Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Wild Ones: A Tale of the King and the Pretender

Known for its high content of protein, vitamins and the much-publicized Omega-3 fatty acids (ALA, DHA, EPA), salmon is a popular fish for many consumers due to these health-related properties. Salmon can be divided into two species, the Atlantic and the Pacific. Here in the United States, Atlantic Ocean salmon is typically farm-raised while the Pacific Ocean species are wild. The majority of salmon that one buys from the local grocery store is farm-raised Atlantic Ocean salmon and can be found all year round. Wild Pacific Ocean salmon is more exclusive and is only available at certain times of the year, making it a much-sought after menu item. Tests have also shown that the levels of Omega-3 fatty acids are much higher in wild salmon than the farm-raised one. These and other factors have contributed to raising the price of wild-caught salmon to almost twice as much as its farm-raised cousin.

Three popular examples of wild salmon that usually find their way to market are the Sockeye, Coho and King (or Chinook). Found mostly in British Columbia, the King salmon is the largest of the Pacific Ocean species, able to grow to well over 30 lbs. Here, I have grilled a 1 lb. fillet of first run King salmon. This is still early in the season for wild salmon and the fish caught at this time of year usually would not have shed the fat that was gained over the winter months, making it an even more delectable meal. The meat of this fish exhibits are much darker shade of red than the typical orange of Atlantic salmon. This color difference is due to the fish's diet. Like sashimi-grade tuna, which is popularly consumed rare or medium rare, salmon is slowly gaining popularity in this aspect of consumption as well, more so when it comes to wild salmon. For such a great specimen as this one, undercooking it is highly recommended. Overcooking and drying out the meat would be a major sin. For people who may be squeamish about eating raw food, I would suggest a medium-well temperature that should still preserve the moistness and the incredible flavor of the King salmon.

Before grilling, I made an herb oil marinate that I generously lather all over the salmon. This marinade consists of fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano and also garlic. Simply ground up these ingredients and add olive oil and you have yourself a nice fragrant herb rub that can be used on almost any kinds of grilled meat or seafood. In addition to the marinate, season the salmon with salt and pepper as well.

If you notice in the pictures above, there is a yet unknown piece of fish residing next to the beautiful piece of salmon. It is a shark steak, typically mako. While it may look like a swordfish steak at first glance, shark meat is less dense and just a little flakier than swordfish. It is a hardy fish and the meat should be cooked all the way through. Like the salmon, generously rub the herb marinate on both sides of the shark steak, season it with salt and pepper and start grilling.

For this presentation, I also grilled sweet corn and tossed a Caesar salad to go along with the meal. With just a little pink in the middle, my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed the slightly oily, moist and sweet flavor of the King salmon. Even our youngest daughter, who is a very picky eater, kept taking bites out of the salmon. Grilling the salmon with the skin on is highly recommended as the fat content between the skin and the meat is released into the meat and helps keep it moist. And if the skin is grilled until it becomes crispy, it can be a delicious accompaniment to the meal.

Without a doubt, the King is alive and well!

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