When I read Beatrice Hightower Cates’s 1936 Eliza’s Cook Book, I was surprised to find a recipe for salmon croquettes that refused to conform to a “heritage” mixture—that is, it didn’t have a roux-based white sauce to hold the croquettes together. In her book of recipes, collected from the ladies of the Los Angeles Negro Culinary Art Club, a luxurious combination of eggs and cream kept the fish mixture bound together during cooking. She rolled her flat cakes in crushed cornflakes for extra crunch, called them “salmon patties,” and served them perched on a slice of hot toast. Today, salmon croquettes are a staple on soul food breakfast menus.
But Cates wasn’t the only cook to take a detour with this beloved dish. Many black cooks who had migrated out of the South learned myriad makeshift ways to hold the canned fish mixture together. Some soaked bread in the salmon liquor from the can; some added mashed boiled potatoes or cheese, or cornmeal, or dried bread or cracker crumbs. The most common method was to simply add enough all-purpose flour to “tighten up” the mixture, as Sheila Ferguson explained in Soul Food: Classic Cuisine from the Deep South,“until Dad says, ‘it’s no longer juicy.’”
I owe inspiration for this modern interpretation to Stephanie L. Tyson, who, along with her partner Vivian Joiner, honored Stephanie’s grandmother’s memory in two Winston- Salem, North Carolina, restaurants and in the cookbook Soul Food Odyssey. The recipe comes together fast, and works well with left- over cooked salmon, poached fresh salmon, or canned salmon. Make the recipe as directed to serve as a first course, or make smaller croquettes and serve them in a chafing dish on the buffet.
Adapted slightly from Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking by Toni Tipton-Martin, copyright © 2019. Photographs by Jerrelle Guy . Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc.
This recipe was featured on our new cook-along podcast Play Me a Recipe. Listen as Home52 Editorial Lead Arati Menon flakes, breads, and fries her way through this recipe, sharing tips and stories along the way. —Food52
- Prep time 10 minutes
- Cook time 20 minutes
- Serves 4 to 8
(14.75-ounce) can pink salmon, or 1 pound cooked salmon
finely minced celery
finely minced onion
fresh lemon juice
salt, or to taste
cayenne pepper (optional)
1 1/2 cups
fine dried bread crumbs (preferably homemade) or cracker crumbs
Flour, for your hands
Oil, for pan-frying
Tartar or Rémoulade sauce, for serving
- In a medium bowl, break up the salmon. If using canned, mix with a fork until the bones and skin are well blended. Stir in the celery, onion, lemon juice, salt, black pepper, cayenne (if using), the eggs, and crumbs.
- With a 1/4-cup measure and lightly floured hands, scoop the salmon mixture, then shape into 8 flat discs. (Or, for bite-size hors d’oeuvres, scoop 2 tablespoons of the mixture and shape into 16 discs.)
- Pour 1/2 inch oil into a large skillet and heat to 350°F over medium-high heat. (Use a thermometer, or flick in a few bread crumbs; if they sizzle almost immediately but don’t burn, the oil is ready.) Adjust the heat to maintain this temperature.
- Working in batches (do not crowd the pan), fry the croquettes until golden brown, turning over once, about 3 minutes per side (less if making them small). Using a fork and spatula will help make turning easier and prevent croquettes from breaking. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot with sauce of your choice.