Do you make New Year’s resolutions? I usually don’t, but as I was going through the blog posts currently in the works, I realized I might be on my way to doing just that. All my upcoming write ups reflect wishes I have set for myself and my family for the current year. I might as well call them resolutions, right? 😉
Resolution #1 is simple enough: Eat more fish – and not just any kind of fish, but sustainable fish. As our family has expanded, I have become aware of the need for us to go the extra mile to consume quality fish. With scary reports of non degradable chemicals found in some of the supermarket seafood out there, who would like to take any chances? Not us, that’s for sure.
I admit that fish quality was of no concern to me and my family while I was growing up. I have vivid memories of shopping at the local fish market with my dad, facing knuckle-busting shoppers, rude fishmongers – and, most importantly, mountains of odd looking, off-putting, stinky fish. Meat such as chicken or beef was pretty much impossible to find back in those days, but fish was a different matter: it was plentiful, neatly displayed, and very smelly. As we passed by the white ceramic tiled counters brimming with a mix of fresh, frozen and smoked sea creatures, the protruding smell enveloped us to the point of choking. Visually, it was a strange combination of partially melted ice, smeared, bloodied silver mackerel scales, and smoked herring sporting dirty copper hues – all sending out an aroma which normally would have scared us away. We had no choice though: we had to shop there to get some fish – our next meal to put on the table.
Thankfully, times have changed, and so have methods and questions. Nowadays, there is a growing number of researchers and fishermen/women whose work is built around fish that’s wild caught, harvested using methods that minimize negative ecological impact, traceable, and community-focused. In an industry which is still prone to overfishing, questionable imports, and downright fraud, there are signs of hope and change for the better. I was very pleased to learn more about one such mindful approach to fishing and seafood recently, when I was approached by Sitka Salmon Shares.
Sitka Salmon Shares was co-founded back in 2011 by Dr. Nicolaas Mink, a college professor and expert in environmental studies, after a summer trip to Sitka which proved to be a life-changing experience. Fast forward to 2020, and Sitka Salmon Shares (SSS) now has an established reputation for selling premium, sustainable, wild Alaskan seafood to customers who join SSS’s Community Supported Fishery, which entitles them to a “share” of the catch of one of the participating fishing families. The fish is caught in the pristine waters of Southeast Alaska and the North Pacific, and sent directly to customers’ doorsteps along with recipes and a newsletter about the fishermen who caught the fish that month.
SSS salmon is caught by hook-and-line, and this technique minimizes negative ecological impact and ensures a higher-quality, more sustainable salmon. The fish is also traceable to the boats of SSS fishermen, who receive an average of 20-30% more for their harvest – up to $10,000 extra income in a given season.
What makes SSS seafood so special? For starters, their fishermen bleed each fish individually as soon as it’s caught. The fish are then immersed in slush ice, rapidly cooling and preserving the delicate flesh. Equally important, the fishermen deliver their catch to port in 3 days max – much less than the industry standard of 5 days. SSS experts then fillet and portion each fish by hand (no fish-cutting machines!), and use special technology to blast-freeze the fish in small batches, at -33°F or colder. This method “freezes the fish solid in two hours or less, quickly locking in the fish’s fresh taste and texture,” and ensuring that it can last for many months in customers’ freezers with little decline in quality. Indeed, according to Sitka Salmon reps, a salmon caught by their fishermen in July and eaten the following February is actually much fresher than supermarket salmon which is labeled and sold as “fresh”!
I was intrigued by this claim and couldn’t wait to see how fresh the SSS Salmon would actually taste. The sample box I received from SSS contained several beautiful pieces of Coho salmon, which according to SSS is the most versatile salmon species. They’re mild and easy to use in a host of different preparations and styles, grilled, baked or poached, or even served raw (thanks to the blast-freezing technology, which kills any parasites that could be in the fish).
“Respect” was the key word I had in mind while developing my recipes for the Sitka Salmon fish. I wanted to show respect – respect for the quality of the seafood, for the fishermen who had worked so hard to catch it, for the community which relied on my support to spread the message further. Simply put, I wanted the unadulterated flavor of the fish to shine through, with very little other flavor interventions. Subsequently, I decided to use the fish in several salads. I used the beautiful wild Alaskan Coho salmon in a pasta salad, treating it simply by gently pan frying it in butter…
…with nothing else but salt and pepper.
I then tore the fish into small chunks, which I added to a salad mix of artisan colored bow tie pasta, fresh green onions, cherry tomatoes, and everything bagel seasoning for texture.
One thing that surprised me as I was working with the fish was the presence of bones, which I thought had been taken away by the Sitka Salmon team. Upon further investigation I found out those were “pin bones,” and they were supposed to be there. Sitka Salmon has a tutorial on how to remove these pin bones on their website, which I thought was very helpful.
The salad turned out great, and the salmon turned out to be the star of the dish – unsurprising, of course, considering its quality. Unlike its grocery store counterparts, the salmon I got from SSS had no fat underneath the skin, and the skin itself was supple and non-gelatinous. Moreover, the flesh was simply magical: lean, flaky, wholesome and buttery, with no water dripping and no fat running wild with the other ingredients, this was not “just” fish, but an entirely new seafood eating experience. Now I know SSS was right: you cannot get any fresher tasting fish!
After this first amazing cooking experience, I became even more excited at the prospect of working with SSS’s Wild Alaskan Pacific cod, whose mild white flesh works well in a variety of dishes, from stews and soups to cakes and patties.
Such a beautiful, lean meat!
For memories’ sake, I decided to use the cod in a highly revamped version of a fish salad my mom used to make a lot when I was a child. It wasn’t anything too complex or fancy: just potatoes, diced onion, and smoked herring bought from the smelly fish market I told you all about earlier on. I still love this dish – firstly, because it reminds me of the hardships I went through to secure food as a child; secondly, because its preparation is straightforward; thirdly, because it encompasses a minimalist mix of flavors – which I thought would be great to bring to the fore the authentic, clean and fabulous taste of the wild cod.
I started off by oven roasting some colorful bite-size potatoes.
I pan fried the cod quickly in butter, turning it once during cooking. I let it cool down briefly, and then tore it into chunks. I put the fish in a salad bowl and mixed it with the potatoes, green onion, dill vinaigrette, and salt and pepper to taste. I know some chefs don’t like dill because they think it can be overpowering, but I never found that to be the case (otherwise I wouldn’t have paired it with mild cod to begin with). On the contrary: the dill added an amazing level of freshness and playfulness, making the sweet flesh spirited and exuberant – like the fish in the water it once was 😉
This surely is a delicious salad – so quick and easy to make, so satisfying, so respectful of the cod and its clean, lean, delicious original flavor:
I had an amazing time cooking with Sitka Salmon Shares fish, and I am overjoyed to have been able to experience such high quality seafood. The fish I tried tasted unbelievably fresh and authentic, a testament to the SSS fishermen’s genuine passion for nature, sustainability, and for a job well one (that is, a job done mindfully). I will purchase SSS fish in the future, and I encourage you to do the same. They have a special promotion going on at the moment: use discount code SITKA25 to take $25 off any 2020 Premium Sitka Seafood Share.
Happy fish eating, everyone 🙂
Disclaimer: While I received complimentary products to facilitate this review, all opinions expressed here are my own.