Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Athletic Salmon

Saturday night I dined in Long Island with my partner-in-food-crime, Leanboy 2000. We schlepped to Whole Foods on Jericho Turnpike, where we got a wonderful lecture from the fishmonger about the differences between farmed salmon and wild-caught Sockeye salmon. Turns out the farmed kind (at Whole Foods, at least) isn't so bad. They don't add hormones and whatnot, but they do add color because nobody relishes eating gray salmon. Actually, the reason he gave was that they could have fed the salmon its natural shellfish diet that would turn its flesh red, but then people allergic to shellfish might have trouble eating it. Not sure I believe that one.

The main difference for eating purposes is that the farmed fish is bigger, so the fillets are thicker, it has never been frozen, and there is much more fat in between the muscle. This provides more healthful omega 3 fatty acids and makes the fish moister. But the wild kind is, after all, an all-natural product, colored a beautiful vivid red and lower in calories. According to the fishmonger, the wild kind is more athletic and fit. As you can see from this taxonomic drawing of a spawning Sockeye, it's an ugly bastard, at least during its spawning phase (I would have thought that would be exactly the right time to be good-looking).

I tried to take some photos in the store, but some paranoiacs in management have apparently made a rule against it. When an employee (a fearmonger, if you will) saw me whip out my camera, she asked rather forcefully, "Can I help you with something?" which everyone knows is code for "Stop doing what you're doing."

Thanks to a neat division of labor befitting two control freaks, Leanboy prepared the appetizer and I made the main course. Here he is with his famously long fingers shaving some parmesan cheese. We found a tasty variety called La Rinascente for sale at WholeFoods. Below is a photo I snapped when nobody was looking, at substantial risk to my person (I know, I'm incorrigible).

As you can see, this cheese has a lovely, romantic-sounding provenance. Tasted good, too.

Leanboy gingerly placed a cheese shaving on individual "endive boats," creating a unique salad that's fun to eat. The bitterness of the endive is well balanced with the sweetness of the olive oil and balsamic vinegar and the saltiness of the cheese.

For the main course, I glazed the salmon fillet with a drizzle of honey and olive oil. I might have preferred a more Asian blend of toasted sesame oil, molasses and soy sauce, but this worked better in combination with the rest of the menu.

I broiled this and served it on a bed of red swiss chard sautéed with shallots and shitake mushrooms, which was in turn placed on a bed of celeriac/Yukon Gold puree, generously flavored with thyme. In retrospect, I would have gone with more celeriac and less potato. At left, the lovely victim.

The final result was a winner. Although it was quite a bit trickier to get the salmon to cook just right than with the farmed variety. The fish was so lean, that by the time it stopped being raw and cold in the center, it was a bit more well-done than I like it. Still, the flavor of the Sockeye was richer and Leanboy cleaned his plate (a good sign, although, come to think of it, he always does).

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