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.
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.
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.
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