Salmon lovers mark their calendars for May — and the harvest of the famed sockeye salmon from the Copper River in Southeast Alaska.
The season opened Monday, and most Treasure Valley stores say the fish should start arriving here sometime next week. (Breaking news: Reel Foods Fish Market in Downtown Boise reports it might have some Wednesday, so maybe elsewhere too?)
The wild fish, known for its deep reddish/orange color, is loaded with Omega-3 oils. That’s the healthy stuff, and it provides for a flavor-packed fish that is almost buttery in texture.
The run is available to commercial fishermen for about a month. The fish is pricey, often topping more than $20 a pound, with costs at the highest when it first appears. The price drops as the season progresses.
There’s been some grumbling recently from other fisheries that their wild salmon from the cold Alaskan and Canadian waters are just as good. And the Copper River fisheries association does have an aggressive PR campaign.
But there’s no denying the taste. It’s so good that a quick broil or fry in olive oil, finished off with a dash of salt, is all that’s needed.
If you’re interested in a more elaborate treatment, though, here are a couple of recipes to consider.
Persian tamarind fish
Yield: 8 servings; total time:
1 hour, 15 minutes
3/4 cup dried barberries or cranberries
8 (6- to 8-ounce) salmon fillets, 1/2- to 3/4-inches thick
Fine sea salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing and drizzling over fish
1 large Spanish onion, halved stem to root, peeled and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced or grated on a Microplane
3/4 cup whole raw almonds, coarsely ground
2 to 3 tablespoons tamarind paste or concentrate
1 cup tightly packed minced soft fresh herbs, plus more for serving (use at least three of the following: cilantro, parsley, tarragon, basil, mint, chives)
Lime wedges, for serving
Put the barberries in a bowl and cover with warm water. Let soak for 30 minutes.
Rinse fish under cold water and pat dry. Season generously with salt and pepper on both sides, brush all over with oil, and place fillets on a baking sheet. Refrigerate until ready to use, up to 2 hours uncovered, or up to 24 hours covered with plastic wrap.
Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until they start to darken at the edges, 7 to 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cook until dark brown and reduced to half the original volume, about 20 minutes.
Add garlic, almonds, drained barberries and 2 tablespoons tamarind to pan. (If using cranberries instead of barberries, add an additional tablespoon of tamarind.) Cook over medium heat until fragrant, 5 minutes. Stir in herbs, and salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a bowl and cool to room temperature. Heat oven to 375 degrees.
Press barberry mixture on top of fillets. Drizzle with more oil and bake until fish is just cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter. Top with any barberry mixture that fell off the fish, sprinkle with more fresh herbs, and serve with lime wedges.
Persian herbed rice
Yield: 8 servings; total time: 1 1/2 hours, plus 1 hour soaking
3 cups white basmati rice
Kosher salt, as needed
10 cups packed mixed soft herbs, such as parsley, cilantro, dill, chives, tarragon and ramp greens
1 1/2 cups packed mint leaves
1/2 cup packed basil leaves (preferably lemon basil)
5 stems of fresh fenugreek, leaves only (optional)
8 tablespoons butter or ghee, more if needed
1 teaspoon grapeseed or olive oil
1/4 teaspoon saffron, plus a small pinch, ground with a mortar and pestle
2 to 4 pieces thin lavash or other flatbread
2 tablespoons dried dill
2 stalks spring garlic (optional)
In a large strainer, rinse the rice until the water runs clear, mixing it with your fingers as you rinse. Put the rinsed rice in a bowl and add 2 cups cold water and a handful of kosher salt (about 1/4 cup). Let sit for at least 1 hour.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine herbs. Process, in batches if necessary, until coarsely chopped. (You should have about 6 cups; set aside 3/4 cup of the chopped herbs to use as garnish.)
In a large pot bring 12 cups water and another handful salt (about 1/4 cup) to a boil. Drain rice and add to pot. Stir once very gently; return to a boil and cook until the grains are about halfway cooked (tender but with a firm spine), 3 to 5 minutes, skimming off any foam. Drain rice, give it a quick rinse with cold water, and spread it out on a platter or rimmed baking sheet until needed.
In a medium bowl or pot, melt 4 tablespoons butter; reserve.
In a large nonstick skillet with a cover, or shallow pot over low heat, melt remaining 4 tablespoons butter and add grapeseed oil. Swirl the pan to make sure the melted butter covers the entire surface and sides of your skillet. If not, add more butter.
Add a small pinch saffron and large pinch salt to the butter and swirl around. Place lavash so it covers the bottom and halfway up the sides of the skillet in a single layer, overlapping only slightly where needed. (You can tear the lavash into pieces.)
Sprinkle a third of the rice over the lavash. If rice is clumpy, break apart with your fingers. Top with half of the chopped herbs. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon dried dill over fresh herbs. Repeat with another layer each of rice, herbs and dried dill, mounding layers in a pyramid-like shape. Top with final third of rice, and place spring garlic, if using, around the edges of the skillet.
Using the handle of a wooden spoon, poke several holes in the rice to allow the steam to escape. Pour reserved melted butter and 2 tablespoons hot water over rice. Cover and raise heat to medium. Cook for 10 minutes, or until steam is visible around the edges of the lid. (Don’t go anywhere! The tahdig can burn very quickly.)
Reduce heat to medium-low. Lift lid and cover skillet with a clean kitchen towel. Return lid to skillet and cook for 10 minutes.
Reduce heat to very low. If you have a heat diffuser, place it under the skillet and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, or until rice is done and tahdig is golden brown. If you don’t have a diffuser, watch the pot carefully so the tahdig doesn’t burn. If you smell burning, turn the heat off and let the pot sit off the heat until rice is done.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine 1/4 teaspoon saffron and 1 tablespoon hot water. When rice is done, set aside spring garlic; reserve. Gently transfer 1 cup rice to the saffron mixture, toss to color the rice yellow, and set aside.
Taste rice for doneness. If needed, gently stir in more salt.
To serve, spoon half of the green herb rice onto a serving platter, taking care to not disturb the tahdig at the bottom of the skillet. Add half the reserved fresh herbs. Repeat the layers of rice and herbs. Top with saffron rice and garnish with spring garlic. Lift out the tahdig, break into pieces and serve on the side.
Irish whiskey glazed salmon
Makes: 2 servings
1/4 cup fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup Irish whiskey
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons honey
3/4 pound salmon fillet
Place broth, whiskey, tomato paste and honey in a medium-size skillet over medium-high heat. Blend mixture together. When it comes to a simmer, add the salmon. Keeping the sauce at a low simmer. Cook the salmon 3 minutes turn and cook 3 minutes. The sauce will cook to a glaze. Divide salmon between 2 dinner plates and spoon glaze on top.
Per serving: 396 calories (25 percent from fat), 10.9 g fat (1.7 g saturated, 3.6 g monounsaturated), 96 mg cholesterol, 35.4 g protein, 22.0 g carbohydrates, 1.1 g fiber, 105 mg sodium.
Rosemary garlic potatoes and beans
Makes: 2 servings
1/2 pound red potatoes cut into 1 inch cubes
1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place potatoes, green beans and garlic in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave, uncovered, on high 5 minutes. Remove and add the olive oil, rosemary and salt and pepper to taste. Toss to combine ingredients. Makes 2 servings.
Per serving: 181 calories (36 percent from fat), 7.3 g fat (1.1 g saturated, 5.0 monounsaturated), no cholesterol, 4.5 g protein, 27.5 g carbohydrates, 5.4 g fiber, 29 mg sodium.
Crispy salmon cakes
Serve over greens or with a cool corn-and-bean salad.
4 white button mushrooms (3 ounces total)
1 small carrot (not baby-cut; may substitute 1/4 seeded red bell pepper)
Leaves from 1 or 2 stems flat-leaf parsley (optional)
1 pound skinless salmon fillet
1 large egg
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons regular or low-fat mayonnaise
1 tablespoon teriyaki sauce
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
2/3 cup plain panko bread crumbs
Heat enough oil to generously coat the bottom of a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Place a wire rack over a few layers of paper towels.
Meanwhile, combine these items in a mixing bowl as you prep them: Clean and stem the mushrooms; finely chop. Scrub the carrot well, then finely chop. Mince the parsley (to taste), if using. Cut the salmon into 1/4-to-1/2-inch dice.
Lightly beat the egg in a cup, then add to the bowl, along with the garlic and onion powders, salt, mayonnaise, teriyaki sauce, vinegar and panko. Use your clean hands to gently blend and form into 8 equal-size patties (about 3 1/2 inches wide).
Add half of the patties to the hot oil; cook for about 2 minutes or until crisped on the bottom, then turn them over and cook on the second side for 2 to 3 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to the rack; cover loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining patties.
Season lightly with salt, as needed. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Nutrition per serving (using low-fat mayonnaise): 390 calories, 27 g protein, 11 g carbohydrates, 26 g fat,
5 g saturated fat, 115 mg cholesterol, 570 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar
Franco-Asian salmon rillettes
6 or 7 servings (makes about 2 cups)
The salmon can be poached and refrigerated a day in advance. The rillettes need to be refrigerated in an airtight container for at least 6 hours and up to 2 days. The Japanese spice blend togarashi is available at some large supermarkets and at Asian markets.
1/2 cup white wine or dry white vermouth
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon seasoned rice vinegar
Togarashi (Japanese spice blend; may substitute ground cayenne pepper; see headnote)
Fine sea salt
6 to 8 ounces salmon fillets, skin and bones removed (see headnote)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 small shallot, rinsed in cold water and patted dry, then minced (1 tablespoon)
4 ounces smoked salmon, cut into small squares
1/4 cup regular or low-fat mayonnaise
1 to 2 teaspoons gochujang (Korean chili paste; may substitute Sriracha)
About 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
Trim the scallions, then mince the white and light-green parts. Toss the dark-green scallion stalks into a medium saucepan along with a thin slice of the lemon.
Add the wine or vermouth, the water, 1 tablespoon of the rice vinegar, a small pinch of togarashi and a pinch of salt to the saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Drop the salmon into the liquid, reduce the heat to medium, cover and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat; let the fish rest (covered, in the pot) for 10 minutes, then use a spatula to transfer the salmon to a plate. Discard the cooking liquid. The fish will cooked and will gently flake apart, at this point. Refrigerate for 20 minutes (or up to 1 day; cover if refrigerating overnight).
Put the butter in a mixing bowl; beat it with a flexible spatula until it is spreadable. Grate the lemon zest over the butter, squeeze the juice from half of the lemon into the bowl and add the minced scallions, the shallot and a pinch each of salt and togarashi. Blend thoroughly, then stir in the smoked salmon.
Whisk together the mayonnaise, the juice from the remaining lemon half, 1 teaspoon of seasoned rice vinegar and a small pinch each of salt and togarashi in a separate bowl. Stir in 1 teaspoon of the gochujang; taste, and add more if you’d like (Dorie Greenspan likes to add a total of 2 teaspoons); the dressing will be thin. Pour this over the smoked salmon mixture and blend well.
Remove the poached salmon from the refrigerator, cut it into bite-size pieces and gently stir it into the smoked salmon. It’s impossible not to crush the poached salmon, but try to keep the mixture as chunky as you can. Taste for salt, togarashi and gochujang, adjusting the seasonings if you’d like, then fold in the chopped cilantro.
You can serve the rillettes now, but the flavor will improve if you pack them into a sealed container and refrigerate for at least 6 hours (or up to 2 days).
Nutrition per serving (based on 7, using low-fat mayonnaise): 130 calories, 8 g protein, 3 g carbohydrates, 10 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 330 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar
Wild king salmon with savory whipped cream
Note: this recipe calls for king salmon but the Copper River sockeye will work just fine
Yield: 6 servings; yotal time: 30 minutes
1 1/2 pounds king salmon fillet, skin off and pin bones removed
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Pinch of cayenne
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon snipped chives
2 tablespoons butter
Tarragon leaves, for garnish
Watercress, for garnish
Violets, nasturtiums or other edible flower petals for garnish (optional)
Slice salmon diagonally into 6 4-ounce portions about 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick (or have your fishmonger slice it). Place on a cutting board or baking sheet. Season both sides generously with salt and pepper.
Put cream in a mixing bowl and beat with a whisk until just barely thickened. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt, some freshly ground pepper, the mustard, the cayenne and the lemon zest. Beat again until soft peaks form, but don’t let the cream get too stiff. Fold in chives. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Put butter in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. When butter begins to foam, add salmon pieces and reduce heat slightly. Cook gently on one side for about 2 minutes, then flip and cook 1 minute more. Turn off heat and let rest for 2 minutes. Salmon should be cooked through but moist. Be careful not to overcook.
Transfer salmon to a platter or individual plates. Spoon some savory whipped cream over each serving. Garnish with tarragon, watercress and flowers, if desired.
Red Curry Salmon Chowder
4 servings (makes about 7 cups)
If you’re a fan of salmon but tend to overcook it in stove-top preparations, this dish is for you: The fish basically poaches in a flavorful broth ever so briefly, to a tender state. The soup is light-tasting yet filling, with fish sauce, curry paste, a touch of honey, lime juice, onion, mushrooms and bok choy all teaming up to deliver a flavor- and texture-balanced bowlful.
Serve with crusty bread for dunking.
1 small or 1/2 medium red onion
5 ounces button mushrooms
4 cloves garlic
2 small bok choy
1 pound skinless salmon fillet, preferably center-cut (pin bones removed)
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 tablespoon Thai red curry paste
1 tablespoon ginger puree (paste)
One 14-ounce can low-fat coconut milk
1 1/2 cups no-salt-added vegetable broth (may substitute fish stock)
2 teaspoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons honey, or more as needed
1/2 cup loosely packed basil leaves
1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves and tender stems
2 or 3 limes
Cut the red onion in half, then into very thin slices. Stem, then slice the mushrooms (to yield about 2 cups). Mince the garlic. Cut the bok choy crosswise into thin slices. Cut the salmon into bite-size chunks.
Melt the coconut oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and mushrooms; cook for about 5 minutes, stirring a few times, just until softened. Add the red curry paste, pureed ginger and garlic; cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly, then add the coconut milk, broth, 1 teaspoon of the fish sauce and the 2 teaspoons of honey. Increase the heat to medium-high; bring just to a boil, stirring, then add the bok choy and salmon. Reduce the heat to low; cover and cook for about 5 minutes or until the bok choy is tender and the salmon is just opaque. Taste, and add some or all the remaining fish sauce and/or more honey, as needed.
Stack the basil and cilantro, then cut them into ribbons/thin slices. Cut the limes into wedges.
Divide the chowder among individual bowls. Garnish each portion with the basil and cilantro, then sprinkle generously with lime juice from some of the wedges. Serve warm, with the remaining wedges.
Nutrition per serving: 410 calories, 26 g protein, 14 g carbohydrates, 27 g fat, 12 g saturated fat, 60 mg cholesterol, 520 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 9 g sugar