Friday, April 15, 2011

Spring Chinook

I know I have posted about this before but it was quite some time ago and I feel like it is such a great product it is worth focusing on again. Most salmon runs on the west coast begin in early to mid June and wrap up in mid October. During the peak months of July and August I can buy salmon from my fish purveyors that comes from all over the NW and Alaska. All of them are different, some inlets in Alaska will yield different and more vivid colors then anything else available, while some of the Northern Washington fish can get astronomical in size. It is important to remember, and my staff has to remind customers that even though you can see the ocean from the dining room it doesn't mean I can always buy fresh salmon. Like all seafood there is a fishing season, there are months that there is not a fresh WILD salmon for sale anywhere in the world. Sure you could buy farmed salmon, but between growth hormones and dyes, and the horrible things they are fed, and the fact that I can support my local fisheries by not buying it we have decided it won't be in our restaurant or in my home ever. A definite argumentative point as some people consider farmed salmon more sustainable.

The spring run of salmon come to the Columbia River and it's bay beginning sometime in late January to mid February. They are Chinook (King) salmon that are headed long journey into the Snake River, and even further for spawning and death. While a salmon is at sea they swim and eat for a few years, and then return to spawn at the exact same place they were born. Once they hit fresh water they will hang out sometimes to make sure water temps and currents are right and usually will stop eating, living off of the fat they have stored up while at sea to get them to their destination. Then they spawn, then die. Some species even begin to take on a different shape in fresh water to make themselves both a bit longer, and more streamlined. It is a journey that is one of natures most amazing. Once a fish has been in the fresh water for more than a few days it's flesh begins to deteriorate, taking it from one of the best things you could put in your mouth to one of the worst.  The best time to catch a salmon is in shallow/open sea at the inlet of a large river, or in the river or inlet itself right at the points it reaches the ocean.  The Chinooks that hit the Columbia River (15 miles North of my house) have stored fat for two years at sea, they have developed muscle in open swimming that same time. They hit the Columbia really early as they have some distance to go before fall. They are at the absolute peak of their life. There are not many of them, and they are very hard to catch. Their speed, motivation, and ability to run makes them one of the best bets for sport fishing. and even commercial fisherman enjoy the amount of skill and patience involved.

Columbia River Spring Run Chinook salmon are the first fresh salmon to be had anywhere in the world. After a winter of frozen salmon I am always excited to get the first ones into our hands. Sometimes paying as much as $30/# for them once you factor in head/bone/innards loss, total fish price can push close to $400 for a larger fish. We then of course pass that price on to customers in a hail mary of hope that they can understand/or we can educate them on why it is so expensive, and for the most part they do. I can sell it in the $40-$50 range all night. We cook it as simple as possible usually searing and finishing in the oven over a cedar plank to medium rare, paired with a simple butter sauce. While filleting them I will sear a piece of trim and it never fails to blow my mind with a depth of flavor that is unmatched anywhere. We are nearing the end of the run, heading towards salmon season up and down the coast of which I will attempt to keep you all posted on what is available and why we are buying it. For now the best way as usual to get your hands on a huge King spring salmon is to catch one. If that isn't an option for you then you can get it at some local fish markets.....sometimes. A few weeks back the fisherman pulled only three fish from the water commercially, and we bought two of them for the restaurant. It pays to have these relationships with my purveyors, relationships we have crafted for years now so that when the cool stuff shows up, they know I will always buy it. If you are a salmon fan, the side of fish in the picture is the best tasting, and most expensive anywhere the world over, and one of the nicest I have ever seen. We received the fish still in rigor, and if you look close you see no damage from nets (this one, like most springers are line caught)and some beautiful color exchanges.

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