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Topic: Jon Rowley
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October 9, 2013 at 6:00 AM
But when The Washington Post put the fish to the test, an unlikely winner swam to the top: Costco’s $6/pound farmed Atlantic salmon. Number two? Farmed Atlantic salmon from Trader Joe’s. Wild salmon didn’t come up until #6 out of 10, a king salmon from Willapa Bay.
The reporters were clear about the caveats, both in the story and in replies to the aghast reader comments: The Costco salmon was frozen in a salt solution, giving it a saltiness that the judges liked and that might have lent it a more pleasing texture. One commenter said that the farmed salmon were top-line products, while the wild ones were “essentially no-name whatevers.” At the least, one said, it wasn’t fair that three of the four wild varieties were provided by the same East Coast company: “That company’s fishing and processing practices may affect the fish’s flavor or texture.” Others suggested that most non-Northwesterners are more accustomed to the taste of farmed salmon, and therefore like it better, the way that corn-fed beef often wins taste tests over grass-fed.
Doth we protest too much?
The test was in no way meant to be definitive, wrote reporter Tamar Haspel. But here’s the thing: “The conclusion here isn’t that farmed salmon invariably tastes better than wild, it’s that we think there’s good reason to stop saying that wild salmon invariably tastes better than farmed.”
The taste test didn’t get into the question of whether it’s a good idea for the environment or health to eat farmed salmon. That discussion went into a companion piece that determined that the situation is a lot better than it used to be. (The reasonable objection is that, as Oceana board members noted, “it used to be horrendous.” (Here are some tips on where to find responsibly farmed salmon, if you believe there is such a thing.)
The Costco folks say the fish, technically Kirkland Signature Frozen Atlantic Salmon (Item #46340), should be available at every Costco warehouse in Washington state. When I called the SoDo and Shoreline branches earlier they weren’t able to find it based on my description, but I didn’t have the item number then, so I’d take the computer’s word for it. They also carry wild salmon from local processor Trident Seafood.
I checked in with Jon Rowley, the Copper River salmon king who “changed the way America eats,” and asked what he thought of the taste test. “There are so many variables involved,” he said, and it’s tough to say whether the fish they used were truly comparable.
His thought: “How about doing it again, over here?”
The Times actually did conduct our own blind taste test on salmon several years back. In that version, our wild pride, Copper River salmon, crushed the “mushy” farm-raised competition. Check out that story over here.
Which ones would get your vote?
July 5, 2013 at 6:00 AM
It was another kettle of fish for Bill Webber. The third-generation fisherman, accustomed to supplying his wild-caught salmon to restaurants and individuals, turned to eBay when a gorgeous 50-pound Copper River salmon turned up in his nets.
“We were picking the net up and all of a sudden that huge king came rolling over the bow,” he said by phone from Cordova.
In his 45 years in the fishery (he started at age 11), Webber’s become known in the past 14 years or so for his direct marketing, supplying well-sourced restaurants like Seattle’s Poppy. “Your fish looked better in death than they did in life,” Copper River marketing innovator Jon Rowley once told him. A marine engineer and boatbuilder as well as a fisherman, he’s developed “some tools that help aid in production efficiency” on his boat, aiming for high quality and maximum shelf life through his Gulkana Seafoods.
He has Internet access on his boat and a new satellite phone system, and went right on eBay from the water to set up an auction.
“Item condition: New,” the listing began on Tuesday, with opening bids set at $800. “The King salmon was pre-rigor processed immediately after capture, was live bled, then pressure bled, gilled and gutted. The head was left on for full presentation of this magnificent fish.” He promised to return to Cordova the next day to FedEx it to the winning bidder. Perishable items are allowed on eBay, though regulated, but Rowley hadn’t heard of a Copper River being offered before.
In the end, it was a bit of a fish out of water. Despite 880 views, no individuals were prepared to bid up an entire hefty salmon with no notice, despite the relative bargain of a price (fillets are selling for $39.99 per pound over here.) But a chef client of Webber’s, Regan Reik, saw the listing and told Webber he’d like dibs if the fish didn’t go at auction. Webber said he sold it to him for that opening price and shipped it off to Cleveland, where salmon’s recently been cedar-planked and served with braised Swiss chard and rosemary roasted potatoes.
There are other fish in the sea for Webber, and he said the experiment only whetted his interest in using auction sites as an outlet — maybe with more advance warning next time, or maybe with smaller packages of sockeye salmon. And if this fish hadn’t sold at all? He would have filleted and frozen it, he said, for his own future dinners.
“It was such a beautiful thing.”
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