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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

July 23, 2014 at 8:38 AM

Chef Tom Douglas offers advice on cooking and preparing rich-flavored sockeye salmon


(Photo by John Lok, Seattle Times staff photographer)

Sockeye returns are blasting through many regions of the state including a record-breaking run on the Columbia River, and anglers will be toting home some nice catches in the weeks ahead.

Sockeye counts at Bonneville Dam on the Columbia reached 604,052 on Sunday, Lake Wenatchee is now open for sockeye and produced decent catches this past weekend, Baker Lake is starting to pick up, Upper Columbia is sockeye central and millions of sockeye are flooding the Strait of Juan de Fuca headed for the Fraser River in southern British Columbia.

This season we’ll have weekly recipes and advice from now through October on how to cook up and dish out a wide variety of local seafood by experts like Anthony’s Restaurant; Tiffany Haugen, Outdoor Cooking expert/author; tackle shop owners; local seafood-market owners; and fishing guides and charter services.

Douglas is owner of Lola; Palace Kitchen; Dahlia Lounge; Dahlia Bakery; Etta’s; Serious Pie Downtown; Seatown; Brave Horse Tavern; Cuoco; Serious Pie & Biscuit-Westlake; Serious Pie-Virginia; Tanaka San; and Rub With Love Schack. Some of his other works include Assembly Hall Juice and Coffee and Home Remedy, and this summer he plans on opening a cooking school called Hot Stove Society at the Hotel Andra.

Here is Douglas’ advice on how to prepare sockeye, and knock the socks off your guests at the next meal:

If you want something beautiful to put on the dinner table, pick up a sockeye, the salmon species with the most vivid red flesh. Because of its firm texture and rich flavor, sockeye take well to a number of cooking techniques like grilling, poaching, smoking, and roasting. But I suggest that you give steaming a try. Steaming is a great way to cook any firm fleshed fish, but it’s often overlooked by the home cook.

Any steaming set-up will do, but I like the Chinese bamboo steamers you can buy in the International District which are inexpensive and come in many sizes. For the steaming liquid, use a mixture of half water and half sake. Or instead of sake, use white wine, vermouth or any other flavorful liquid that appeals to you.

I love the way the aromatic steam subtly permeates the flesh of the fish, so when I set up my steamer, I often add aromatics to the liquid such as a couple of star anise pods, a few slices of fresh ginger, or some long, thin strips of lemon or orange zest.

Another way to add flavor to your fish is to pat a spice rub onto the fillets before setting them into the steaming basket. For an example of a spice rub, try mixing some toasted and ground fennel seeds with a bit of grated lemon zest, salt and pepper. If you picked up a fennel bulb in the market, cover the spice rubbed fish fillets with a few of the fresh fennel fronds before steaming and serve the steamed fish with a quick fennel salad made from thinly sliced fennel bulb dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.

My favorite way to finish steamed sockeye fillets is with just a squeeze of lemon, a drizzle of good olive oil, and (if I didn’t use spice rub) a sprinkle of sea salt. This treatment lets the flavor and color of the fish shine through. But if you’re in the mood, there’s nothing wrong with matching the simplicity of the fish with the lushness of a classic beurre blanc or French butter sauce. (For a recipe, dust off one of your French cookbooks, like one of Julia Child’s). Or instead of going French, go Asian and toast some thinly sliced garlic in a bit of vegetable or peanut oil and drizzle the sizzling garlic oil over the fish right before you serve it.

However you decide to garnish your salmon, just remember that steaming is a quick process. For example, a six ounce fillet of salmon would only take 4 to 6 minutes in the steamer. So be sure to keep an eye on your fish and don’t let it overcook.




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