It sounds silly, I know. But, if you grew up in New England, your mom probably made a “wiggle.” It was usually made with salmon or tuna, and silly name or not, it was the favorite of many.
This New England classic was a a delicious and cheap meal when I was a kid, and still is for many. Salmon Pea Wiggle featured a milk gravy with canned salmon and canned peas traditionally served over buttered saltines or other starch. My aunt made it with the crackers, but my mom preferred boiled potatoes or her favorite egg noodles for the starch base. Some mothers preferred to serve it, or its cousin Tuna Pea Wiggle, over toast.
If you are not from New England – and probably just Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont – and have no clue what I am talking about, a “wiggle” is a dish of shellfish or fish, usually canned, in cream sauce, usually with peas.
It fed a crowd, stuck to your ribs, used pantry ingredients, and most of us (not all, of course) loved it. After all, it is hard to go wrong with potatoes topped with any kind of gravy, even a white one! I’m sure mom learned how to make it from her mother.
It was tasty, and we all loved it.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with this dish flavor wise if you don’t count all the carbs from the potatoes and gravy, and there are plenty. After dinner, you would want to go directly to bed and sleep for a couple of days! While we loved a wiggle as kids, my own children did not appreciate it as much, partly because of the white-on-white gravy on potatoes, and unappealing grey color of the canned salmon. I guess they expected more. The green peas popping through did little to rescue it. My daughter described it (and still does) as “gloopy, gloppy” not terribly pretty to look at!
What we need is color here!
Yes, this dish certainly needed more color, but I wanted to lighten it up too because it really is tasty but not so good for you. First, I decided to think about what I would put the gravy over. A cup of white potatoes contains 116 calories and 26 grams of carbohydrates, more than I want. I decided to use just one-third potatoes and the rest lower-carb selections. I decided on cauliflower and button mushrooms, and roasted them for a little extra interest, and I ended up with about a third of each vegetable by volume. In the future, I might try spaghetti squash too, a nod to mom’s noodles.
For better color and a little more flavor interest, I decided to add just a touch of smoked salmon added right at the end so it doesn’t discolor into more grey flecks! Just two ounces is all you need.
Mom sometimes used a full-fat canned milk for making the gravy, another item from the pantry. I decided on 1% milk for the base, but a plant milk would work fine if someone in your family cannot tolerate or doesn’t use dairy. She didn’t add herbs, but she did use lots of black pepper in this dish, even more than you think you should! That’s fine with me.
Lots of options
If you can’t have gluten, simply use a gluten-free flour mix in the roux, it works great.
If I were going to use a pasta of some sort rather than vegetables, it would be whole wheat, brown rice, or buckwheat, or whole-grain egg noodles if you can find them.
And, of course, you can always serve this over buttered crackers if you are so inclined!
Smoked Salmon Pea Wiggle over Roasted Vegetables
1 tbsp. olive oil
8 ounces button mushrooms
1 small cauliflower or half a large, chunks
6 or 8 fingerling potatoes, rough chop
1 can wild caught Alaskan salmon, 14.75 oz. with juice
2 cups milk of choice, dairy or plant
1/2 cup juice reserved from salmon
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 cup unsalted butter, or vegan
1/4 cup unbleached white flour, or gluten-free
1 tbsp. fresh tarragon, finely minced (1/2 tsp. dried)
1 tbsp. fresh parsley, finely minced
1 cup fresh or frozen peas, thawed
2 ounces smoked salmon, diced, reserve a bit for garnish
Tarragon and parsley to garnish
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and place a rimmed baking sheet on the middle rack. While the oven is heating prep your vegetables. Once the oven is hot, remove the pan, drizzle with olive oil, and add the vegetables and mushrooms. Roast for 20 minutes, turn, then roast another ten minutes until tender. You will probably have to remove the mushrooms first.
Open the salmon and drain and reserve the juice. Pick the salmon over to remove the skin and bones, trying not to break up the chunks too much. Set aside.
Meanwhile, warm the milk along with the paprika, pepper, mustard, and juice from the canned salmon. Don’t add salt. The juice from the salmon, and the later addition of the smoked salmon will probably be all you need. Taste at the end and add more salt if you must.
In another saucepan, melt the butter. Add the flour and whisk for two minutes so that the flour cooks. Slowly add the warmed milk mixture, a little at first, whisking between each addition. Once all the milk in in the pot, switch to a silicone spatula or wooden spoon and add continue slowly stirring until the mixture thickens.
Note: If you warm the milk, you will seldom get a lump in your gravy! If by any strange chance you do, simply strain it! No one will know.
Remove from the heat and add the parsley, tarragon, canned salmon, and thawed peas, gently stir to warm the salmon, you don’t want to break it up too much.
Once the vegetables are finished roasting, turn out into a bowl.
Gently stir the smoked salmon into the gravy at the last after removing from the heat. You don’t want to do this too early, or you will turn the smoked salmon grey, and we’re trying to keep some color here!
To serve, after the vegetables have been topped with gravy, add a little fresh parsley and a bit of the reserved smoked salmon to garnish. You can make either individual dishes, or plate it up family style.
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It’s pretty delicious!
Sounds delicious and love your explanation! Though I don’t eat fish, I’m sure my son would drool over this one!
Thanks for stopping by!
i wondered what a milk gravy was/is – it seems to be a bechamel in fact. this dish sounds much like the tuna casseroles our mothers made. well, not my mother as dad was way too picky with his food to eat that:-) i actually made a chicken dish a while ago that ends up being in a creamy white sauce (if memory serves) and was delicious. yours looks a treat! cheers sherry
Yes, a milk gravy is indeed a béchamel or basic white sauce base. Thanks for stopping by Sherry, and I am sure you “chicken in milk gravy” as my mother would say, was wonderful!
I remember Salmon Wiggle but I grew up in Cornwall, UK so don’t know where my Mum found the recipe. None of my friends had it at home but loved it as I did when they came over for tea. 🙂
Sometimes I think recipes travel around the globe faster than the speed of light!
Love the name!!
It’s totally silly!
Ok, so we had wiggle in Iowa, we just didn’t know it! I had kinda forgotten all about it till now! But it didn’t have the panache of your punched up and healthier recipe. Ours was served over toast.
Did you call it a wiggle, or a milk gravy, or something else?
I can’t remember but we sure didn’t call it a wiggle. I think was just tuna or salmon on toast.
Awesome! I really like your vintage recipes. Salmon is one of my favorites seafood
This certainly has the flavor profile of the original, just a few little twists!
I’ve lived in Maine my entire life and I’ve never heard of this. And I’m not in southern Maine (Portland Region for those uninitiated), I’m in the heart of the lobstering community which is Midcoast/Downeast
It was definitely not a fresh fish dish, pantry all the way!
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