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
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
In This Recipe
Drain and flake the tinned salmon. Cut the thinly sliced smoked salmon into strips. Set aside.
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.
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.
Serve topped with strips of fresh basil and pass the extra cheese.