FLORIDA OYSTERS .......... $3.99/lb SQUID .................... $7.99/lb WILD SOCKEYE ............ $19.99/lb SALMON STEAKS ........... $10.99/lb YELLOWTAIL ............. $22.99/lb
ATLANTIC SALMON ......... $7.99/lb WHOLE LIVE SALMON ....... $29.99/lb FROZEN SHRIMP ........... $18.00/lb LUMP CRAB ............... $29.99/lb MAINE MUSSELS ............ $3.99/lb
AB: [recounting his experience] ... and so that's when the guy actually looks right at me and says,
"Salmon is salmon."
FISH MONGER: Amazing, did you contact the A.M.A.?
AB: Huh, did I? I dropped a dime on him that afternoon. They hung up on me!
My current standing with the medical community may be strained, but at least I'm solid with my fish monger. An individual who is especially helpful when it comes to issues of salmon.
AB: My good man, I notice you've got several examples here, but you've got one
that's $7.99 and another one that's 20 bucks! What's the deal?
FM: This one is farm raised and this one is wild.
Ah, the big issue, wild versus farmed, expensive versus cheap, nature versus nurture. Now let's compare the two by first examining the life cycle of a wild salmon.
[AB narrates in the head of an animated wild salmon] Our hero is born, way up some
cold, freshwater stream, where his family has been hatching for countless
generations. Now when he's just a small little fry, he heads down into the big
ocean, where he swims far and wide—for two to seven years, depending on his
species—feasting all the while on Poseidon's rich buffet. Shrimp cocktails are
especially appreciated. Yep, it's a wild, wild life.
But then one day, he gets a funny itch, an urge, an inkling, to get back home. And if he makes it upstream past the hydroelectric dams and bears and whatnot, he'll make it! Thanks to a mysterious type of biophysical G.P.S. Now once there, he hooks up with a mate, spawns, and then promptly goes belly up. Aah! Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, back up, back up, let me out of here.
Now since our hero lived his life to the fullest and his body wanted to prepare for that long, upstream swim, by the time he reached the mouth of the river where the fishermen were waiting for him, of course, his body was at its succulent, flavorful, and fatty best. And now, let us consider the contrasting existence of the farm raised fish.
[AB narrates again in the head of an animated farm raised salmon] He's born into a nice, safe hatchery tank far away from any predators or discomfort. Pretty soon he's chucked into an off-shore pen with a few thousand of his other friends. Now unchallenged and bored, he grows fat on fish food, which is chock full of ground-up other fish that he would never eat in nature. And it has astaxanthin, which adds color to his otherwise gray flesh. When he hits market weight, he meets his end, often by either electrical shock or a blow to the head. [irritated] All right, that's it!
Look, I'm not going to tell you not to buy farmed salmon, because I'd rather you eat farmed salmon than no salmon at all. But trust me when I tell you, when it is available, wild salmon is well worth the investment.
AB: So is there another reason for having all of this salmon?
FM: Well, there are different varieties.
AB: Ah ...
Indeed, there are. In the spring, the Pacific brings big old King or Chinook salmon. Then in summer, the Silver or Coho come to answer the call of the wild. The Sockeye, whose deep red flesh is my personal favorite, run all the way from spring to fall. Two other varieties are common, the Chums, a.k.a. Keta, and the smaller Pinks. They're available sometimes all the way until October, though more often than not they end up in cans. The point is, by the end of fall, most of the wild salmon, gone. I say most because Kings sometimes arrive out of season in California, Oregon, and Washington. But those fish rarely, if ever, leave the local markets. Oh, as for farmed Atlantic salmon, they're pretty much always available and they're easy to recognize by their large, dark spots, and their stubby, underdeveloped fins.
AB: All right, anything else?
FM: Well, there is the whole ... you know ...
AB: Oh, yeah, the thing we talked about.
Look, um, you have got to stop thinking that fresh and raw are the same thing. I mean, if we defined fresh as the closest condition to live, then in many cases, well, frozen wins. In fact, fish that are flash frozen immediately after capture and kept at a proper frozen temperature, are considered by many, including us, as being much better than fresh or raw. That said, we don't want any re-frozen or re-thawed product. That would mean ice damage, and ice damage is never good eats. Your best fish investment though, get yourself one of these [fishmongers].
Primum non nocere: first do no harm. Although it's a phrase most often associated with medical students, it's an excellent kitchen motto. Especially when wild salmon is concerned. After all, all you really have to do is not mess it up.
PRIMUM NON NOCERE
[at the refrigerator] Now ideally, you would cook your fish the day that you bought it. But hey, the real world, right? So proper storage is critical. What I like to do is I like to keep the fish on ice, but I don't want it to waterlog. So here's what I do, I've got a bed of ice with some foil. The fish goes on top of the foil, and this box is full of holes, right? So the ice can melt and drain into another container below. And I've just got a couple of pastry rings in the bottom to give a bit of elevation. This rig will keep the fish, without adding ice, probably for about three days. After that you need to cook your fish.
Over 150 million pounds of salmon are consumed annually
in the U.S. And that's not counting the canned varieties.
Wild salmon all but demand simple cooking. After all, they've got plenty of
flavor, they don't need you to bring anything else to the party. But just as you
should not confuse fresh with raw, don't think for a moment that simple is
synonymous with easy, okay? For unlike, say a T-bone steak, which is relatively
uniform in size and shape, salmon cuts, well, they cover a wide range.
Consider for instance, these three parcels. They all weigh within about two ounces of each other. But the way that you would want to get heat into, say, this piece [a wide, thin one], is very, very different from the way you would approach this piece [a smaller, thicker one]. And that is why the wise cook will always approach wild salmon with at least three different cooking methods.
|Method one: pan searing. But instead of using my favorite stainless steel, I want to use less fat. So I'm going with a 10-inch non-stick skillet, placed over medium heat.||
Method 1: Pan Searing
[at the cupboard with a bunch of View-Master toys, looks for one he wants] Now it should be noted that the miraculous material lining that pan over there was invented by complete accident in 1938 ... ah, this is the one ... by one Dr. Roy J. Plunkett, who was working with a refrigerant called tetrafluoroethylene, ...
... which spontaneously polymerized into polytetrafluoroethylene, a white, waxy solid which is chemically inert—ell,
almost—and quite possibly the slipperiest substance on
earth. Now the military originally put it to good use coating parts
inside the original atom bombs, and also lubricating the nose cones on
missiles. Later a French fisherman put it on his nets. He then got the
wise idea of applying it to his wife's pans.
Leave it to the French, right? [looks in the Viewfinder again] Amazing.
|[at the stove] All right, the pan feels good. So [get] out with two six-ounce Coho or Silver fillets, but glove first.||
2 6-Ounce Coho Salmon
Typically, salmon pin bones are pulled before the side is broken down into individual fillets, but some mega marts skip this step to save time. So always check by running your finger down the sides of the cuts. That's usually where you're going to find them. Now if you find one, you must remove it. Somebody could choke on it! And needle nose pliers are the best tool for the job, okay? So just get a grip right on the end of the bone, and try to pull in the direction of the muscle grain so that you don't tear as you extract. Since they're sticky and sharp, we'll be sure to evacuate these from the scene before proceeding.
|Now for the rest of the prep, we'll need a little bit of lube. Oil will enhance browning and, of course, make sure that it doesn't stick to the pan. A little bit of salt, actually a little more than you think you'll need. I'm figuring about a quarter teaspoon overall. Get that glove off and grind on fresh black pepper. There, now into the pan. And make sure you give them plenty of room to breathe. [places the salmon skin-side up in the pan]||
2 tsp. Vegetable Oil
¼ tsp. Kosher Salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
|Now there are dozens of different fish flipping implements on the market, but this is my absolute favorite. It is nylon, so it is safe on no-stick surfaces, and relatively heat resistant. Although, as you can see, it doesn't like a direct flame too much [shows a burn mark]. It is semi-flexible, it is slotted for reduced friction, and it has a slight upturn at the end. It can be used up like this, or turned over like this, depending on what you are attempting to manipulate.||
[appears to be the
|Okay, for fillets in the six to eight ounce range, we're looking for a total cook time of four minutes. Now if the pieces were flatter, I'd go with two minutes on each side, but these are blocky enough to have, well, four sides. So I'm going to go one and a half minutes on each of the big sides, and 30 seconds on the stubby little ends there.||
6-8 Ounce Filets
Now frankly, I would rather use a timer over a thermometer during this process.
Because when finished, these pieces will actually encompass a wide range of donenesses, from medium at the thin flap, all the way up to almost rare at the
head. If I tried to just use a thermometer, who knows exactly what I would hit.
So when your fillets are finally done, evacuate to a clean plate. Those look
good. And cover loosely with foil, and let them rest for five minutes.
Now in our sauté scenario, very high heat moves via conduction, that is, direct contact, very quickly into the meat. Now this blitzkrieg inward thermal march creates a tasty sear on the outside, and creamy, moist goodness within. But fresh from the fire, there's still a lot of heat wondering around like marauding soldiers in here. If we go just slicing into the meat, that heat will come rushing out, bringing lots of juice with it. By allowing the meat to rest for a while, the heat will naturally abate, and the juice will stay where it belongs, in here [the fish] instead of out here [on the plate].
[at the table] Gorgeous fish, and tasty. And all we had to do was exercise "primum non nocere". Now a simple side salad with a little homemade vinaigrette adds a nice acidic counterpoint to the slight gaminess of the fish. But you know what? What if we were dealing with a much thicker piece of fish? Hmm?
|[at the refrigerator] Let's say that you wanted to cook up this big, tall King, or Chinook salmon fillet, which has got to weigh, I don't know, 10 to 12 ounces. A nice dinner for two. Now we could certainly cook this up in our pan just as before. But with this much mass, it would be very, very difficult to manage all of the heat. The far better bet is to go with what is called "bi-level cooking".||Method 2: Bi-Level Cooking|
[at the oven] First step, make sure that your oven rack is right slap dab in the middle of the box, and crank the heat to 475.
To make sure your salmon is indeed wild, ask to see
the "country-of-origin label" now required for all fish.
Although we do need a pan for our big old hunk of Chinook or King salmon, we don't want to go with nonstick because it can release dangerous fumes at high oven temperatures. So this time, we'll go with good old-fashioned stainless steel set over medium heat. Let this pan heat for two minutes. No more, no less.
|Now as to the fish, we will lube much as before, first feeling for pin bones. No, I'm not petting it. Here we go, little bit of oil, just enough to cover. If we get too much, we'll get a smoky mess. Salt to cover, can't say how much because it should be enough. Off with the glove, then the black pepper.||
1 12-Ounce Skinless King
2 Tbs. Vegetable Oil
Kosher Salt & Freshly Ground
Now if you want to know if your pan is really hot enough, go over and get
yourself a little water ... [sprays some water from his hand onto the pan] That's
hot enough. It evaporates without dancing around too much. This time I'm shaking
the fish in the pan to make sure that it does not stick. All right, let this
cook for three minutes. No shaking, no poking, no prodding. Just let it be.
Our big old King fillet has been cooking for three minutes. It's time to flip, and move to the next phase of cooking.
[at the oven] And into the hot oven for exactly five minutes. How can I be so sure about the time? Well, because I've got one of these [oven thermometers] in here. I'm sure that you've got one in your oven too. No? Oooh, we better have a talk.
[at the cupboard] Listen, if you think that flashing light on the front of your oven, or the number on the little knob, is a truthful representation of what's going on inside that box, I got news for you. Ovens lie. Or at the very least, they tell you what they think you want to hear. But you see, there are so many factors. I mean the size and shape of the oven, where the heating elements are, where the food is, and how much food is in there, all effect the actual heat situation going on in there. So in other words, you can't really trust it. But you can spy on it, and that helps.
Now basically there are two different types of thermometer that are designed to reside in there 24/7. Now there are round dials, and they are always armed with a little coil in the back inside. And that coil is made out of two different kinds of metal that are laminated together. And they expand and contract at different rates. And that means as the oven gets hotter or cooler, this coil opens up or closes. That moves the dial. They're easy to read, they're cheap, and almost completely unreliable.
What I depend on are old-fashioned bulb style thermometers, like this. Some of them still actually have mercury in them, and others have a dye, dyed alcohol actually, that's a little easier to read than the mercury. This model, made to hang on a rack, very convenient. If you have a flat bottomed oven, you might like one of these stand models. Whatever you do, go for something that's very, very easy to read. And position it halfway between the wall and the center of the oven. [timer beeps] I still don't trust it.
All right, time to extract. We will get this out of the pan and onto a clean plate. It's also cool, which is important. We still need to rest of course, so we'll cover with foil, and this time go with five to ten minutes.
[at the table] Well, as you can see, the King is well rested. Darn delicious stuff, I'll tell you. Crispy brown on the outside, slightly pink in the center, which is exactly how you know you want it.
By the way, my advice, if anyone ever asks you to prepare wild salmon well done, just feed them the farmed stuff. They won't know the difference. Anyway, this is good and good for you. Packed with those omega-3 fatty acids that your doctor has been nagging you about. What exactly is an omega-3? Well, let's take a microscopic look at the end of a fatty acid. Okay, just the very end of the molecule.
We know that this is an unsaturated fatty acid, because it's got at least one double bond between those carbons over there. And you notice that puts kind of a kink in the molecule. Now if the last double bond occurs three atoms down from the end, or omega of the molecule, then you've got yourself an omega-3 fatty acid. And there are a lot of different examples of those. And there aren't too many places to get them. Nothing is better than wild salmon, in fact. So eat up, and you'll keep your pill pusher man at bay.
Salmon is loaded with nutrients like niacin, vitamins B-6 and 12,
selenium, magnesium, protein and phosphorus.
[at the oven] Let us now contemplate this luscious looking side of Sockeye. Now
technically it is thin enough to sauté, but I'd have to cut it into several
pieces to fit it into a pan. And you know, I'd really like to serve it intact.
Now the grill would be an option. But once the fat in there warms and starts to render out, flame ups would be inevitable. And at 15 bucks plus a pound, I really don't want to face that particular type of fire. And of course, there's turning, always treacherous with this size and shape.
|Luckily, most ovens have a broiler which is nothing but a grill turned upside down. And since we can control the distance between the heat and the fish, we can ensure perfect doneness without having to flip at all. And that opens up some interesting flavor augmentation options.||Method 3: Broiling|
|[at the counter] Grab your food processor, and if you've got a mini work bowl, you might want to insert that. Now into that goes a third of a cup of dark brown sugar. Two tablespoons of lemon zest. And yes, that needs to be fresh. You'll also need some salt, one and a half teaspoons. Kosher should do the trick. And then finally, black pepper, which I like a lot with salmon. Half a teaspoon will do. There, now just buzz that until it is thoroughly combined. There.||
1/3 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
2 Tbs. Fresh Lemon Zest
1½ tsp. Kosher Salt
½ tsp. Freshly Ground Black
|Now you're going to want to put your fish out on some foil on top of the pan, because when the sugar melts, it's going to stick a bit. And then just smooth on that mixture. Pat it, don't push down too hard. This is going to need to just sit at room temperature for 45 minutes.||
1 Side Sockeye Salmon,
1½ - 2 Pounds
|[back at the oven] Now position your broiler rack so that the salmon will be three inches from the heat. Crank your broiler to its highest setting, and wait for two minutes. Then slide in your fish for six to eight minutes, or until the exterior is golden brown and delicious, and the deepest part of the interior temps at 131 degrees, give or take a degree or two.||
Broiler On High
All right, time is up, and the fish looks good. Now we do need to rest. But
because I don't want that crust to get gummy from steam, I'm going to leave it
uncovered for five to ten minutes. I'll be back.
As for serving, I say keep it simple. All sides are completely optional. Heck, I say the fork's even optional. Delicious, it's like a crème brûlée only lemony and salmony. But with just as much delicious flavor.
Now I hope that we've given you the confidence and the techniques to help you face the wild salmon. The best 20 bucks per pound you'll ever taste. Just remember, buy quality, store it properly, and above all, all together now, primum non nocere!
Next time, maybe we'll tackle something a little bigger. See you next time.
†And the debate continues: is generic exactly the same as name brand? My pharmacist wife would say yes, as would I. Remember, that's a actor speaking, not a doctor; nor was the script written by a doctor. It's disappointing that GE would even mention this. It was right of AB to dump his as his "Doctor". Read here.
Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger
Last Edited on 08/27/2010