This Friday at Cooking by the Book we had what can only be called a Salmon Salon. Organized by Verlasso, a new aquaculture company, the subject was important: the evolution of sustainable salmon farming on our planet. And, what does sustainability mean for food companies, food distributors, grocery stores and — most importantly — for the consumer.
I grew up in Oregon on the Willamette River. During salmon season twice a year, I could walk down to the river bank, wave a ten dollar bill, and some fisherman would motor over. An exchange would be made. And two or three hours later, fresh baked salmon was on my dinner table. That is real freshness. At other times, we’d drive to the Pacific coast or to a river, and find a Native American by the side of the road selling “just-completed” smoked salmon. Freshly caught native salmon smoked on Northwest wood using centuries old techniques.
In short, I am a salmon snob. Trying to get fresh, good salmon in New York City, and almost everywhere else, is often a fruitless task. Here in the city, even the best fish stores only offer farmed salmon. A taste of that leaves me flat. That’s why in past years, we have ordered direct from Pike Place Market in Seattle. You know. The market where the guys toss the salmon around? Nothing can compare with that.
Or couldn’t compare with. Verlasso is a new venture combining food science, best practices, and optimal geography to produce a very new style of aquaculture. Their seminar here discussed the essential features of their business. They feed their salmon differently and much more responsibly. The fish receive absolutely no growth hormones or antibiotics. The salmon are grown in water, of course, at the edge of one the driest places on earth: Patagonia in far Southern Chile. One benefit of southern ocean waters is a distinctly better quality of water. Humans have been polluting northern oceans for centuries and there are serious issues with, for example, PCBs.
Down south, humans have done far less damage and the waters therefore yield salmon that are much healthier for us to eat.
Verlasso is rolling out its product across the United States. Here in New York City, Fresh Direct offers the product. On Friday, a nutritionist from Fresh Direct was forthright in the quality checks Fresh Direct made before considering Verlasso. That’s the sort of endorsement that you should consider. It’s a quality check that none of us, except biology professors, could even consider.
And for me, the salmon snob? Scott Nichols, the Verlasso Director and man with deep personal concerns for sustainability, gave me a tour of why the Verlasso product is so obviously different. He had three sides of salmon:
- A wild salmon with its typical 8% fat content
- A typical farm-raised salmon with a typical 18% fat content
- And a Verlasso-raised salmon with 11% fat content
That wild salmon, of course, reminded me of Oregon days. Vibrant salmon color across the whole side. The farm-raised salmon, had wide streaks of fat, which is one of the resevoirs for ingested chemicals. And a typical farm-raised salmon consumes 4 pounds of feeder fish for each pound of harvest salmon.
The Verlasso salmon, which use only 1 pound of feeder fish for each harvested pound, did have little streaks of fat, but not those wide bands. Scott explained that meant that Verlasso salmon is going to cook and taste much, much more like the wild salmon. And, Verlasso is working to reducing the fat content even more, striving to have their product as much like the wild as possible.
So, from the standpoints of science, business, and sustainability, Verlasso is very promising. The last hurdle? Taste. We had half dozen dishes, both main courses and appetizers, on Friday. How did Verlasso taste? Like salmon is supposed to.
On Friday, we had many experts in fish sustainability here. They have ideas, recipes, and important information. In the coming months, I’ll be passing that along to you. And we’ll maintain our discussion on the wonderful contributions Verlasso is making to sustainable aquaculure.
Salt is one of the most potent, essential ingredients in cooking. Its ability to draw out and intensify flavor is unmatched. The book Salted: A manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral with Recipes provides a wealth of facts and ideas for all of us salt lovers.
Author Mark Bitterman is the “selmelier” of The Meadow, a salt store created by his wife Jennifer with branches in Portland and New York City. The store is a hoot, because you can go in and taste test their world-wide array of salts. There is amazing diversity in their salt collection and you are almost sure to leave with a few bags, all filled with sodium chloride, but all having bright and different flavors.
How those flavors are created, where they come from, what it all means — those are the topics of the book Salted. History, craft and science are all presented in a beautiful laid out book that will surely make you want to sample and experiment. Dozens of salt varieties from around the world are described and compared. The descriptions here are simply unparalleled.
Upscale gourmet stores now offer multiple varieties of salt but they really pale to the world view presented in Salted and available at The Meadow. Bitterman calls salt the “crown jewels of great food.” His passion is evident on every page.
And, there’s a bonus to Salted. Those recipes. This salmon is a perfect example. We’ve all had salmon. We know how it tastes. Even how it feels. So this recipe really surprised me with its very different taste and the feel to the mouth. The use of sesame and peppercorns, in abundance, creates a salmon flavor that I had never experienced before. And, cooking the salmon with that seedy layer on top of sesame oil results in a definite crust that you have to snap through before reaching the tender salmon body. The effect is very noticeable and a taste treat.
If you enjoy salmon, but seek a truly different spin, then grab your sesame seeds and some smoked salt.
Grilled Sesame Salmon with Cyprus Hardwood Smoked Flake Salt
Yield: serves 4 people
- 1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
- 1 teaspoon Szechwan peppercorns, green or pink or mixed
- ¼ teaspoon powdered ginger
- 1 ¾ pounds wild salmon fillet (about 1 ¼ inches thick), pin bones and skin removed
- 7 tablespoon toasted sesame oil, preferably black sesame oil
- 4 two-finger pinches Cyprus hardwood smoked flake salt
- 2 sesame leaves, coarsely chopped, or 1 scallion, trimmed and finely sliced
Preheat a covered grill to medium heat (about 375°F).
Combine the black and white sesame seeds in a small bowl. Crush the peppercorns with the flat side of a broad knife, like a cleaver or a chef’s knife. Add the pepper and the ginger to the sesame seeds and stir to combine. Set aside.
Coat both sides of the salmon with 2 teaspoons of the sesame oil. Scatter the sesame seed mixture all over both sides of the salmon and press lightly into the flesh.
Brush the grill grate thoroughly with a wire brush to clean it, and coat it lightly with oil. Grill the fish for10 minutes with the lid down, turning halfway through, until the surface is crisp and browned and the flesh feels slightly spongy when pressed at its thickest spot. Gently pull apart the flesh at the thickest part; the centers should still be a translucent, darker pink. Transfer to a platter using a wide spatula.
Drizzle the remaining teaspoon of sesame oil over the fish and sprinkle with the salt. Scatter the chopped sesame leaves [or scallion] over the top and serve.
Source: Salted by Mark Bitterman