Oncorhynchus Tshawytsha doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, so it's no surprise that this salmon is more familiarly known as chinook or king. In fact, it has a whole host of nicknames...
Oncorhynchus Tshawytsha doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, so it’s no surprise that this salmon is more familiarly known as chinook or king. In fact, it has a whole host of nicknames.
Fishermen in British Columbia call it “spring salmon,” and old-timers who catch young kings call them “blackmouth.” Indian fishermen might call them quinnat, tyee or tule. The names may all mean essentially the same thing, but significant differences do exist among chinook salmon from different runs.
For the past several years, for instance, chefs and consumers have come to recognize the ultra-fatty goodness of king salmon from Alaska’s Copper River. And more recently, salmon from the Yukon River have been gaining some of the limelight. Harvested by the Yup’ik Eskimos, the kings help this small group of indigenous people survive in a threatened ecosystem, and a community development association has been formed to provide ice and totes to bring premium-quality specimens to the Lower 48.
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This year, watch for yet another “brand” of wild king salmon from the Pacific Northwest. “Washington Marbled Chinook” was added to the Slow Food Ark of Taste in 2006, and while this salmon does not constitute a separate species, it is unique. Its flesh, a dappled blend of white and pink, makes this fish quite unlike any other in appearance.
Originating in tributaries of the Fraser River in British Columbia, the salmon is harvested by Makah and Quillayute Indians who fish off the northwest coast of Washington state and by Washington chinook trollers who fish from the beginning of May through early September. But finding the fish might be tricky.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife sets the number of chinook to be caught before the fishing season opens and closely monitors the catch, says Amy Grondin, a seafood consultant. The state “stops the fishing when the set number of chinook salmon have been caught.” What’s more, the curious genetic twist that determines the pigmentation is highly unpredictable, and the marbled salmon swim with the same school as the whites and pinks. Until they’re filleted, no one can tell if an individual specimen is marbled. So it’s literally catch as catch can.
White king salmon, which accounts for about 1 percent of the Alaska king salmon catch, used to be dismissed as an unmarketable anomaly. But, renamed “Ivory King” by chefs and marketers, it eventually gained a loyal following and came to command a higher price than standard kings. Now this marbled salmon from Puget Sound, which in any given year accounts for between 15 and 50 percent of the catch, might be getting its turn to star. Increasingly savvy consumers are more receptive to this singular fish, especially once they taste it. Like its white and pink counterparts, the fish has a high fat content that gives it a rich mouthfeel and the clean taste that connoisseurs of wild salmon appreciate.
Look for Washington marbled chinook at any store where local wild salmon is sold and cook it in the same way you would cook other king salmon. Grill, broil or bake it to a crisp brown on the outside, taking care to preserve a moist texture inside, about 10 minutes total cooking time for every inch of thickness on the fillet.
Greg Atkinson is a chef instructor at Seattle Culinary Academy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Barry Wong is a Seattle-based freelance photographer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Grilled Marbled Salmon with Raspberry Butter Sauce
Serves 6 generously
People sometimes balk at the notion of seafood and berries, but as soon as they taste it, they know it makes sense. Like the acidic tang of lemon, the tart flavor of raspberries is a perfect foil for the rich taste of wild salmon. If you can’t find marbled chinook, serve it with any wild king.
For the raspberry butter sauce
½ pint fresh raspberries
2 tablespoons raspberry-flavored vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ cup white wine
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
Pinch of salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces (1 ½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch chunks
For the salmon
2 tablespoons canola oil for the grill
6 (6-ounce) filets of marbled salmon
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ pint raspberries for garnish
1. To make a base for the butter sauce. Purée the raspberries in a blender with the vinegar, sugar, wine, garlic, salt and pepper. Strain the purée into a small saucepan. Boil rapidly over high heat until the purée is reduced to ½ cup. The base for the sauce may be made ahead and finished just before serving.
2. To grill the salmon, wipe the grill with a cloth dipped in canola oil or spray it with an oil mister. Position the grill 4 inches above a bed of glowing coals. Sprinkle the filets with salt and pepper and rub with a little more oil. Place the filets, skinned-side up, onto the grill and allow them to cook until dark lines appear, about 5 minutes. If the oil ignites, cool the flames with a little water splashed from a cup or streamed from a squirt gun. With a long spatula, turn the filets once and allow them to broil until the fish is just cooked through, about 5 minutes more.
3. While the fish is grilling, finish the sauce. Heat the sauce base to a simmer and whisk the cold butter into the reduced purée a few chunks at a time. Do not let the mixture return to a boil. Serve immediately or hold the sauce in a thermos bottle to keep it warm without putting it back over the heat.
4. Transfer the grilled salmon to serving plates, ladle some sauce over half of each filet and tumble some berries over the fish for garnish.
Greg Atkinson, 2008