that called for poached salmon; herein is the result. And that, fellow Food52ers, is how I learned to stop worrying and love canned salmon. —wssmom

Test Kitchen Notes

This rich and creamy sauce is delicious and filling. With additions of vodka, heavy cream and smoked salmon, that can of salmon can’t fail. The sauce was easy to make and simmered while the water boiled and the pasta cooked. The salmon contributed nicely to the flavor of the tomato-cream sauce and wasn’t overpowering. This got three thumbs up at dinner and made a tasty lunch the next day. —rachelib

What You'll Need
  • 1 6-ounce can top quality wild caught red salmon (I used Wild Planet)
  • 2 ounces Irish smoked salmon, sliced super thin so that it's almost translucent
  • 1 medium sweet onion, diced
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 cups organic tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 12 ounces rigatoni
  • 1/4 cup or more, if you like, freshly grated asiago cheese
  • salt and plenty of pepper
  • Some fresh basil, cut in strips
  1. Drain and flake the tinned salmon. Cut the thinly sliced smoked salmon into strips. Set aside.
  2. Melt the butter in a saucepan and saute the onion until soft. Stir in the smoked salmon strips, then add the vodka, bring up the heat and let simmer for a minute. (The idea is for the smoked salmon to kind of disintegrate into the sauce). Add the tomato paste and stir, then add the tomato sauce. Finally, add the canned salmon and the heavy cream.
  3. Meanwhile, cook the rigatoni until al dente. Drain, saving a ladle of the cooking liquid, and stir pasta into the double salmon sauce. Stir in the cheese, and if needed, the cooking liquid. Add plenty of black pepper and salt to taste.
  4. Serve topped with strips of fresh basil and pass the extra cheese.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • drbabs
  • Bevi
  • boulangere
  • aargersi
  • hardlikearmour

11 Reviews

drbabs March 8, 2012
Hi, I just saw this. You are hilarious. Are you sure you didn't grow up in my family (except for the Lent part)? Those bones in canned salmon. They still give me the creeps. Canned salmon, canned asparagus and jello. I can't even be in the same room with them. You are a brave woman.
wssmom March 8, 2012
lol -- separated at birth?
Bevi March 2, 2012
Your headnote brought back many memories of many food aversions. Among my sisters and me there would be at least one terrifying food monster at the table most nights. When we would visit our grandmother in Vermont, she would make canned salmon and peas in a cream base and all it "Salmon Pea Wiggle".
wssmom March 2, 2012
Salmon Pea Wiggle? OMG. That sounds like a good name for a rock band LOL ...
wewhine March 1, 2012
I just clicked that I want to eat this, but guess what? I did! And I already was a fan of canned salmon (on the bagel over the cream cheese on Saturday mornings if there was no whitefish in the house). Very tasty, and I am sure this dish will happen again _ and again.
boulangere March 1, 2012
Ah, those childhood dinner terrors. Mine was scalloped potatoes because my mother added enough pepper for the entire block. You may just have talked me into trying canned salmon, too.
wssmom March 2, 2012
Scalloped potatoes .... I had expunged them from my memory ... my mother used canned potatoes for that aaargh!
aargersi March 1, 2012
This sound delicious and I am very proud of you for facing your nemesis and winning. You always have the best head notes!
wssmom March 2, 2012
Thanks! Who knew canned salmon could inspire such verbiage!
hardlikearmour February 29, 2012
You crack me up! I love the title and the head notes are a riot. I'm glad you got over your aversion to canned salmon. Maybe one day I'll get over my aversion to all salmon ;-)
wssmom March 1, 2012
ThThanks HLA! It's one of the things I love best about Food52!