The complexities of salmon

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Salmon_by_Kathleen_FlinnSalmon may be the most ubiquitous, yet complex item on every menu in Seattle.

It’s such a politically sensitive issue. Eat farmed Atlantic salmon? No way do I want my entree sauteed in butter and microscopic persistent organic pollutants. Wild salmon? It’s better, but is it actually OK? Should I feel guilt over the decreasing numbers, the overfishing, the habit degradation?

Today I did something that I rarely do. Namely, accept a free lunch. But as the saying goes, there’s no such thing, for that I’m grateful to Slow Food Seattle, the Washington Trollers Association and the Makah Tribal Nation.

Fisherman, food writers and parties interested in sustainable seafood gathered at Lark for a special lunch to talk about wild salmon. In particular, they focused on Washington salmon, those line caught in Puget Sound and others off-coastal areas.

A delectable slender finger of salmon, sweet on the finish and perfectly seared to a rareness that might have non-Northwest types send it back. It’s remarkable if for only one thing — it really tastes like salmon.

“I hate to use the word chicken when I’m talking about seafood,” said a fisherman during lunch. But he did anyway, and it made sense. It had the same mild, meaty flavor of chicken. Organic chicken, to be sure, but chicken nonetheless.

We talked about the issue of habit degradation, and the fish hatcheries set up to bolster the supply of fish in the region. About 75% of the salmon caught in Puget Sound originate from hatcheries, one woman cited. (To distinguish their salmon later, hatcheries clip a bit of a back fin as an identifier.) Washington State owes its cheap power to hydroelectricty. That I knew. but what I didn’t know is that many salmon spawning rivers have been dammed for the benefit of hydropower plants. Cheap power on one hand, threaten a food source on another. So a pro-Salmon lobby movement to remove the four lower Snake River dams.

Industrial farming. Political fish. When did our food get so damn complicated?

About katflinn

Kathleen Flinn is the author of “The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry,” “The Kitchen Counter Cooking School” and “Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good.” All are published by Viking/Penguin.

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