The clear, cold, stormy waters of the Pacific Ocean off Alaska, British Columbia and Washington state are home to one of nature’s treasures and its most perfect protein…wild Pacific salmon. For millennia, wild salmon have been part of the region’s culture, traditions and way of life.
Wild salmon has been a hallmark of Northwestern cuisine for as long as there have been people here. The region’s Native Americans have celebrated the return of salmon for millennia. Nowadays, all Pacific Northwesterners experience a state of excitement when the salmon are running. The delicious meat of wild salmon sustain them throughout year with life-giving nutrients.
Without doubt, the life story of the wild salmon is one of the most poetic and legendary of the animal kingdom. Their life journey is the definition of epic. Born in freshwater streams in the Pacific Northwest, young salmon might spend up to a year before they head out to sea, where they grow to maturity. Some species might swim hundreds, if not thousands, of miles in search of high-quality protein, like herring, sand lance, capelin, squid, and small crustaceans.
After years out to sea , they return to the river where they were born. Salmon begin “running” when they congregate at estuaries in preparation for a journey up that river or creek to find their spawning grounds. They return to the exact stream of their birth, swimming all the way up, sometimes hundreds of miles, to tiny little creeks just a foot or two deep, where they dig a redd in the gravel and spawn. And then die.
There are 5 species of Pacific salmon: king salmon (also known as Chinook or Tyee, meaning chief); Coho salmon (sometimes called silver salmon); sockeye salmon (reds); Keta Salmon (informally called chums or dogs); and pink salmon (“humpies,” short for humpback).
Salmon go through morphological changes when they re-enter freshwater, turning bright colors and growing distinctive humps on their backs and more snarling jaws. But they taste best when they’re caught on the open ocean because these changes that come in preparation for spawning give their flesh an off-flavor.
Hook and line fishermen, also known as trollers, catch salmon on the open ocean when they’re at their peak. In theory, they can and do catch all 5 species, but do not target sockeye or pinks. Sockeye are plankton eaters and do not typically eat the fish-like bait on hook and line fishermen’s gear. The bread and butter for trollers is king salmon and coho salmon, two premium species that benefit the most from the trollers’ special treatment given to each fish.
Rich and buttery, and loaded with Omega-3s, a line-caught king salmon is truly a treat. Coho salmon are known for their mild flavor. Wild coho salmon are just a perfect all-around fish to serve with a variety of different recipes. Not as fatty as king salmon, their lightness is a virtue to many.
Each wild salmon is different. And place is everything. In addition to the variety of species, wild salmon will vary by run–geography, available food, river and ocean nutrients will all change the character of a salmon. Southeast Alaskan salmon are known for their stunning quality. The region is particularly abundant–the waters are teeming with life, a sort of nursery for a huge diversity of species, both marine and terrestrial. Many creatures live here-everything from orcas to grizzly bears to marbled murrelets to bald eagles to sea cucumbers to halibut. This biodiversity also includes plenty of nutrients to feed the salmon.
The Southeast Alaska topography is favorable for trollers, hook and line fishermen, who target wild salmon and specialize in quality because of the care they can give to each fish. Dressing the salmon when it comes on board is paramount and the first step to maintaining quality all the way to the customer. Because trolling is a slower, more artisanal fishing method, fishermen have the time to clean and dress each fish with care, keeping its quality intact. Trollers are known for the fastidious care they put into each fish.
The fishermen owners of our co-op have a particular pride in maintaining this quality all the way to the customer, which is why Alaska Gold salmon are becoming increasingly part of the vocabulary for consumers seeking premium-quality wild salmon and connoisseurs already in the know. We suggest you try our “Fishermen’s Choice: Ivory King Salmon.”
Image courtesy of Alaska Seafood.
Poached Ivory King Salmon