Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Last Fish: Scandinavian Salmon Stew

A client ordered a last-minute dinner party for 10 and my wife found this tantalizing recipe for salmon stew in Houghton Mifflin's The Best American Recipes 2005-2006.

Turns out the dish originates right here in the District of Columbia at Kinkead's, widely regarded as one of the city's best seafood joints.

Normally we would pass over a dish so rich with cream and butter. For health reasons, our lipid of choice is extra-virgin olive oil. But we thought this would make a great impression on our client, a different kind of winter stew and a different way to serve salmon. Then at the last minute we received word that one of the guests was allergic to fish (yeah, right), so we had to rework the entire menu. They got beef Bourgignone instead. But we just had to try this stew.

Salmon has become the rubber chicken of the seafood world--so ordinary people easily tire of it. I was glad to find a different take on this overworked fish. Another primary consideration was utilizing a sustainable salmon, which may be no easy feat in all parts of the country. I immediately referred to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's "Seafood Watch" listings for on-line guidance.

You are most likely to find something called "Atlantic salmon" in your local grocery, but don't be fooled into thinking this was caught somewhere out in the ocean. Salmon have been largely fished out of the Atlantic--the great spawns of yesteryear are a mere shadow of their former selves. Most Atlantic salmon now is farmed, and organizations such as "Seafood Watch" have farmed salmon high on their list of things to avoid.

Here is some of the warning text from "Seafood Watch":

Most salmon are farmed in open pens and cages in coastal waters. Waste from these farms is released directly into the ocean. Parasites and diseases from farmed salmon can spread to wild fish swimming near the farms.

One of the biggest concerns is the amount of food required to raise salmon in farms. It generally takes three pounds of wild fish to grow one pound of farmed salmon.

Segments of the salmon farming industry are improving their practices, but the environmental impact is still increasing because production has risen more than 400% in the last decade. In the market, there is currently no way to tell which salmon are coming from the more-sustainable farms, so for now we ask you to avoid farmed salmon and choose wild-caught salmon instead.

In addtion, Environmental Defense has issued a health warning for farmed salmon because of the pesticides and antibiotics used to control disease in fish farming operations. Again, "Seafood Watch": When consumers eat this fish, the residues from the chemicals may affect their health or interfere with medicines they’re taking.

A further envionmental concern is that domesticated farmed salmon can escape from their confinement areas during storms and breed with wild salmon,, affecting the wild DNA for future generations.

You may have read here recently about the sharp and mysterious declines in coho salmon spawns in California and Oregon. "Seafood Watch" continues to list wild-caught California and Oregon coho salmon as "good" alternatives. But the "best" choice by far, according to "Seafood Watch," is wild-caught salmon from Alaska, including coho, king, sockeye, pink and red varieties.

Wild-caught king salmon from our local Whole Foods is what we used for our salmon stew. To serve six, first cut 1 pound skinless salmon meat into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Combine 3 cups fish stock (we used a commercial variety) with 1/4 cup dry white wine and reduce by one-third over moderate heat.

Cut 3 strips bacon into thin strips and cook until crisp over moderately-high heat in a skillet. Drain the bacon on paper towels, then add 1 tablespoon butter to the bacon fat. Add about 2 cups sliced button mushrooms and 1 minced shallot to the fat and cook until the mushrooms are lightly browned.

Combine the reduced stock and wine mixture with 2 cups heavy cream in a sauce pot and bring to a bowl. Add about 2 cups diced Yukon Gold (or other boiling potato) and cook until potatoes are just tender. Drain out the potatoes and return the cream mixture to a boil to reduce further.

In a large saucepan over moderately-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter and add 1 small yellow onion, diced small, and 1 small leek (white parts only), washed and finely chopped, and 1 minced shallot. Cook a few minutes until the vegetables are softened, then stir in the bacon, the mushroom mixture, the potatoes and the reduced cream mixture.

Just before serving, add the salmon and simmer for 1 minute. Season with salt and ground white pepper to taste. Stir in 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill.

Ladle the stew into wide, shallow bowls preheated to keep the stew warm and garnish with chopped chives.

I guarantee you will be licking the bowls before you are through. And if you weren't a salmon lover before, this might just change your mind.


mundylion said...

Did I read the recipe correctly, the salmon cooks for only one minute? Sounds too sashimi-ish for my taste.

Ed Bruske said...

Remember, Mundylion, that after the 1-minute simmer on the stove, the salmon continues to be emmersed in a piping hot stew. By the time it gets to the table, it will be cooked through. On the other hand, if you cook it through on the stovetop, by the time you serve it the fish will be overdone. Fish is tricky that way. But maybe this should be explained in the recipe.