Crab-free Great Lakes fish cakes

A plateful of food, including two lake trout cakes with dipping sauce, green peas, and couscous salad.
Crabs don’t have a monopoly on seafood cakes when Great Lakes fish are on offer! Photo: Brandon Schroeder

By Brandon Schroeder, Michigan Sea Grant Extension educator for northeast Michigan

Craving crab cakes from the Carolina coastline? How about lake trout or salmon patties from our local freshwater seas?

For many years, our family has traveled to enjoy the coastline of South Carolina, an experience only complete with a little crabbing — and crab cakes. While crab cakes are a favorite meal when visiting the ocean coast, we found that lake trout serve as a fantastic alternative when coming home to our own Great Lakes coast.

Smiling blonde child holding a blue crab
The Great Lakes may not have these little blue guys, but alternatives abound. Photo: Brandon Schroeder

Our native lake trout are iconic to the Great Lakes fishery but are sometimes overlooked on the menu due to their “fishy” flavor. Yet that’s what makes this fatty and flavorful fish perfect for baking and bringing out the flavors desired in this crab cake recipe. Baking, flaking, and turning your lake trout fillets into fish cakes is a great way to add new and fun flavors to your plate, turn your fish dish into a kid favorite, and create a Great Lakes meal comparable to the famed Carolina crab cakes.

Freshly caught lake trout in a black fishing net.
Lake trout populations have experienced a few rocky decades but seem to be on the rise. Photo: Brandon Schroeder

Here is one of our favorite crab cake recipes, adapted from a Food Network recipe, and incorporating the simple replacement of baked, flaked lake trout for crab meat. The recipe would work great with salmon, too.

Sauteed vegetables being mixed with egg to form base of lake trout cakes
Egg will help the cakes stay intact in the pan. Photo: Brandon Schroeder
Flaked baked lake trout being stirred into ingredients for lake trout cakes.
Succulent fish flakes are a great stand-in for crab meat. Photo: Brandon Schroeder
Lake trout cakes being coated in bread crumbs
Pat the breadcrumbs onto the cakes; the less you handle the cakes, the better they’ll hold together. Photo: Brandon Schroeder
Four breaded lake trout cakes cooking in a cast-iron skillet
Chill the cakes before cooking to make them easier to handle. Photo: Brandon Schroeder

Looking for a great side dish? We paired our meal with a pearl couscous salad and peas. The pearl couscous salad offers a colorful, healthy, and easy addition to your meal! Just finely dice one mango, half of a bell pepper, two green onions, half of a cucumber, and cilantro to taste. Mix with cooked couscous and add the juice of one lime. 

Wooden table with fried lake trout cakes, green peas, mango couscous salad, and dipping sauce
Opt for side dishes that add color and texture to your meal. Photo: Brandon Schroeder

Great Lakes fish cakes


  • 1-1 1/2 pounds of lake trout or salmon fillets (makes 8-12 cakes)
  • 3 tablespoons butter or olive oil
  • 1 green onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Season fillets with salt and pepper to taste, then bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until done to your liking.
  2. Flake fish, removing any bones.
  3. Melt butter in skillet over medium heat. Saute onion, bell pepper, and garlic for about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
  4. Add mustard, egg, parsley, and 1/2 cup of the bread crumbs.
  5. Gently fold in baked, flaked fish and sour cream.
  6. Make 8 cakes, pat with remaining bread crumbs, and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.
  7. In skillet, heat remaining butter and vegetable oil. Saute cakes for about 3 minutes on each side.
  8. Serve with dipping sauce and tasty side dishes!

Dipping sauce


  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons dill
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced


  1. Mix all ingredients. Chill and serve.

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