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Add a vintage napkin to a salmon croquette meal and feel back home.

March 1 was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season that paves the way to Easter.  Many readers will have attended a special Ash Wednesday service, leaving church with the traditional ash marking in the shape of a cross on their forehead. 

If your religion does not celebrate Ash Wednesday you may wonder why people were walking around the supermarket with a dirty smudge on their head—what it was and what it represented. 

The “ash” is burnt palm fronds and it is a reminder that our lives are short and we must live them to the fullest. As the priest or pastor imposes the ashes, he or she reminds each Christian of Genesis 3:19: “For dust you are and to dust you shall return.” 

While the disposition of the ashes is a moving ceremony, special to many Christians, there are other traditions associated with the “40 days and 40 nights” between Ash Wednesday and Easter.  Food, what to eat and what not to eat, is an important part of Lent.  

Why did we eat those pancakes on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras)? The ingredients, of course!  By making pancakes, the lauder was ridded of many foods that could not be consumed during Lent and would have spoiled by Easter.  

So what do you eat during Lent? As with many customs, they change and become less stringent over time. Eventually avoiding meat on Friday became a standard practice during Lent and fish became the entre of choice. 

If you grew up in the South, including our great state of Texas, you may have had salmon croquettes on Friday evenings during Lent. They are a traditional Lenten food. While they may have been associated with a religious ritual their popularity could have also stemmed from an economic need.  Not all communities are located near fishing waters, and although today fresh fish is flown in to many grocery stores, that was not always the case. 

Canned salmon was a pantry staple— cheap, healthy and delicious.  But for whatever reason you may have found the little fried patties on your dinner plate in the past, they seem to be missing from the dinner table today. 

I surveyed several of my friends and my un-scientific findings were that many grew up eating salmon croquettes and loved them, but few prepare them today.   

Surprisingly, one friend said, “I just made some.” 

Nobel Prize winner William Faulkner is one of the most celebrated authors of America and the South.  He grew up in Oxford, Mississippi and in an interview Faulkner named salmon croquettes as his favorite food. 

Although I am not sure I would dub them my all-time favorite food, I do proclaim their value as an inexpensive and delicious dish and their rite as an institution on the southern table.  I would like to see them back where they belong! 

Now is a good time to try this basic recipe.  You can change it and add to it as you wish.  My family made the croquette with saltine crackers, but the popular Japanese bread crumb, Panko, may also produce that crispy patty that you are looking for in your croquette. 

Have It Your Way Salmon Croquettes 

5.65 oz. can Wild Caught Salmon

12-14 saltine crackers (crushed) or 1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs

1 egg (slightly beaten)

2 tablespoons red, yellow or green onion (finely minced)

1 tablespoon cream or half and half

½ tsp. dry mustard

1/8 tsp. salt or to taste

Cracked black pepper to taste

1 fresh lemon to finish

1 Tablespoon of Canola oil 

Combine first 8 ingredients. Do not drain the salmon or remove the small, soft bones if there are any.  (The bones contain calcium and they are edible.) 

Shape into four round patties.  If the mixture is too wet, add a couple of more crushed crackers or tablespoon of Panko bread crumbs. 

Place the patties on a plate and finish with a squeeze of lemon and a little more cracked pepper.  Refrigerate for an hour or two to help the patties stay together.  

When ready to cook, heat oil in non-stick skillet over medium heat and brown on each side.  When done, plate and drizzle with lemon caper butter or dill cream sauce.  Serve immediately. 

Makes 4 patties 

Lemon Caper Butter Sauce 

4 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons capers

1 tsp. garlic powder

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon dry white wine

1 tsp. lemon zest

Snipped parsley 

Melt butter in small sauté pan.  Add capers, garlic, lemon juice, wine and lemon zest.   Cook over low heat until sauce has reduced, about 5 minutes.  Add snipped parsley. 

Creamy Dill Sauce 

½ cup sour cream

11/2 Tablespoons Dijon-style mustard

1 Tablespoon Fresh Lemon Juice

2 tsp. chopped fresh dill 

Whisk all ingredients together and chill. 

Salmon with dill sauce would be great with a cucumber salad.

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