On the Menu: Copper River Salmon

Every year folks around here eagerly await Copper River salmon season. This article in today’s newspaper announces the arrival of thousands of pounds of ceremonial fish, the first fish of the Copper River salmon season, in Seattle via an Alaska Airlines jet. According to television news reports, true devotees gladly pay upwards of $100 a pound to score some of this precious cargo. Considered by many to be the highest quality salmon available, Copper River salmon feature bright red flesh with a rich taste and buttery consistency.

The Copper River, nearly 300 miles (470 km) long, runs through south-central Alaska into the Gulf of Alaska. Ranked by water output, it is the 10th-largest river in the United States. Both the river and the Copper Glacier from which it arises take their names from nearby former copper mines.

Because the Copper River is a fast-moving, glacial river, salmon have to store up a lot of oil and fat content to make the journey upstream. This high oil and fat content gives the salmon their characteristic color and flavor.

Health experts recommend eating salmon because it’s high in protein and essential nutrients but low in saturated fat. Another benefit is its high concentration of omega–3 fatty acids, which have been reported to contribute to heart health, reduce inflammatory diseases, and perhaps prevent cancer.

Fishing boats catch three kinds of wild salmon from the Copper River: coho, sockeye, and king, the largest. The amount of fish caught each year varies, but the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports that more than 1.8 million salmon were caught in 2013.

Another article from our local newspaper, The News Tribune, describes the arrival of the flown-in salmon at its destination in the South Puget Sound area, Northern Fish Co., which is not far from where we live.

“We got 2,000 pounds today and more tomorrow,” said fourth-generation Northern Fish owner John Swanes.

According to Swanes, “Early Copper River fish is the best, with a high oil content.”

While some of the Copper River salmon will be sold at the company’s two retail stores in Tacoma, most of it will be sold to wholesale customers, including local independent seafood and grocery outlets, and higher-end restaurants.

At the retail level, whole Copper River kings will be selling for $29.95 per pound, with filets priced at $42.95. Whole sockeyes will be offered at $23.95 and filets at $29.95 per pound. All initial fish are net-caught in the deep-water open ocean near the mouth of the Copper River.

The Copper River salmon season usually lasts from May through September.

May is U.K. National Asparagus Month

May is National Asparagus Month in the U.K., but since asparagus is one of my favorite foods, I intend to celebrate it here in the U.S. as well. The celebration is sponsored by British Asparagus Growers.

The British Asparagus web site features more than 80 recipes “developed by a dozen celebrity chefs and accomplished food writers.” There’s also a long list of the health benefits of eating asparagus.

In the United States, the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board has an informative web site. The purpose of this site is to promote asparagus grown in Michigan, but there’s a lot of general information about the vegetable as well. Here are a few of their facts about asparagus that I found most interesting:

  • Asparagus is a member of the Lily family.
  • Under ideal conditions, an asparagus spear can grow 10″ in a 24-hour period.
  • The larger the diameter, the better the quality!

This site calls asparagus “one of the most nutritionally well-balanced vegetables in existence” and “the leading supplier among vegetables of folic acid,” a fact that will appeal to pregnant women. Asparagus is also low in calories and very low in sodium. Check the nutrition page for a complete list of this vegetable’s nutrient value.

asparagus upright for cooking
Photograph from British Asparagus

You’ll also find instructions for several different ways of cooking asparagus here, including how to steam the spears in an upright position in a double boiler or tall pan. This method helps to prevent the tips from getting overcooked before the stalks are fully cooked. There are tips on how to store asparagus, including directions for canning and freezing. And, of course, there’s a collection of recipes for appetizers, soups, salads, side dishes, and entrees. And check the FAQ page for an explanation of why your urine smells funny after you eat asparagus.

The California Asparagus Commission also has lots to say to promote its product. Its recipe collection includes a special section of recipes for kids. The cooking section contains directions for stir-frying, grilling, and roasting as well as the more common methods of boiling, steaming, and microwaving. The FAQ page explains how white asparagus differs from the green variety and why the green spears are a bit more nutritious than the white ones. Also according to the FAQ page, “California, Washington and Michigan are considered the major asparagus growing states.”

A couple of weeks ago we bought red asparagus at the farmers’ market. The sign said the red variety is more tender and less fibrous than the green kind. We steamed it up, and I did think it was a bit less fibrous. But I was surprised to find that when I sliced the stalk, it was green inside, with just a very thin red outer layer. I tried looking for information about red asparagus, but all I could find was references to herbal supplements made from red asparagus root, which is a different plant.

In the past I’ve also seen purple asparagus. On the web site of Aspara Pacific Ltd., an asparagus breeding company in New Zealand, I found this information:

Pacific Purple is a new “super-sweet” asparagus variety. Its distinctive dark purple spears have gained immediate acceptance in markets in Europe, Asia and north America. Pacific Purple tastes sweeter, has less fibre and more anti-oxidants than green asparagus.

Bred by Aspara Pacific, Pacific Purple produces a very high quality spear that is dark purple in colour from tip to butt. The spears have a slightly larger diameter than most green varieties.

Dual Purpose- Very tender spears and high sugar content means Pacific Purple can be grown as a dual-purpose variety for purple or for super-sweet white asparagus.

The Romans had a saying, “Quick as asparagus,” which meant essentially “very quick.” No matter how you prepare this spring vegetable, it will be deliciously ready in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

Lunch Bunch: Adriatic Grill

Today’s Lunch Bunch destination was:

Adriatic Grill
Italian Cuisine & Wine Bar

4201 South Steele Street
Tacoma, WA 98409
253–475–6000

Awards

KING 5 Best of Western Washington

  • Winner: Best Mediterranean Restaurant (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013)
  • Winner: Best Italian Restaurant (2013)

Best of the South Sound

  • Winner: Best Chef Bill Trudnowski (2011, 2012, 2013)
  • Winner, Best Italian Restaurant (2012, 2013, 2014)

Ratings

The restaurant has a 4+-star rating on the following sites:

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The cream of mushroom soup at this restaurant is the best I’ve ever had. (For more on the mushroom soup, see this article from our local Tacoma newspaper, The News Tribune.) I started with a cup of the soup, then followed with their clam linguine. The white clam sauce I’m used to contains cream. I could tell from the menu description that this one did not use cream, but I went for it anyway. And I’m glad I did! It was a garlic broth that was absolutely delicious.

There were 14 people in our group. A couple of people said they were a bit disappointed because the food they got wasn’t what they expected. But everyone else seemed pleased. M. said, “I like what I had so much that I can’t wait to come back and order the same thing again.”

And what was the menu item that got such a high endorsement? The prawns over spaghetti squash. Kudos to the chef for offering a non-carb alternative to pasta. (I thought about asking for the clam sauce over spaghetti squash instead of the traditional pasta but in the end decided to go traditional.)

We had good service at this local, family-owned restaurant. I highly recommend it. And don’t forget to try the cream of mushroom soup.

On the Menu: Razor Clams

cooked razor clams

It’s razor clam season!

The Pacific razor clam (Siliqua patula) grows along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to California. They are big and meaty, nicely chewy when lightly breaded and pan seared.

According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, razor clams along the Washington coast generally grow to a maximum of 6 inches, although on the coast of Alaska, where the water is colder and the growing season is longer, razor clams can grow up to 11 inches long. Here’s what the clam in the shell looks like:

razor clam in shell

 

Digging razor clams is a popular family activity that requires a state license and is confined to certain times of the year.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife page linked above contains a huge amount of information about this huge clam, including how to obtain a license, what to look for if you go clamming, and how to clean and prepare razor clams, including recipes.

On the Menu: Golden Raspberries

Aren’t they beautiful? I had never seen these before.

gold raspberries

We bought them at Metropolitan Market, located in Tacoma’s Proctor District.