Henri goes wild

Weighing in on the all-important issue of farmed vs. wild salmon

Farmed or wild? For more information on contaminants in farmed salmon, go to www.healthcastle.com/ farmed-salmon.shtml or www.montereybay aquarium.org/cr/seafoodwatch.aspby

Since arriving in Chico a year and a half ago, Henri has picked up some of the culinary skills of the locals and is actually beginning to fancy himself rather accomplished at the outdoor grill. I find it quite relaxing—and pleasantly primitive—to stand outside on my little patio in my Williams-Sonoma apron and chef’s hat grilling meat and sipping on a tall gin and tonic.

However, Henri is in un petite fix. Both the American Heart Association and the good Dr. Epinards recommend that I cut back on the red meat in my diet and increase the amount of fish. Très bien. The problem is that much of the salmon available in markets is farmed, and studies show that it contains high levels of contaminants. In fact, an article in the Jan. 9, 2004, journal Science found that farmed Atlantic salmon contains as much as 10 times more PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls, industrial lubricants) and other toxins than wild Pacific salmon and warns that the contaminants “pose risks that detract from the beneficial effects of fish consumption.”

Sacre bleu! “Industrial lubricants"? Henri’s liver is overworked as it is. Best to go wild.

With the season for Pacific salmon currently in full swing (through September), right now is the best time to pick up some steaks or fillets—though generally a bit more expensive ($8-$10 a pound as opposed to $5-$8 for farmed), they have more flavor. Try the following sauces.

Habanero, Lime and Tequila Sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup orange juice
3 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons tequila (I recommend Patron)
1 tablespoon lime zest
1 tablespoon minced habanero pepper
1 clove garlic, minced

Mix ingredients together two or three hours ahead of time and pour over steaks or fillets and refrigerate (in shallow baking pan or sealed plastic bag) until ready to grill. Reserve a small amount to use as a basting sauce.

After grilling the salmon, transfer it to a serving dish and top with any remaining sauce.

Yogurt and Dill Sauce
1/2 teaspooon zested lemon peel
1 (8 oz.) carton plain lowfat yogurt
1/4 cup green onions, diced
1/4 cup fresh dill or 1 tablespoon dried dill weed
1 teaspoon capers

Blend all ingredients in small mixing bowl. Spoon about two tablespoons of sauce onto each dinner plate. Top with salmon, and brush a small amount of remaining sauce on top of each steak or fillet.

Mango Sauce
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon ground coriander seeds
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 mangoes, skinned and diced
1 lime, juiced
A good handful of fresh coriander (cilantro)
1 Anaheim (or similar) pepper

Mix the spices, brown sugar and a pinch of salt and pepper in a bowl and rub into the salmon steaks. Mix mangoes, lime juice, pepper, and cilantro in a food processor. Grill the salmon and top with mango sauce.

Grilling the Salmon
Preheat grill to medium heat. Lightly oil grill grate—I like to use olive oil in a Misto sprayer or a commercial spray-on oil. (Note: do not spray over heat source.) Place salmon on the grill, baste with sauce, and cook for five or six minutes, then flip, baste again, and cook for another three or four minutes, or until the fish can be easily flaked with a fork.

Note: Salmon grilled well is divine; salmon cooked just a few minutes too long is hideous. It’s better to undercook than overcook—you can always put the salmon back on the grill. When I cook fillets, I like to separate the meat from the skin before serving. I usually serve steaks with the skin on.

Most fish markets offer both fillets and steaks. Steaks are usually of an even thickness, making them easier to cook consistently, while fillets are wedge shaped—sometimes an eighth of an inch thick on the side and an inch thick in the middle. On the other hand, fillets generally have fewer bones. In the end, it’s largely a personal decision.