Fish-O-Gram Returns! Nooksack Coho! Urchins Ahead! Lambs to the Slaughter! Chef’s Corner—Jerked, Strangled or Rolled—How Do You Prefer Your Salmon?
Dear September-Loving Customers,
Your loyal Fish-O-Gram correspondent is now free of the labor of last long months--tank scrubbing at the shellfish hatchery. For those shellfish minded of you, be of good cheer. We produced some millions of sterile triploid and sexually normal pacifics, a healthy crop of European Flat seed and a smattering of clam, geoduck and kumo seed. As regular Fish-O-Gram readers know, making the hatchery work has been an existential struggle for us these past years. This spring we went all out for oyster reproduction, and it has been a successful season, but some things fell by the wayside. It was a needful thing, but plastic-bucket oyster love has been a poor substitute for creating the weekly paean to waterfront life and fish flesh that is the Fish-O-Gram.
An Embarrassment of Culinary Riches.
Love From Lummi--Nooksack Coho!!!!
The Silver Horde.
These past weeks Lummi has been abuzz as only a fish town can be during a big run. Sharp eyed, news-following readers will recall Washington Fish and Wildlife generated headlines about terrible coho salmon returns justifying a total closure of the non-treaty coho season. As is often the case, WDFW got it completely wrong. Coho have been pouring into area rivers. The runs have been early, look to be much larger than predicted and individual fish are pounds larger than average. The Tribes manage their fisheries based on what actually shows up, rather than what state computers predict. So WDFW continues to manage as if we are in crisis, the non-treaty fleet sits on the beach, the fish steadfastly refuse to behave like an arcade game and our Canadian and Tribal friends are enjoying the best coho fishing in a decade or more. Once again, we thank our lucky stars and Judge Boldt for cutting in the tribes on Washington State Fisheries Management. The best thing about WDFW is that at least, post-Boldt decision, they can only mismanage 50% of the fishery.
Nooksack Coho and You.
A large coho run is very good news for the Lummi Nation and good news for JFF. And what is good for JFF is good for you. These Nooksack fish are an annual benchmark in the fish-based Jones ranch diet. They feed almost exclusively on crab larvae and so the flesh is a vibrant, blood red, rather than the typical bubble-gum pink Alaskan coho. The flavor is delicate and fatty, as expected with a coho, but also deep and rich, almost crustacean like. These fish are spectacular in any setting, but their subtleties find their highest expression in cured and smoked preparations. Pickled, gravlaxed, cold smoked or raw, the Nooksack Coho is without equal. They are like no other coho. We love working with the Finkbonners, our Lummi counterparts, and we love trumpeting better, local fish. 70-100 skiff fishermen are working daily to bring the coho to market. These are low-budget, hometown operations—a few folks are fishing out of rowboats $1000+ a day! We are delighted to see the small-time fisherfolk get some love. This bonanza will last for some weeks yet, don’t miss out! Reward sound resource management! Don't let the computers win!! Strike a blow for humanity!! Nooksack Coho will change your life!!!!
The State green fishery opens on Sept. 26. The state dive fleet voted to hold off on reds until late November, but our tribal friends are kicking off both reds and greens this next week. Assuming we can track down a non-flaky diver, we will have a steady supply of urchin through January. Stay tuned for more information and the first taste of the season.
We cut our last Barley field Monday and we are delighted to report a bumper crop. 2016 was a textbook grain year, weather-wise. Warm dry weather early allowed us to plant the entire crop by May 15, then summer rains pushed the crop through till August heat cured the grain heads. We harvested 170 tons of fat, beautiful grain on 100 acres. This will feed our hogs through the winter and, if we get our act together, make a good slug of whiskey as well.
Chef’s Corner. Killing Them Softly.
A customer recently asked for delivery of a live coho in order to practice Ike jime, a ritualized, Japanese method for killing fish. Ikejime calls for swiftly killing fish with a spike to the brain, then bleeding the fish out via a slash to the tail--think a cross between acupuncture and Kosher slaughter. Done right, Ike jime techniques prevent stress-caused lactic acid buildup in the flesh. Word is that a fish so dispatched is a culinary experience utterly different from violently killed fish. Typically this is done with farmed or fresh-water fishes, for obvious reasons, but assuming you could track down and approach a sufficiently relaxed wild salmon, there is no reason Ike jime techniques couldn’t be used, and nobody, to our knowledge, has really tried.
We love a challenge, and we love culinary adventure. We started thinking hard about the comparative methods for catching and killing salmon. So we thought we would run down some basics of how we source fish, and begin to consider how we could incorporate Ike jime principles into JFF operations.
When considering salmon quality and palatability, there's much written and lots of folklore about quality as relates to bruising, blood retention and other measurable standards of fish handling. Furthermore there's all the variables of run timing catch area fish diet and such-- the operative principle being that fish quality generally degrades the closer they get to fresh water, and that all runs are not created equal in terms of eat-ability. Very little is known, even by the most careful observers in the business, about how stress during capture impacts flavor. The three primary means of taking wild salmon, in ascending order by volume caught, are troll, or hook and line fishing, gillnetting, or entanglement netting, and purse seining, wherein fish are encircled in a heavy meshed net. Incidentally, the degree of control farmers have over the death of pen fish, and so control over flesh blemishes, remains the greatest selling point, quality wise, for farmed fish and uneven flesh quality is the greatest persistent weakness in marketing wild fish.
Troll Salmon--Jerked Around
Troll salmon remain the Acme standard for quality. Trollers generally fish in the open ocean, meaning that they target fish in their quality prime. Troll catches are generally low volume and each fish is handled carefully, bled while still alive, gutted soon after. Some of the more progressive figures in the business are using small catheters and low-pressure pumps to flush blood out of the fish through the circulatory system. From a flesh quality perspective, and the handling perspective, troll fish cannot be beat, but the technique has limitations insofar as sockeye and chum do not readily take hooks. Furthermore, coho salmon put on a tremendous growth spurt as they approach the river. An ocean coho, while pristine, will generally be smaller and lack the fattiness and flavor finish of an inshore fish. Fish are fought individually on a steel wire, then brought onboard with a gaff hook, clubbed and bled out. From a stress point of view, this kind of hand-to-hand combat is about as brutal as it gets. It is hard to see how trolling could ever pass Ike jime muster.
Gillnet Salmon--Lovingly Strangled
Gillnetting is generally done closer in-shore. This means the fish are more apt to be already naturally declining and quality, though again as in the case with coho, this can be a good thing. Gillnetting is the most flexible of techniques. It can be done in shallow water or deep- muddy or clear- from a large boat, a skiff, or from shore. Gillnets catch almost all of the fresh market sockeye. Copper River, Baker River, Yukon River & Quinault sockeye and kings are all gillnet caught. Properly handled post-harvest, a gillnet fish can match the quality of troll. During the dying process, gillnets are surprisingly gentle. The fish swim into the net, tangle around the gills or body, and then after the initial shock of contact and brief fight they gently swim themselves to death. The downsides are bruising that may occur around the neck and the likelihood of substantial scale damage. Catches are generally modest and the well-intentioned fisher can do an excellent job handling her catch. Overall, gillnetting has good potential for both quality flesh and a low stress death.
Purse Seine Fish--Generally Brutalized
Purse seining generally occurs inshore and generally targets higher volume, lower value fish such as pink and chum salmon. Some substantial volumes of sockeye are seine caught, but most of this fish ends up in the canned or frozen export markets. The fundamental flaw with purse seining is the roughness in which fish are handled. The nets are stretched across the water, towed against the current, then circled back with the bottoms pursed up, Then the net is slowly spun back on board. The fish remain in the water in most of the net is back on board. The fish are either rolled aboard over the stern or pulled out of the net with a gigantic hydraulically operated dipnet. Either which way the fish are smashed up and rolled around in stinging red jellies, not to mention emotionally traumatized. Once on board they are released from the net to flop themselves to death on deck or in the fish hold. Post harvest care, bleeding, dressing, etc is non-existent in seine fish. Seine caught Coho and King are particularly dubious. The lack of love-handling with these fish is disastrous for their soft-flesh. An ice water bath in the fish hold is generally as good as it gets. Incidentally, one major fish distributor in the Seattle market specializes in cleaning up seine fish for the restaurant and retail trades. The best thing you can say for much of this fish is that it is easy to chew. Ike jime practices are is out of step with the seine fishery as a lute would be at an Onyx concert, a popular band with Seine crewmen.
We handle almost no seine fish for these reasons. Some years back a Sitka Alaska fisherman of our acquaintance tried to revolutionize seining for fish quality. He used a smaller net, made shorter sets, released excess fish beyond what he knew he could handle. He then brought small batches of fish aboard at a time to be stunned and bled, very similar to a troll fishery treatment. The result was fantastic flesh-quality product, proving that seine fish can be treated well. Unfortunately he went bankrupt and is now working in the Bakken oil fields. To slightly paraphrase H.L. Mencken, "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the tastes of the American public"
JFF and Ike Jime
Of the three primary fishing techniques, Fish-O- Gram is of the opinion that a gillnet fish experiences the lowest stress levels of these three techniques. In order to really test this, we would need to come up with troll and gillnet caught fish caught in roughly the same areas, roughly the same level of fish maturity, and have them be handled roughly the same way post-capture. This is not likely to happen. Perhaps the best way to test this hypothesis is to personally try and develop a palette for flavor subtleties associated with fish stress levels.
In the interest of science and culinary advancement, Fish-O-Gram, along with the crew of the Willows and the ever-accommodating fisher folk of the Lummi Nation, will be conducting experiments these coming weeks searching for a true Ike jime fish killing experience on wild salmon. Stay tuned
Salish Sea Festival, October 15th Rosario Resort Orcas Island.
Join us, JFF, The Willows, Rosario and many others at the Salish Sea Festival next month on Orcas Island. Come explore the seafood of the Salish Sea Basin through seminars, field trips and food.
We are, your Fish-O-Gram Writing, Sno-Cone Shaving, Coho Probing, Barley Cutting, Fish Strangling, Samurai Sword Wielding, Orcas Visiting, JFF Crew!!