Summer Salmon

This time of year in this part of the country has got to be the most splendid stretch -- cool mornings followed by warm days, late sunsets, brilliant blooms on plants and trees, an ongoing, increasing supply of local vegetables and fruit -- and to top off the excitement -- the arrival of Copper River salmon from Alaska.

The 2007 season kicked off May 15 with much fanfare and media hoopla, when several Alaska Airlines salmon-only jets arrived in Seattle for the first drop-off and distribution throughout the lower 48 states.

Salmon as pop art. (Kim O'Donnel)

There are several species of wild Pacific salmon, and the two you'll see in all their red-fleshed glory are king (aka chinook) and sockeye (aka red). Available for only four weeks, until June 15, king salmon is coveted and costly, starting at $30 per pound. Because it's so pricey, merchants, particularly on this side of the country, may forego the king for the more abundant sockeye (available until mid-August), which typically runs about $10 less per pound. For the one-pound fillet I cooked last night, I dropped $25, minus one penny.

Yeah, I know. That's a lot of cash for a home-cooked meal. As the season continues, prices will go down slightly, so keep your eyes peeled. I really don't like eating salmon at any other time of the year, so I suck it up for the next few months and savor every bite.

Speaking of bites, the best way to prepare salmon is the simplest, in my opinion. The fatty flesh is so rich you want to let it shine through. I'm a big fan of the grilled plank method, which is super easy and makes for a great presentation. It was too late to fire up the grill last night, so instead I made a spice rub of cumin, coriander, salt, cayenne and cinnamon. I rubbed it all over, on both sides. I poured about one ounce of rum on top, and I let it sit in a glass dish for about 15 minutes. Then I heated an oven-proof skillet and added some olive oil. In went the salmon, skin side down, and I let it sizzle and crackle for a good 3 minutes.

This is what 25 bucks will get you. (Kim O'Donnel)

With a pair of tongs, I turned the fillet, and then put the pan into a 425-degree oven to finish cooking. Now, with salmon so pristine, I don't want to cook it too much longer, maybe 2-3 minutes more. I still like to see a bit of red on the inside. You decide, it's your salmon.

With the finish, there was a salad of local romaine, pea shoots and sprouts (more on those in tomorrow's blog space), dressed with a soy-sesame vinaigrette. Dang, it was good.

For one of the best explainers on wild salmon, check out this month's issue of Gourmet magazine, featuring a very thorough Q&A with Jon Rowley, the man responsible for introducing Copper River salmon to the rest of the country in the early 1980s.

Disclosure: Rowley is a personal friend, but I don't let that stop me from picking his brain, as his knowledge and epicurean passion are unparalleled.

Share your salmon sightings, wherever you live, or perhaps you've got a favorite way to get your salmon fix.

By Kim ODonnel |  May 30, 2007; 9:31 AM ET Seafood
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I tried sockeye for the first time over the long weekend. It was grilled and I made a lemony caper dressing for a sandwich. It was fabulous.

Posted by: LisaLuvs2Cook | May 30, 2007 12:32 PM

My favorite salmon fix (a la Jacques Pepin):

Heat a nonstick pan over medium high heat. Toss in that salmon, skin side down -- no oil is necessary. Watch it shrink up as the bottom gets hot. After two minutes, cover the pan and turn the heat to medium, letting it cook four or five minutes more. Remove salmon and make a pan sauce -- shallots, parsley, capers, a squeeze of lemon. Remove the pan from the heat and swirl in some cold butter for body. Serve skin side up with sauce poured over.

Simple, and easy to clean up after, the skin is crunchy and brown, so it looks pretty too.

Posted by: Rita | May 30, 2007 12:36 PM

Copper River salmon is great, I won't argue, but there is so much good salmon out there (or out here, anyway), that I generally don't spend the money. The best is when my neighbor returns from fishing and gives me half of a king that he just caught--definitely time to start the grill.

Honestly, the most amazing thing about salmon is watching them spawn. I was born in a house that was an old fish hatchery and later lived down the road. The river it is on has a very strong chum (aka dog) run. Every fall they would return, going up the river as they fall apart, sometimes going into small creeks where they are only partially submerged. There they lay their eggs and die, leaving their bodies for their fry to feed upon. It's messy, smelly, and an incredibly poetic microcosm of the cycle of life.

Now you know why I'll never leave Washington.....And when salmon isn't in season, there's always smoked salmon, crab, or oysters. aaah.

Posted by: seattle | May 30, 2007 1:09 PM

How funny! I just wrote up a bit about salmon last night on my blog, -- here in SF it is salmon season and I have been treating my guests lately to some fresh, wild-caught deliciousness. And it's so pretty, pre-cooked, in all its pinkness.

Posted by: nicole | May 30, 2007 1:20 PM

My favorite way to cook salmon is something I adapted from a Weight Watchers cookbook.

I sprinkle the salmon all over with some garlic salt. Meanwhile, heat up a very small amount of olive oil in a pan. Once it's hot, put the salmon in - skin side up. Cook for 4 minutes on high. Turn over, cook for 1 more minute on high. Then turn down to low, cover and cook for another 3-4 minutes.

For a sauce, I dice up 1 roma tomato and a couple cloves of garlic. Mix that with some balsamic vinegar. Once the salmon is cooked, I remove it from the pan and throw in the tomato mixture. Let that bubble until slightly reduced and serve over the salmon.

This is awesome served over couscous - I start the water for that when I start heating up the pan for the salmon and everything is done around the same time.

Also so easy to modify for one person

Posted by: salmon girl | May 30, 2007 2:31 PM

My favorite non-grilled salmon is to salt and pepper the fillet and sear the skin side in the skillet, add some pesto, breadcrumbs and parmisian to the top and bake to desired doneness.

Posted by: late to the party | May 30, 2007 4:45 PM

Copper River salmon is $6.99/lb for the whole fish, $9.99/lb for fileted and boned at Costcos in Washington state! Had it for dinner on Saturday and it is delicious.

Posted by: seattle native | June 4, 2007 5:45 PM

Red River Salmon just showed up here in Florida at a really great seafood distributor. They also had royal red shrimp. I had just gotten home from running errands and immediately turned around and got back in the car.

My favorite way to prepare salmon? Grilled or broiled with a little olive oil and lemon zest. Low-fat sour cream with more lemon zest, a little lemon juice and salt, on the side.

Posted by: Paula | June 10, 2007 6:04 PM

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