For a brief shining moment each summer, fresh wild-caught sockeye salmon, plucked right out of a cold Alaskan stream, start to appear at fish counters across the country, even on our southernmost island. So every year, for a couple of weeks in early July, I briefly put aside our delicious local fish and binge for a few days on this special treat.
Sockeye is one of the most prized of the salmon catches because of its rich, red meat. Almost all sockeye sold in the United States comes from US fisheries, primarily in Alaska. Bristol Bay, in southwestern Alaska, has the largest sockeye harvest in the world. Scientists monitor populations carefully and make changes in regulations each year to assure that these are some of the most sustainable fisheries in the world.
Wild sockeye do not produce the thick filets to which you are accustomed from farm-raised salmon. These are smaller, less fatty fish, so cooking techniques must be adjusted. Grilling is possible but tricky due to the leanness of the fillets. I save grilling for more run-of-the-mill salmon and use wild sockeye in a couple of different ways. A raw preparation, such as the Hawaiian lomi lomi technique, lets the natural flavors shine and, served with crispy rice crackers, makes a great cold snack to serve with drinks. For a main course, I like to go a little more French, rubbing the fish with a mustard tarragon rub, topping with bread crumbs and pan-searing it quickly before finishing in the oven.
Hawaiian Lomi Lomi Salmon
Cover ½ pound salmon with salt and chill overnight. About an hour before serving, rinse the salmon, remove skin and chop into small cubes using a very sharp knife. Add 2 diced tomatoes and 1 small sweet onion and gently massage with your fingers (lomi lomi means massage) until the mixture is combined. Chill for at least an hour. When serving, add a squeeze of lemon juice, some black pepper and top with thinly sliced scallion.
Serves 4-6 as an appetizer
Salmon with Mustard and Tarragon
Heat oven to 425 degrees. In a small bowl, combine ½ cup Dijon mustard with 1 tablespoon fresh tarragon and 1 teaspoon of Champagne vinegar. Cut a 1 pound skin-on salmon filet into 4 equal pieces and spread ¼ of the mustard mix over the top of each piece. Using about ½ cup Panko bread crumbs, sprinkle the crumbs over the salmon and gently work them into the mustard with your fingers. Heat a large cast iron skillet over high heat. When hot, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and add filets breaded side down. Cook 2 minutes, until bread crumbs are golden. Gently turn the fish, place pan in the oven and cook 2 more minutes or so, depending on thickness, until fish springs back when pressed lightly. Be careful not to overcook! Transfer to plates and let rest 5 minutes before serving.
Serves 4 Wine pairing: Any dry French wine such as Chablis or Cote du Rhone