Polpettine di Pesce all’Ebrea

Salmon Croquettes, Jewish Style

Every year around Passover I try to offer an Italian Jewish dinner as part of our regional menu series. When my son returned from a trip to Venice, he brought me a few new cookbooks to add to my collection. In them I found chapters on la cucina ebrea, or traditional Jewish cooking, in Venice and Padova. Many of the recipes dated from the fifteenth century. Foods that I had come to think of as Eastern European turned out to have Italian roots. For example, they served smoked sturgeon, fegato all’ uove sode or chopped chicken livers with hard-cooked eggs, spuma di tonno or tuna pâté, rotolo de verze or stuffed cabbage, haroseth, the Passover condiment of dried fruits in wine, stuffed goose neck (helzel), a tsimmes or stew of yellow squash and carrots to accompany roast duck, goose, or veal, and grigole, or gribenes, those beloved but deadly deep-fried chicken cracklings. They even served meatloaf with a hard-cooked egg in the middle, a dish I always thought was a New York Jewish specialty. In amongst these treasures I found a description of polpettine di pesce, sort of a fish cake not unlike gefilte fish but seasoned with cinnamon and cloves. The following recipe is my interpretation of this dish. It isn’t kosher but it sure is delicious.

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Ingredients

  • 2 pounds salmon fillet
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter or olive oil
  • 2 cups finely diced yellow onions
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • ¾ cup homemade mayonnaise
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1 cup clarified butter or mild olive oil for frying

Method

Poach or steam the salmon until flaky and cooked through but not dry. Let it cool, then break it up into small pieces with your fingers.

Heat ¼ cup butter or olive oil in a medium sauté pan over low heat. Add the onions and cook until tender but not browned. Stir in the spices and parsley and cook a minute or two longer. Combine the onion mixture, salmon, fresh bread crumbs, and mayonnaise. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Shape the salmon mixture into 12 to 16 croquettes, about 1 inch thick. Coat on all sides with the dry bread crumbs. (At this point the croquettes can be refrigerated on a baking sheet lined with baker’s parchment or waxed paper up to 6 hours.)

To cook, heat the clarified butter or olive oil in 2 large skillets over medium heat. Add the croquettes and sauté until golden on all sides, 6 to 8 minutes. Serve the croquettes with a simple lemon wedge, Orange and Black Pepper Aioli, or Agliata. The best accompaniment is sautéed spinach.