Sometimes doing the right thing is just a matter of being aware of what's going on around you — especially when it comes to the fish we like to eat. We gave up eating farmed-raised salmon years ago when we learned about issues like escapement, pollution and sea lice infestation. Now, we think of salmon as a special-occasion meal instead. That's why we were disappointed to hear the news this spring, that for the second year in a row the commercial salmon fishery off the coast of California and parts of Oregon was closed because stocks had collapsed. The reasons are complex but scientists point to loss of habitat, loss of diversity among salmon stocks and the intricate local water systems that aren't exactly salmon-friendly.
"I'm optimistic they'll return," says Dr. Geoff Shester from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. "There are salmon coming back, but officials won't open the fishery until a certain number of salmon come back to spawn – which is a signal of good management."
Which means if you're trying to make good choices when it comes to eating salmon – wild caught from Alaska is still your best bet. Alaskan salmon fisheries are closely managed and maintained. It's even written right into the state's constitution. How cool is that?
But did you know that just like summer tomatoes or sweet corn, there are seasons for different types salmon? You'll most likely find chinooks, also known as king salmon, in May and June on restaurant menus and at good fish counters. Next up are deep-red sockeyes which run from mid-May until early August, followed by the highly prized cohos, available August through early-October.
Some of the most prized salmon you'll come across are those plucked from the 300-mile stretch of the glacier-fed Copper River in southern Alaska. Highly coveted by chefs and serious foodies for their spot-on flavor, sought-after fat content (which the fish develop to make the tumultuous trek upstream), and for its melt-in-your-mouth texture. Not only is it delicious, but you can pat yourself on the back for making a truly sustainable choice. Nicely done.
Pan-Seared Copper River Sockeye with Porcini Mushrooms, Red Bell Peppers & Sea Beans
Courtesy of Dan Enos, executive chef, The Oceanaire Seafood Room, Boston
2 tbls. canola oil
Salt & pepper to taste
1 pound Alaskan sockeye (or coho) with skin intact
3/4 cup thinly sliced fresh porcini mushrooms
1/2 cup roasted red peppers, sliced
1/2 cup sea beans*
Saute mushrooms and roasted red peppers together in one tablespoon of canola oil until mushrooms are tender. Remove from pan and set aside. Next, add sea beans, until wilted slightly. Combine with mushrooms and peppers.
Heat skillet on high, add remaining canola oil. When very hot, sear salmon skin side down for 4 minutes. Flip to flesh side down for approximately 3 minutes. Test for doneness. Plate over bed of mushrooms, peppers and sea beans. Drizzle with white balsamic and basil vinaigrette.
* If sea beans are unavailable, substitute asparagus or haricots verts, and adjust salt to taste.
White Balsamic & Basil Vinaigrette
1/2 cup basil oil
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3/4 tbls. minced shallots
1/2 tbls. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 c. white balsamic vinegar
Mix shallots, mustard, pepper and vinegar together, whisk while adding oils.
Thank you for sharing, Clare! We are now officially craving salmon something fierce.
Related: Recipe: Warm Potato and Salmon Salad
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(Images: Copper River Marketing Association/Clare Leschin-Hoar)