Need to keep moving … brown bear, dart right … current getting stronger, must be a waterfall … final kick then leap … whoa, another brown bear, whew, so tired but need to get to the shallows … to spawn … then die…
This is both the beginning and the end of the odyssey of the coho, chum, king, red, pink, silver and sockeye salmon. They begin in pristine fresh water streams, migrate and mature at sea, only to return to their exact birthplace, facing a treacherous gauntlet of brown, black and grizzly bears, waterfalls and sometimes manmade dams, all the while undergoing a physical metamorphosis that transforms an attractive fish to a gnarly beast of a fish. And if successful, their reward is a final spawn and then death.
All I know is that if I return as a salmon, I’ll be that one lazy salmon who simply lounges in the pristine icy oceans off of Alaska. Spawn? Nope, don’t feel the need.
Should I Look for Farmed Salmon?
Since wild salmon go through so much just to spawn, should I seek out farm-raised salmon to “protect” the wild variety? According to The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, NO!
For starters, they recommend wild Alaskan salmon, which is harvested via drift gillnet, purse seine or trolled and regulated to maintain sustainability. The issue with most farmed salmon — especially those raised in offshore cages — is that this artificial crowding of salmon in enclosed pens increases the chances of parasitic infections, not to mention a lot more salmon waste released into the surrounding waters.
On occasion, these penned salmon escape from their enclosures and can infect the wild strain in the open ocean. And salmon farming requires quite a lot of salmon feed, namely protein, so much so that they consume a lot more protein than they’ll ever produce for market.
The Seafood Watch guide recommends, as an alternative, U.S. tank raised farmed salmon, which doesn’t pollute offshore waters, eliminates the possibility of salmon escape and frequently employs salmon meal as the primary food versus possibly depleting another species of fish just to feed the salmon.
Personally, I just look for wild salmon (which usually is listed on the packaging) since most markets rarely tell you if it’s tank farmed versus open water farmed. Plus, I feel that wild salmon has a natural salmon color as opposed to the astaxanthin and canthaxanthin fortified feeds for farmed salmon (it either gives the flesh an exaggerated red color or a faint yellow-orange tinge).
Other than its vivid salmon hue, the thing that sets salmon apart from most other seafood or protein sources is its abundance of omega-3 fatty acids. Namely these are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which really can’t be produced by humans, even if your diet is fortified with its precursor, alpha-linolenic acid.
There are many studies that show potential cardiovascular benefits of the long chain omega-3 fatty acids though cumulative study analysis hasn’t concluded without a doubt they these compounds actually do what is claimed. At the very least, if you’re consuming salmon protein it probably means you’re consuming less beef, pork or dairy protein, along with the nasty saturated fat associated with those protein sources.
There are also newer claims that the long chain omega-3 fatty acids may also improve a wide variety of psychiatric conditions from bipolar disorder to depression to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Though I’m not convinced of these claims, several psychiatric organizations feel strong enough to recommend supplementing the diets of all of their patients with one to six grams of long chain omega-3 fatty acids. Personally, if I do need supplementation, I’d rather accomplish it with a nice serving of salmon (or other fatty cold water fish) than with a Lovaza or fish oil capsule.
I love salmon in all forms, though my favorite application is raw or rare. In the 50th, a fish staple is poké (po-keh) which is cubed raw fish mixed with a variety of seasoning such as shoyu, seaweed, chili flakes, green onion, white onion and kukui nut. One of my current favorites is salmon poké, which is cubed raw salmon seasoned with shoyu and wasabi mixed with finely sliced cabbage. The slight crunch of the cabbage contrasts the silky texture of the fish while the occasional wasabi hit balances the richness of the salmon fat. And my local supermarket apparently didn’t put much thought in pricing — the salmon poké goes for $9.99 per pound, but prices the salmon filet at $12.99 per pound. So I continue to purchase a lot of this item.
I also enjoy pseudo-cooked salmon or cold smoked salmon. Most people enjoy these silky salty slices with cream cheese on a bagel. I prefer mine chopped and made into a luscious spread as a favorite wine or champagne appetizer or as a luxurious sandwich spread. And since I purchase my smoked salmon from the big box retailers, the cost is relatively affordable. Since the salmon, capers and canned olives carry their fair share of salt, no salt needs to be added.
The Gochiso Gourmet’s Smoked Salmon Spread
• 1 lb of lox or other cold smoked salmon, roughly chopped
• 1/2 large sweet white or red onion, thinly sliced
• 5 stalks of celery, thinly sliced
• 1 heaping tbsp of capers, drained and rinsed
• One-half 4.25 ounce can of chopped olives
• 2 tsp dried dill
• 1/2 tsp dried marjoram
• 2/3 cup mayonnaise
• Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
Roughly chop the smoked salmon and set aside. Slice the onion and celery to 1/4 inch widths, then finely slice and add to the salmon. After draining, rinsing and squeezing out the excess water;- roughly chop the capers and add to the salmon. Mix in the olives, dill and marjoram then add the mayonnaise, mix all ingredients and season with the black pepper. Chill for one hour then serve with toast points, crackers or use as a sandwich spread.
I also enjoy cooked salmon applications, and one of my favorite sushi items is the salmon skin roll. The deep fried salmon skin almost tastes like bacon, but without all of that saturated fat. In fact, I would attempt to make it myself, but alas, I have no deep fryer.
Another favorite cooked application is a recipe David Rosengarten demonstrated years ago when the Food Network was still in its fledgling state. He wrapped bacon around a piece of raw salmon then broiled it just until the outer bits of the salmon cooked (and left the inside portion rare). He then made a “sauce” with minced garlic, chopped bacon, fresh chopped shiitake and oyster sauce mixed in plain water and added chopped fresh parsley. The expended bacon (it was used simply to baste the salmon) was then removed and the “sauce” spooned over the salmon. Served with a fruity young Pinot Noir, I still crave this recipe every couple of months.
So if you too crave the flavor of salmon or simply crave your daily requirement for omega-3 fatty acids, get a nice piece of salmon and go to it! Raw, cured, cooked, it’s all good! But do it fast before the sustainable becomes unsustainable. Otherwise the capsule form and memories will be all that’s left…
The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the Univ. of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at email@example.com.