Truly Fresh Salmon, in a True Chef's Hands


Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute

At my restaurant, Providence, I take great pride in the variety and freshness of our fish. Most days, I am on the phone with my purveyors before my first cup of coffee, talking about what is available and what is not. The favorite part of my workday is the time I spend cutting fish in our refrigerated fish room.

The glass-enclosed "fish box," with waist-high commercial refrigerators on either side, is not terribly special. The contents of the room are sparse but integral to the task at hand: two sinks, sharp knives, a scaler, a really large cutting board to accommodate large fish, tweezers to remove the tiniest of bones, and a fairly sophisticated scale. I love to cut fish. I relish it. I love to teach people how to cut fish. I hold my breath every time I make the first cut; it steadies my hand and increases concentration. That room is the foundation for everything we do here at Providence. Mishandling fish so early in the process compromises everything. That's why you will find me in the "fish box" most every day.

Its flesh curled a bit as it cooked slowly on the grill, a sign of the vitality still present in the muscle.

Our menu is comprised of fish from all over the world: Japan, New Zealand, the North Atlantic, the Mid-Atlantic, Washington State, California, Europe, and, of course, Alaska. We are able to get most everything 24 to 48 hours after it is removed from the sea. Recently I was invited by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute to observe the commercial salmon fisheries. I jumped at the chance to go to Alaska and close that 24-hour gap. As a life-long fisherman, I have always thought that one of the great pleasures of fishing is keeping a fish or two for the table. Filleting and cooking a fish just hours after it was pulled from the sea is about as close to a religious experience as I can imagine.

On a fairly large vessel named the Alaska Dawn, outside the harbor in Sand Point, we collected several hundred pounds of sockeye salmon; a few cod, which were considered by-catch; and, through the generosity of the small fleet, about 125 pounds of still live Alaskan king salmon. Each of these fish was about 20 pounds, a couple perhaps pushing 30. Just pulled from the nets, they were weak but still alive. King salmon are as beautiful an animal as you will find in the sea—a brilliant silver as they arrive in fresh water, taking on a rainbow of colors as they continue toward their spawning site and their eventual demise. There were more fish then I could have hoped for. These kings were plump and muscular, twitching occasionally as they lay on the deck. They were about to make a lot of people very happy.


Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute

I filleted a few sockeye, two cod, and two king salmon. I was concerned about paying the fish their propers while the boat pitched at three-quarters throttle towards Sand Point. I wish I would have brought a few of my Nenox knives. I don't think the salmon noticed. I of course did, but I kept it to myself.

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Michael Cimarusti is the co-owner and executive head chef of Providence, a restaurant in Los Angeles dedicated to simple, pure presentations of premium wild fish and shellfish.

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