East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

The fish list: King salmon

Last weekend I bought my first fresh wild Alaskan king salmon of the season for the astronomical but fair price of $20/pound. Of the three species of gourmet Pacific salmon, king (chinook) is the oiliest and most expensive; coho is a not quite as good version of king; while sockeye (red) has a noticably different taste: more gamy. (Chum and pink salmon, for their part, are great out of cans.) Fresh salmon should be wild, since farmed salmon is high in PCBs, and probably Alaskan, as that state hosts most of the remaining healthy stocks in North America, although a few others are dotted along the west coast.

I split my half-pound fillet and cooked it two ways. I sauteed a piece in butter and served it with morels ($16/pound) and sugar snap peas, also sauteed. Despite the morels being of better quality that the last lot I bought, this wasn't quite as great a combination as I hoped -- partly due to slight overcooking, but mostly because I don't think it was the right way to cook king salmon. The other piece of salmon I steamed with diced shallot, a little vinegar and dried tarragon in aluminium foil, this time undercooking, and it turned out much better. None of the flavour of the fish was lost, and the acidity was a fine complement.

My proposed rule of thumb is to use king salmon for dry, oil-free cooking, and to use the cheaper sockeye otherwise. Is it worth paying a few bucks extra for the fresh stuff? Maybe: I think the average difference between fresh and frozen is less than the variation within each group, but I'm sure the difference exists. Nevertheless, I'll hope for the price to come down before I buy fresh wild king salmon again.

King salmon
Heathiness: A for wild
Environment: A for Alaskan, C otherwise
Taste: A



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