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WHIDBEY RECIPES: Something smells a bit fishy with our salmon

“Oh, nuts; salmon again? Why can’t we have something else once in awhile, maybe hot dogs or a hamburger.”

Followed by more whining, until Mom shoots me “the look” and I clam up.

During all of my growing-up years, salmon was one of the mainstays of our diet. We ate salmon in one form or another at least four times a week, often more, depending on the time of year. My Grandad, Dad and uncles all fished whenever possible, and after my Grandad retired, it was a rare day he did not go out fishing, rain or shine. Grandma and Mom canned everything we didn’t eat, so when we didn’t have fresh-caught salmon, we were dining on salmon loaf or chowder or cakes, all made from home-canned salmon.

It was all wild-caught salmon, of course. Who knew of any other kind?

And even now, when I see the words “wild salmon” on those packages in the supermarket, I think “Well, yeah, what else, duh?” Then I remember that it’s now a rarity, replaced by artificially fed, artificially colored, farm-raised salmon. It’s the price tag on that wild-caught salmon, however, that takes my breath away. How I long, now, for the days of yore when I was whining over having to eat salmon, again.

Those days, I fear, are gone forever. I’ve just read extensive and very dismaying articles in a couple of publications that tell us flat out that salmon fishing along the entire West Coast is finished, kaput, gone, at least for the foreseeable future. The West Coast salmon fishery has been declared a total failure and a first-ever total shutdown of salmon fishing has been recommended for Oregon and California, with minimal fishing still possible in Washington.

Fingers are being pointed in every direction, of course.

It’s all the fault of too many dams, too many irrigation pumps, too much pollution, over-fishing, under-estimating how bad the conditions were becoming, too many problems and too few solutions.

I think it’s safe to say that whatever management plan was in effect by the many governmental agencies supposedly overseeing the health of our salmon runs, it was a dismal failure. I can almost feel my grandfather spinning in his grave, as the saying goes.

Ah, but if we throw enough money at it, we can fix it, right?

That certainly seems to be the thinking going on right now. Once the federal authorities officially declared West Coast salmon fishing a complete failure, it opened the door to getting federal funds, i.e. “disaster assistance for coastal communities in California, Oregon and Washington.”

California is asking for $208 million, Oregon wants only $45 million and Washington is hoping for a measly $36 million. Exactly what is to be done with the money and who will oversee its distribution is not yet clear, but why do I smell something fishy already in the air?

Now, however, we come to the part that has me really confused. Sen. Gordon Smith, from Oregon, said that members of Congress from the West Coast hoped to attach a disaster aid measure (is this one of those “earmark” things?) to the Iraq war supplemental appropriation bill that will soon be coming to the Senate floor for approval, but that the “exact amount is yet to be worked out.”

Would someone please explain to me what in blazes the disappearance of our salmon has to do with the war in Iraq? Yes, something is truly fishy here and even smells like a bit of rotten fish, I think.

RECIPES

These days, I treasure a good piece of fresh salmon and treat it with utmost respect. I still have family members out there pulling a line through salty waters and yes, there will be fresh, wild-caught salmon on our table from time to time, but never, ever again will you hear me whine, “What? Salmon again?”

I came across this recipe in Bon Appetit a couple of years ago and really like it. It’s easy, the salmon is you hear me whine, “What? Salmon again?”

I came across this recipe in Bon Appetit a couple of years ago and really like it. It’s easy, the salmon is delicious and not overwhelmed by the sauce and it’s a meal in one dish.

WILD SALMON WITH DIJON BROTH &

NEW POTATOES

1 ½ lbs. baby red potatoes or new red potatoes, unpeeled

2 T. butter

2 T. canola oil

4 skinless wild salmon fillets, each about 6-8 oz.

2 cups dry white wine

2 large shallots, thinly sliced

2 T. cider vinegar

1 ½ cups low-salt chicken broth

2 T. chopped fresh tarragon leaves, plus some sprigs for garnish

1 T. Dijon mustard

2 T. olive oil

1 ½ lbs. baby spinach leaves, divided

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place potatoes in a saucepan and cover with cold water by 1-inch. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to med.-high and boil until almost cooked through, about 12 min. Drain, cool. Cut potatoes in half.

Melt butter with canola oil in a heavy large skillet over high heat. Season salmon with salt and pepper and place salmon, flat side up, in the skillet. Cook until browned, about 4 min., and be sure not to overcook! Turn salmon over and cook 2 min. Carefully arrange salmon, flat side down, in a baking dish and scatter the potatoes around the salmon.

Combine the wine, shallots and vinegar in a heavy saucepan. Boil until reduced to 1 cup, about 7 min., then add chicken broth, chopped tarragon and mustard. Bring to a boil. Pour hot broth over the salmon and potatoes in the dish and bake until salmon and potatoes are cooked through, anywhere from 8 to 15 min., depending upon the thickness of your fillets and how much you cooked them during browning.

DON’T OVERCOOK THE SALMON!

About 5 min. before the salmon is finished cooking, heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add half the spinach and stir just until spinach is wilted. Add remaining spinach and toss until wilted. Divide spinach among 4 shallow bowls. Top with salmon fillets. Divide potatoes and broth among the bowls, garnish with tarragon sprigs and serve immediately. Serves 4.

During those years of eating so much salmon, one dish I never did get tired of was salmon cakes. I still love them and for this recipe you can use that “other” salmon, the cheaper one.

SALMON CAKES

1 cup panko bread crumbs (look in the Oriental section at the market)

½ cup celery, chopped

1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

¼ cup onion, chopped (or use shallot, if preferred)

1 egg white

1 T. hot sauce (or to taste)

1 T. fresh lemon juice

1 t. kosher salt

½ t. ground black pepper

1 lb. fresh salmon, skinless

2 T. vegetable oil

Cut the salmon into chunks and process in food processor until it is in pea-sized pieces. Remove to bowl.

Process the first 9 ingredients (through black pepper) in the food processor until the vegetables are minced. Combine the salmon with the vegetable mixture. Using a 1/3 cup measure, form the mixture into 8 cakes, placing cakes on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Lightly press on the cakes, pressing them into 1-inch thick patties. Cover and chill the cakes for ½ hr.

Heat the oil in an ovenproof skillet or sauté pan over med.-high heat. Add the cakes and fry for 2 min. per side or until browned. Transfer the pan to a preheated 400-degree oven and finish cooking cakes through, about 2-4 min. Serve with tartar sauce and/or lemon slices. Sprinkle a bit of minced cilantro on top for garnish, if desired. Serves

4 or more, depending upon how many cakes each person eats.

Margaret Walton can be reached at falwalcal@msn.com.

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