Let Us Now Praise Whole Alaskan Salmon

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Samuel Fromartz


Washington SeaSA, my little venture buying sustainable seafood direct from fishermen for a group of about 10 families in D.C., is now in year two. Latest on the menu: sockeye salmon from Bill Webber, who fishes the flats off the Copper River in Alaska. This followed an oyster shucking party, with the farm-raised bivalves from Rappahannock Oyster Co. They were excellent.

I first met Bill last year, when I made the trek up to Alaska to see the fishery. [Curator's note: I went to Alaska, too! Read about my trip here and here, or read this account by chef Michael Cimarusti, who was a master in his element.] It didn't take me long to ask Bill if he'd ship direct to us, and he said he would, as long as we met his 50-pound minimum. Which is why I corralled my friends. It wasn't a hard sell.

Bill sends us whole fish, headed and gutted. He also bleeds the fish on his boat, which he argues makes for a much fresher fish. Blood begins to decay once the fish dies and that in turn degrades the flesh, so if you remove the blood—with a special pressure tube he developed—you can slow down the clock. He then ships the fish to us in a chilled pack and I drive out to the Alaska Airlines cargo dock to pick it up.

Now, when you buy salmon in the store, you only get the fillet. Getting the whole fish is a different story. I fillet the salmon on our kitchen counter (with an excellent sashimi knife I got from Japan). Aside from the fillet, I'm left with the rich belly meat, which is the bacon of salmon and is excellent fried in a pan. (What can I say, pork belly, salmon belly—it's all good.) Then there's the carcass, which usually has about a pound of meat on it. These "waste products" amount to a lot of food.

So what do you do them?

Aside from the fillet, I'm left with the rich belly meat, which is the bacon of salmon and is excellent fried in a pan. (What can I say, pork belly, salmon belly—it's all good.)

With our last fish, I made stock, layering sliced onions and thin fennel stalks and drizzling them with olive oil. Then I placed the two-and-a-half-pound liberally salted carcass on top, covering and then sweating the fish on a low flame for 20 minutes. I then added water and a cup of dry white wine to cover, simmering it for another 20 minutes. Finally, I took it off the heat and let the fish sit for an hour to release its essence. This follows Rick Moonen's method in Fish Without a Doubt: The Cook's Essential Companion , which is now my go-to fish book. Like many chefs, he does not recommend using salmon for stock, which is a shame. Salmon stock is bursting with flavor and isn't oily. But it helps if it's very fresh.

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Samuel Fromartz is a Washington-based writer focusing on food, the environment, and business. He is the author of Organic, Inc.: Natural Foods and How They Grew and is currently working on a book about bakers and bread.

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