Sunday, May 27, 2001

Diner's Journal

Now is prime time for Alaskan salmon

By Polly Campbell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Now that salmon is grown in salmon farms, it's available year-round, and cheap enough for almost every restaurant to put it on its menu. For diners, it's a reliable choice, often the best thing on the menu.

        Earlier this week, I had some wild Alaskan Copper River salmon, and I realized that the trade-off price of availability is flavor. Just like corn in December, it's nice to have, but you need to have an ear in July to remember the real flavor.

        On May 17, fishermen in south-central Alaska began catching chinook (king) salmon as they made their way up the Copper River. The catch is limited by the Alaskan Board of Fisheries, so Alaskan salmon is not endangered.

        Because these salmon have made a 300-mile swim through glacial waters, they have a lot of fat under their skin. The higher fat content guarantees the deep orange-red flesh stays moist, and the flavor is more interesting: not fishier, but wilder.

        The extra fat is the kind you want, by the way — Omega-3, which protects against heart disease.

        The wild Alaskan salmon season lasts through the summer, starting with king, then sockeye, then coho varieties. They come from different areas in Alaska as fisheries are opened and closed: Yukon River and Bristol Bay are other salmon areas, but Copper River is the earliest, and usually touted as the best (and most expensive).

        I had Copper River salmon at Palomino, downtown. A filet is brined, spit-roasted, finished in the wood brick oven and served on lentils with a roasted roma tomato and arugula salad. It has beautiful crusty bits, where the fat has cooked crisp.

        Palomino chef Andre Leger will vary his salmon cooking methods throughout the summer, but keeps them simple. Copper River salmon will be available the next couple of weeks. At lunch it was $23, at dinner $28.50.



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- Now is prime time for Alaskan salmon