Thursday, June 30, 2011
While business increases at work, and I am on the end of a really long straight run at work, and due to a link posted on a facebook page somewhere I have an uber-upgraded amount of views in the last week, I really wanted to get a technical post together. On my dinner menu at the restaurant I have a bracket that reads "off the boat" a direct shot at the classic fish house. There is no price listed, no description, and no wine pairing. Seeking out cool stuff to sell for that part of my menu, and educating my staff on how to cook and describe them is one of the coolest parts of my job. Since this menu debuted I have had the opportunity to work with seafood I would have never been able to encounter otherwise. The only boundaries are that the product is fresh, and is local as well. Ideally it gives us an opportunity to sell things that pop-up for a few weeks a year, or even by-product catches that are only available for about 15 minutes before they are passed to the next eager chef in line. That scenario has skyrocketed me to the top of the call list when cool stuff is coming out of my local waters. My fish purveyors know that I only want the stuff no one else has, and because the price is flexible on the menu I can pay a lot, or just a little. Black cod, ling cod, spot prawns, oysters, whole Dungeness crabs, Springer salmon, Albacore tuna, perch, sea bass, red snapper, petrale and dover sole and more have all taken their run on the menu, usually lasting no more than three to five days. Then I am on to something new. The gambling on how much of each item we will sell over a weekend is a game every week for me, and provides a shear satisfaction when I am successful with my hypothesis.
Of all of them sturgeon is one of my favorite to eat. An amazingly ugly prehistoric creature that locally in our Columbia River is rumored to reach over 16 ft long and weigh close to 1000 lbs. Locally they can swim in fresh and salt water, and can live to be 100 or so years old, not even reaching sexual maturity until they are around the age of 20 yrs. Sturgeon eggs are also the only egg that can be technically called caviar. While we see other fish eggs as garnishes in dishes it has to be called "roe". Early this century the desire for caviar led the sturgeon to be so highly prized for its eggs that its meat was often ignored, and like the stories of the American buffalo it was almost driven into extinction in parts of the world for our glutenous approach to it. Thankfully stocks for the most part have returned, and the sturgeon I buy (Columbia River White) is almost always a by-product catch of the local salmon fisheries. Recreational the season opened in mid April and I had the chance to go out on a charter with some friends, and while we didn't catch anything, and I am not much a fisherman, I still had a blast. The days tag cost me only about $17, and in the right conditions you can catch them off the some of the piers and jetties in the area. If you have a hankering to get your hands on some then get a tag and a pole, as it will be almost impossible to find even at a very good fish mongers.
The flesh of a sturgeon is very fatty, and the fat tastes like dirt. It all has to be removed, sometimes even having a yellowish hue to it, the skin side is even worse, laced with a redish purple fat and a cartilage line carrying down through the middle of the skin side. Often I will trim almost 30% of the side off to get to the perfect flesh. This is the inside (bone side) side of sturgeon I was working with a few days ago. When I work on my cutting board with high end beef the marbling throughout the cut will begin to render with the heat of my hands and the friction of the knife. It leaves a thin film of fat on my hands, board, scale, and knife, and sturgeon does the exact same thing. Making for a slippery and sharp situation. It also has a different smell to it, not necessarily bad, but different. Really fresh salmon, or halibut for that mater doesn't really have a smell, or maybe just a slight aroma of oceanic brine, but sturgeon is very aggressive comparatively.
The magic of sturgeon is the taste. The texture of the meat itself is much "meatier" then any other fin fish I have had. Often on my menu I try to play with that- pairing it on the menu with a preparation that is much more classically done with a steak of some sort. It is the only fish that can stand up to those aggressive flavors and techniques. I find a piece of trim salted and seared to medium to be one of the best things I could possibly be eating anywhere at that given moment. It always boggles my mind when a creature that ugly, with spines, and whiskers, that lives that long could be good for anything but crab bait. But I will bend over backwards to get it, cook it, or eat it. It is always received very well in my dinning room as well, and when that happens it always makes me happy to know that my customers are appreciative of this fantastic creature that due to its age, size, and time as a species on planet earth deserves nothing but the uppermost respect.