My friend, Suburban Times columnist Don Doman’s recent article about the goodness of salmon has inspired this piece. Because, indeed, salmon is a tasty fish, healthy because of its Omega 3 oils, and very, very versatile. Also, here in Washington State, it’s one of the native fish and, therefore, widely available. My husband and I have been to pretty much every salmon hatchery in Western Washington by now, fished for salmon (he not I), and created many a dish from pretty much any part of the creature (I not he).
There is salmon and salmon, of course. The Atlantic salmon is available all year because it is farmed; which also makes it cheaper and less healthy than the salmon that is seasonal around here. Steelhead and rainbow trout are basically the same fish, but steelhead live part of their life in the sea, which is why they are also called salmon trout. Salmon has less cholesterol than steelhead though. And then there is sushi grade salmon – caught quickly, bled upon capture, gutted soon after, and iced thoroughly. In Asian stores it is shelved separately from other salmon that should be cooked.
I ate my first salmon trout in Torbole, a gorgeous small-town on the northern end of Lago di Garda in Italy at age fourteen. The restaurant’s name was befittingly “Al Pescatore”, i.e. “At the Fisherman’s”, and the fish came simply grilled and with a little melted butter and some lemon to squeeze over. I forget what sides they served; the fish itself was so impressive. The restaurant still exists, by the way.
At home we had mostly typical German sea fish – no salmon for a long time. And on New Year’s Eve, we sometimes had lox. Only in later years did my mother pan-fry salmon filets which we got deep-frozen from the store.
Anything fish was hailed in our home. I grew up on it. Our entire family loved seafood. We experimented with anything we could lay our hands on – which back in the 70s wasn’t that much if it had to be affordable, too. When my mother made marinated fried herring, a German specialty, the entire family sat around the kitchen table and helped gut, skin, and filet the fish. We children became really good at it.
Ever since being my own home-cook, I have been experimenting with fish and seafood all kinds. Here in Washington State, of course, salmon has to be top of the list (along with rockfish and lingcod – but that’s another story). We have planked salmon on the BBQ grill and pan-seared it many a time. And I have learned to create salmon dishes in ways other cultures do.
Only recently, I created a lovely poke bowl. Mix soy sauce with a bit of wasabi, add chopped scallions, cube sushi grade salmon and let it soak in the marinade for about half an hour. Add sesame seeds and, if you have it at hand, some grated dried kelp. Top a bowl of cold Thai rice with it – it’s heaven in a bowl.
Or try gravad lox. This takes a little longer. “Gravad” means buried, by the way, as the Scandinavians used to dig holes in the ground and ferment their fish in closed vessels. They still have a dish called “lutefisk”, that is created in this way. Now, today’s gravad lox is a totally different and certainly not fermented dish. You best use sushi grade salmon for this. Get two filets of the same size. Place enough aluminum foil on a platter that it will wrap up the two filets later. Mix salt and sugar at a 1:1 ratio and pour a third of it on the foil, add whatever fresh herb you want to it. A classic is dill. Place the first filet on top of the mixture. Top with more salt-sugar-mix and herb; then cover up with the second filet, and use the rest of the mix and herb. Wrap your salmon tightly and place the package in a deep platter in the fridge for 72 hours. Turn the package every 12 hours; it will leak because the mix draws the water out of the salmon and makes it storable. When done, unwrap it, rub off what you can, and slice thinly. It’s delicious with a honey-mustard sauce and hash brown patties.
A rare treat once came to us in the shape of a chum salmon an indigenous fisherman gave to us. When I cut open the fish, I found about a pound of Keta caviar inside! Needless to say, this delicacy got cleaned as well and relished on cream cheese sandwiches. The rest of the salmon was fileted. The carcass was cooked down and made some marvelous fish stock. The now finished carcass went into the compost. There is literally no part of a salmon that isn’t useable. Your turn to enjoy now!