Seasonal Foods: King Salmon

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In the Bay Area, there aren’t many things the locals take more seriously than baseball (Go Giants/A’s!). One of those few things is food. Case in point: Dungeness crab, Hog Island oysters, farmer’s markets, Berkeley Bowl/Rainbow/BiRite, Cioppino, countless “New American” restaurants featuring local ingredients, Mission burritos, food trucks, pop-up restaurants, dim sum, and brunch in general. Your average Bay Arean knows more about farming, fine dining, international cuisine and cooking than most Americans. Our airport has the finest food of any I’ve ever been to. Finally, some of the best meals are the cheapest, served from trucks on the street with a side of grilled green onions. What’s not to love?

Once a year, starting in late May, we start to see local King Salmon hitting the markets and restaurants. These delicious beasts spawn in the Sacramento river and are a delicacy in our Bay Area culture. In 2008 & 2009 there was no King Salmon season at all. In 2010, the season only lasted 4 days. Needless to say, this fish is expensive! Prices vary greatly by location. I’ve seen it for as much as $28/lb. at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market and for as little as $19.99 at Sun Fat Seafood in the Mission.

King Salmon is aptly named. Also known as Chinook Salmon, it’s salmony in color, slightly sweet and has a lovely texture. This is one of the salmon species you can eat raw. The skin is the best part, absolutely wonderful when it’s pan-fried with sea salt until crispy. It’s excellent for curing, or prepared in the way I feel is best: Simply pan roasted in olive oil with salt, pepper and a slice of lemon.

We have a farmer’s market in my neighborhood on Thursdays afternoons, and our fresh fish vendor had King Salmon for $22 a lb. I bought a 3/4 lb piece, cut it into two, and pan-roasted it simply with salt & pepper. Served with matchstick carrots & ginger in a honey & olive oil glaze, topped with melted leeks, accompanied by a wedge of lemon and a side of brown rice.

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We enjoyed a bottle of Dutton-Goldfield 2012 Russian Rivery Valley Pinot Blanc alongside this lovely meal. It’s surprisingly rich on the palate for such a young and light-bodied wine. Pale straw in color, it has notes of stonefruit, mineral and citrus with a nice acid backbone and delightfully long finish. It was perfect with the fish and vegetables. Unfortunately this wine is no longer available for purchase, but it was $25/btl. retail when I bought it. Dutton-Goldfield has a wonderful wine club, you can opt out of any offering and the discount is 20%. They are definitely worth checking out if you are in Sebastopol; they make lovely Syrah, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc & Gewurtztraminer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll in all, I can’t complain that this was my dinner. I feel very fortunate to have these exceptional-quality ingredients at my fingertips. I love to cook seasonally, and while I love King Salmon, I probably won’t think about it much for the rest of the year because I will be distracted by other seasonal delights. Think of tomatoes, hard winter squash, chanterelle mushrooms, apples and garlic scapes.