In Context: Comfort Foods

March 29, 2023

Comfort foods, we all have them. Some are actually healthy for us. Others we merely think are healthy for us and forget some key information!

In 2021 I had a major internal system breakdown (nothing Covid related). Later I realized that my reversion to my comfort food of tuna and rice, was not a great choice at the “comfort levels” I was reaching for it. I had to give up tuna for several months.

Last week I came back to it with a fabulous tuna pattie—a recipe that showed up in my inbox from one of the recipe blogs I follow. But that’s it for now, maybe in another 3 or 4 weeks…?

Dick reminds me that salmon doesn’t have the mercury issues tuna does, and says it would taste great as a fishcake. But I don’t like salmon, so we can all see right through that tissue of suggestion from Dick right?!

In Case You Want to Make Tuna Patties

The recipe that got me thinking about Tuna Patties was by Sheela Prakash on Bon Appétit’s site. But I don’t have a computer at home right now so I read the article and then recalled it as followed. (If you want the real thing you can go to the source, but if you follow these instructions you’ll get something really yummy too.)

Two 5-ounce cans of tuna.  I used water-packed, drained and I think using oil-packed would be too heavy. I wanted to use two cans of Albacore but I discovered, since I’d gone off tuna that no new tuna had been purchased and all I had was one can of tuna chunks and one can of Albacore. This ended up being a very happy, tasty accident. I think I’ll always make it this way. You can mix up the chunk tuna with your mayo etc. and then sort of fold in the larger chunks of Albacore.

Two Tablespoons (OK, a little bit heaping, not measured) Duke’s Mayo.  I was a steadfast fan of Mrs. Clark’s Mayo. There still is no mayo, to my taste, that can touch it. But the company stoped making it. I tried a bunch of mayo brands and I’m a happy convert to Duke’s. I recommend it. Just their regular may0.

One not very heaping Tablespoon of Dijon Mustard.  I usually have a lot of Dijon mustards in the fridge—I like the whole seeds—but on this day I only had some totally creamy Dijon. It’s OK to use that, but I would prefer the other has it has more tang. You could also leave out the Dijon and go in a different direction with harissa, hot sauce, and even plain yogurt as suggested by Prakash. But think about what you’re going to use for spices…

Mix the above items in a bowl, but don’t over mix—keep the tuna chunky. This will be called the Tuna Mixture below.  

Crack 2 large eggs into a separate bowl and lightly beat.  

Seasonings. I wanted to use onions and garlic, but I knew I would have to overcook the patties to get the onions as cooked as I like, so for seasoning I went with the following mixed in a small Pyrex cup: a little bit of of Kosher Salt (a good pinch); some black pepper; one teaspoon of Burlap and Barrel’s Jimmy Nardello Pepper Flakes (these are sweet pepper flakes, next time I would use 2 teaspoons); a solid teaspoon (heaping) of Burlap and Barrel’s Purple Shallot Powder; and a half teaspoon of Burlap and Barrel’s Floyd Cardoz Goan Masala. (I was just using this last spice and still trying to find out quantities and heat and what I like to use it with. You’ll want to be careful with anything too spicy if you’re not used to it. This is pretty mild, yet adds some interest and doesn’t compete with the tuna, but brings the flavor out.)

(I’m sorry the measurements of the seasonings are so vague, but I season by the eye gauging amounts visually, and also the smell, and then just write down notes approximating what I did afterwards, because I know I’m just going to wing it and adjust to sight and smell again).

Add 1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs to seasonings container.  I stirred it around together so I wouldn’t have to over stir the tuna mixture.

Add the Panko/seasonings mix to the eggs.  

Mix the Panko/seasonings/eggs mix into the Tuna Mixture, but don’t over mix—keep the tuna chunky.   

Form into Patties. The recipe said it would make FOUR patties so I spooned out 4 portions onto a regular dinner plate, and nudged them into shape so they were uniform, covered them with wax paper, and put them in the fridge for 10 minutes. (Evidently you can leave them for up to a day in the fridge, but I’m not able to leave fish, even canned fish, alone that long with eggs—it’s just me.)

Cooking. I heated a little bit of butter in my frying pan and the patties stayed together perfectly as I transferred them from plate to pan with a spatula. (This would have been the perfect time to use that ultra thin fish spatula that I purchased 2 years ago—but it’s in storage so…). I recalled that recommended cooking time was 2 to 4 minutes a side. I went for about 3:30 minutes on each side hoping not to dry them out, but fully cook the egg. When I flipped them I did push them down a little bit and the edges smooshed out like some people cook their burgers. I think that helped them cook quickly because it cut down their thickness.

Order of Preparation

Because I really wanted cooked onions with my tuna cake I started this whole process by dicing some potatoes (wait, you’ll see why), and putting them in the microwave for 6 minutes. Next I sliced and browned a large yellow onion in a little bit of butter until they were all jammy. I set the onions aside and placed the potatoes in the frying pan to finish cooking them. (The microwave speeds up the cooking time, but the frying pan makes the lovely crust on the potatoes.)

By then it was time to cook the tuna patties. (I used a separate pan). When I flipped the patties in their pan I returned to the potato pan and added the jammy onions and a diced red bell pepper. That way everything came out at the same time and the red pepper wasn’t mushy!

The only thing I would do differently is make some sort of dipping sauce. Or maybe squeeze lemon on the patties. They weren’t dry—in fact they were amazingly fluffy and flavorful. They were crusted on the outside so the pillowy nature of the inside was delightful. But I think most people would like to have a dipping sauce or lemon juice. I was happy with my potatoes and those yummy jammy onions. (In fact you could just dump a pile of those onions on these cakes and make the most amazing sandwich with a toasted, sourdough muffin, some lettuce, and a slice of tomato!)

A side salad is something people might also like. If you went in a different way with the spices you could have a nice salad with basalmic vinaigrette.

Dick and I each ate two patties—I hadn’t had lunch, I really needed to eat that second patty to test how well the flavor profile held up over multiple bites (right!?), and frankly they were too good not to eat two. But I think this recipe could serve four adults with each getting one patty if you’re going to have pan-fried potatoes and salad. 

You get the idea. While we ate our tuna patties I complained a couple times that I couldn’t have tuna frequently any more. And between the two of us we thought of 15 other ways to make these patties; and of course the things to serve them with.

I hope you’ll have some fun with this.

And what’s up with all the “Burlap and Barrel” spices—that’s the topic of another post. I have been looking, throughout the pandemic, for spices to use in my cooking. I’m not connected to them in any way financially, but I recommend their spices which have all been outstandingly fresh.

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