Healthy Oceans, Healthy Choices: Kabocha Salmon Patties

One of the things that often gets lost in our busy lives is time — time to listen, to read, to watch, to learn. We barely have enough time to do what needs to be done in 24 hours — forget researching things that may or may not directly affect us, our families, our health.

If you have 7-1/2 minutes to spare today, pour yourself a cup of tea or coffee while you check out this video from Oceana, a global non-profit organization committed to healthy oceans and sustainable fishing. It’s about the mercury lurking in some of our seafood and some of the warning signs of mercury poisoning we may be feeling in ourselves or seeing in our loved ones without realizing what they mean. Fatigued? Problems concentrating? It may not just be stress.

The point here is not to scare you off from seafood and fish — it’s important to include these in your diet on a regular basis. It’s equally important, though, to know what types of fish may pose a hazard to you or your family.

Last spring, we highlighted the convenience of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch fish guides. These guides are tailored for each distinct region in the U.S., so we recently ordered the guides for our new area. (Guides are also available for other countries in Europe and Asia, see earlier post for more information) If you have a mobile phone, you can save a tree and download the guides directly to your phone! The Seafood Watch guides provide at-a-glance, easy-to-decipher information about which species are farmed or fished in a sustainable manner (green is good, yellow is acceptable, red is bad), and which ones are known to have high levels of mercury (flagged).

Now we’d like to point you to another useful resource, Oceana’s “Green List”of national supermarket and warehouse chains that provide the FDA Advisory on mercury contamination at their fish counter. The stores on the List (including Shoppers, Safeway, Costco, Harris Teeter and Trader Joe’s here in the DC metro area) voluntarily post the FDA Advisory at their fish counters and canned seafood aisles (called point-of-sale advisories) to remind consumers which fish may be at risk for mercury contamination, and what the safe limits are for consuming some at-risk fish.

Why is this important? Because it provides a reminder for you and all shoppers that some varieties of fish (including swordfish, tuna, king mackerel and tilefish) are known to have high levels of mercury in their flesh, and that people at-risk (including children, older people, pregnant women) should limit how much they eat of these varieties, or avoid them. But that leaves many other wonderful fish varieties to choose from! The point of sale advisories help you as a consumer so you don’t have to struggle to remember which varieties are at-risk when you’re standing in the grocery.

Is the grocery chain where you shop on the Green List? Find out by following this link, which will also show you the Red List (which includes Giant and Super Fresh in our area) that do NOT post the Advisory.

Another cool tool on the Oceana website is an interactive grocery store map that allows you to input your area code, and click “Find My Grocer!” — a Google Map pops open with color-coded points showing you all the Green List and Red List grocery stores in your area. If you click on the colored point, the name and address of the store will appear. Finding your closest Green List grocer is just a click away!

Note to Hawaii consumers, the Oceana Lists only include national chains. The Hawaiian Islands have unique grocery store chains that are not on these lists. I used to check the seafood counters at Don Quijote, Star Market and Foodland on Oahu regularly and found no FDA advisories and only sporadic country of origin notices. Both Monterey Bay Aquarium and Oceana have campaigns that allow you to bring your concerns to the store management’s attention. Join the MBA’s campaign on labelling fish and seafood with country of origin and/or Oceana’s campaign on the FDA warning about mercury at the point of sale.

Following recommendations from both MBA and Oceana, we see that Alaskan wild salmon remain one of the best fish choices for the table. Both the fresh filets and canned varieties have healthy amounts of omega-3 fatty acids that reduce blood pressure and cholesterol and are fished in commercially sustainable ways.

Salmon patties made with canned Alaskan salmon and mashed potatoes are a delicious and economical way to eat healthy and stretch your budget dollar, too. The basic recipe is made with leftover mashed potatoes, but if you let your imagination roam, other interesting alternatives will come to mind. How about mashed tofu, if you want to cut down on the carbohydrates in your meal? Or sweet potatoes or yams, instead of russets? We especially like the sweet potato substitution with spicy notes like curry powder, garam masala, or jerk spices.

Here’s one version we did over the summer with leftover roasted kabocha and wasabi peas, and served with wasabi cocktail sauce. The crunchy peas add some texture to an otherwise very uniform patty, but the wasabi flavor was very mild — hence the need for the extra spicy cocktail sauce! Use fresh or frozen peas when wasabi peas are not available — they’ll add color and extra nutrition, if not texture.

Substitute any roasted or cooked hard squash in season for the kabocha: buttercup, butternut, Hubbard, blue and acorn are all in season now! Even pumpkin would be a nice medium for salmon patties.

*Note: Wasabi peas are a Japanese snack food of fried or freeze-dried green peas coated with crunchy wasabi-flavored rice flour. Look for them in Asian groceries and Trader Joe’s.

2 cups (360g) mashed roasted kabocha
1/2 medium onion, minced (optional)
1 large egg, beaten
sea salt and ground black pepper
1 small can (7.5 oz, 215g) Alaskan red salmon, drained and mashed
1 cup (120g) wasabi peas
1 quantity Wasabi Cocktail Sauce (below)

Add egg and onion to mashed sweet potatoes. Season well, and blend thoroughly. Add salmon, and roughly combine (we like to leave chunks of salmon noticeable in the patty, but you can combine to a smooth consistency if you prefer). Make a well in the center of the mixture, and add wasabi peas. Combine well. Shape into 2 large patties.

Preheat oven to 350F/180C, and preheat cast iron or other heavy oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat on the stove. Add about 1 TBL olive oil to the pan, and add patties to pan, pressing lightly. Turn heat to medium, and brown well, about 1-2 minutes. (Note: kabocha and sweet potatoes have more sugar than regular potatoes, and may darken and even burn more easily) Flip patty over, press lightly again, and move pan to pre-heated oven. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until patties are firm to the touch. Meanwhile prepare cocktail sauce.

Serve hot with cocktail sauce, salad or your favorite cooked greens, and rice or rolls.
If you serve this with some type of corn — cornbread, polenta, succotash, corn chowder, etc. you would have a wonderful meal combining the “Three Sisters.” More on that soon.

1 TBL prepared wasabi paste
1 TBL lemon juice
1/4 cup ketchup
dash Tabasco
2-3 TBL capers, drained and rinsed

Combine all ingredients. Set aside.