Salmon for Between the Seasons
April 12, 2013
April is a between-the-seasons time of year on Cape Cod––the perfect time to eat salmon, if you ask me.
For one thing, local winter treats like local bay scallops and Maine's tiny-but-flavorful shrimp are no longer around. Meantime, a lot of the fish that migrate through our waters in the warmer months haven't arrived yet.
Another good reason to eat salmon right now is that Alex has found a new source of farmed salmon that he's crazy about.
You know already that salmon is not our local catch. And you know we're partial to sustainably-harvested wild Pacific salmon. But there are times when farmed salmon makes sense. Like right now when we're between the seasons.
"Hang on," Alex says, "farmed salmon only makes sense when the farming is done right."
My brother is obsessed with finding the right farmed salmon for Mac's. He's picky about the flavor and texture of the fish. He wants it meaty. He looks for a good balance of fat. It has to smell sweet. All that. But I think he's even more fanatical about the question of sustainability.
This winter, Alex started ordering from a company called Wester Ross. They're the oldest independent owner-operated salmon farm in Scotland. And they don't use antibiotics or hormones on the fish. "Obviously," says Alex. "That's basic."
They also do something called "hand-rearing." Which means they're out on the water every day feeding and observing the fish, making adjustments that just don't get made at big factories where cameras or machines are deployed instead of human beings. Wester Ross doesn't use chemicals to clean the nets, either, as many farms do; they use wind, rain, and sun to do that job. Their salmon are raised in sea inlets (lochs) with very low-density pens (99% water to 1% fish) with room to swim.
To Alex, the most important measure of sustainability in salmon farming has to do with what's called the "feed conversion ratio" or FCR. The ratio tells you how much feed it takes to for the fish to grow to harvestable size. Remember, wild salmon are piscivores. But because Wester Ross uses a feed based on offcuts from the filleting of northeast Atlantic fish, their FCR is one of the world's best. Bottom line, we aren't depleting the ocean's supply of smaller wild fish to feed these salmon.
There is one other reason to eat salmon during this chilly, between-seasons month. It's a recipe adapted from one the people at Wester Ross gave us. Salmon is always rich and satisfying enough to take the chill off. The sauce is what got us, though. It packs a fresh herb punch that might actually make you believe it is spring.
Salmon with Vietnamese Herb Sauce
We adapted this recipe from one our Scottish salmon farmers gave us. The fish is poached. It's easy, and you don't need fancy equipment to poach a few fillet portions. A bamboo steamer set over a skillet is nice to have, but one of those metal vegetable steamer baskets in a saucepan also works just fine. The sauce calls for Alex's favorite secret ingredient: Vietnamese fish sauce. If you haven't got that in your fridge, you're missing out. It smells terrible, but a few drops give just about anything a mysterious umami boost. Serve the salmon over stir-fried vegetables or rice noodles... or both.
4 salmon fillet portions, six to eight ounces each
1 bunch fresh cilantro, washed and roughly chopped to make about one cup
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, washed
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed lightly
3 jalapeño peppers, stems and seeds discarded
2 limes––grate the zests, then juice the limes
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon grapeseed or other light-tasting oil
Put everything but the salmon into a food processor or blender and whiz it into a thick sauce.
Place the salmon in a shallow bowl and spoon half the marinade over it and let it rest about 20-30 minutes. Reserve the rest of the marinade to sauce the finished fish.
Bring about one inch of water to the boil in the bottom half of your steamer. Wipe most of the marinade off the salmon fillets and place them in the top half of the steamer. Steam the fish for 4-6 minutes––it will become opaque and firm up a bit. Plate the fillets and sauce them with the reserved marinade.
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