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Food Writers Catch And Cook All Five Wild Alaska Salmon Species In Cordova

Cordova, Alaska-- All five wild Alaskan salmon species—king, sockeye, coho, pink and keta—have special attributes and inherent characteristics that make each suitable for a variety of preparations and dishes.

On a recent Copper River/Prince William Sound press trip, five prominent food writers set out to study and explore the differences for themselves. This hands-on salmon primer involved boarding commercial fishing vessels, harvesting Copper River salmon from gillnets, casting on the side of river banks in Prince William Sound, foraging for ingredients, slicing lemons, dicing onions, and ultimately pulling off the region’s first official “Five Species Dinner.”

Hank Shaw, the author of Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding The Forgotten Feast, was one of the guests. He prepared samples of each species (see his photo) and noticed that, of course, the king was larger than all other species and that it had bigger flakes. The sockeye was bright red and considerably smaller than the king, while the coho was paler. The pink and the keta (also known as chum) were also lighter in color. After trying all of the five species, each writer chose a salmon species to work with. The cooks were then set free in the kitchen of a private home.

King salmon ceviche served on a crispy salmon skin cracker, grilled sockeye with fresh corn, black bean and tomato salsa and grilled coho with gold medal barbeque sauce were easy favorites. Shaw opted for keta and explained, “I chose the keta salmon because I knew it would be a little more difficult to work with, but it isn’t as hard as you might think. People should understand that when working with keta, they need to think of it as a giant trout. The flesh is lighter and more delicate than a firm red sockeye. If you treat it for what it is, it’s a really great eating fish.”

Shaw, a self-proclaimed meatball fanatic, created Nordic-inspired Keta Meatballs. After filleting and chopping about two pounds of Prince William Sound keta, he briefly pulsed the fish in a food processor, adding shallot, spruce tips, lemon zest, bread crumb, and an egg. He cooked the meatballs and served them with a creamy white wine sauce. To enhance the Nordic influence, he added local wild salmonberries. 

Ivy Manning, the author of The Farm to Table Cookbook, was excited about vertical tasting because she knew it would help her write about Copper River wild salmon with authority. She chose to work with the pink salmon and explained, “I poached whole pink salmon fillets in a simple court bouillon, the delicate fish cooked up beautifully this way and yielded a slightly sweet, moist product and it only took about 6 minutes on a gentle simmer. I made a classic 3-citrus beurre blanc to serve with the pink and I was amazed at how amenable the fish was to the sauce. I'm going to recommend pink salmon in future recipe features because it's got a great mild flavor, excellent texture, and a price that makes salmon affordable to every budget."
 

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