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The king of fish


The California King salmon — Oncorhynchus tshawytscha — grows larger than any other salmon species in the world and comes with an extra-rich layer of healthy, omega-3 fatty acids.

"There's a lot of big fish out there this year," said John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association. "And the bigger the fish, the more omega-3 oil they have."

That unctuous fat also makes the California King one of the easiest fish for novices to cook, because it creates a wider margin of error.

"This year, because of the size and the good fat content, the salmon are far more forgiving," McManus said. "Generally, it's easy to overcook them."

Whether you barbecue the fish or saute it in a frying pan, the California King salmon can supply your family with all kinds of delicious fish dishes this summer.

At Wild Fish restaurant in Little River, owners Liz and Kelvin Jacobs always buy the whole fish, a trend that is becoming more popular among restaurant chefs.

"In Europe, the skin is considered the best part of the fish," Liz Jacobs said. "It gives a nice marbling of flavor to the delicate fish. It's got the fat in it."

Kelvin Jacobs, a native of London, suggested buying a whole salmon for a dinner party, cutting it into filets for dinner, then turning the rest of the fish into other tasty products.

"Use the bones and the head for stock," he said. "Then you can cure some that's left over, so you've got your lox."

You can also make a salmon pat?out of the leftover bits of salmon by blending it with cream cheese or creme fraiche and garlic, Liz said.

The sweetness of the California King, also known as the Chinook, goes well with all kinds of sweet summer ingredients, from tomatoes and basil to baby fennel.

"It's got a distinctive flavor, and it's a bold flavor," Liz said. "It's sweet and briny and rich and delicate."

The California King is also a sight to behold, with silvery sides and a splash of blue-green, red or purple across the back, which is dotted with black spots.

"What you get is this fish that is incredibly versatile, and so beautiful to look at," Kelvin said. "It's such a pretty fish."

The couple love the California King salmon so much, they used it as the logo for their restaurant, which they opened about 19 months ago. On England's west coast, they owned a farm-to-table restaurant that received awards for sustainability.

At Wild Fish, the salmon comes in fresh off the boat, and if it doesn't sell quickly, the couple preserves it through curing or smoking.

Executive chef Jackson Clark showcases the fresh salmon in several dishes, including a Chowder of Wild Salmon and Fire-Roasted Tomatoes.

"The fire-roasted tomatoes have a nice, caramel depth to them," Liz said. "And the sweet goes nicely with the sweetness of the salmon."

For the "naked" salmon, Clark cooks the fish in a frying pan with just a sprinkle of sea salt and pepper.

"We have a signature style in the restaurant, which is to cook the fish skin side down first, and that gives it a lot of flavor," Liz said. "Then the chef turns it over and finishes it in the oven."

Currently, the king salmon is served on a bed of roasted baby fennel, heirloom cherry tomatoes and roasted fingerling potatoes, with a vinaigrette made with cucumber and mint.

"He doesn't like to cover it in a lot of sauce," Liz said. "So he puts the sauce on the side of the plate."

At his house, McManus likes to barbecue salmon red side down, right on the grates, then wait until the red turns pink and the flesh next to the grill turns brown. That takes about five minutes.

"At that point, they will not stick," he said. "Then I flip them, skin side down, and use a teriyaki baste."

Over at the Little River Inn, executive chef Marc Dym coats the salmon with a pine-nut crust, then serves it on a bed of spinach or escarole puree with a fresh basil coulis.

"It's basically the ingredients of pesto, decomposed," he said. "Honestly, people are going completely gaga for the wild salmon. ... It's such a nice product."

This year, McManus suspects the salmon have grown so large because the ocean has offered ideal feeding conditions.

"There are large schools of short-bellied rockfish, and clouds of squid right now," he said. "We've seen a lot of fish from the Bodega area stuffing themselves on pink shrimp."

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<em>The following recipe is from Jackson Clark, executive chef at Wild Fish in Little River.</em>

<strong>Pan-Seared Salmon with Roasted Baby Fennel, Heirloom Cherry Tomato, Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, and Balsamic Vinaigrette with Cucumber and Mint</strong>

<strong>For vinaigrette:</strong>

1 tablespoons shallot

1 teaspoon garlic

? cup balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

? cup olive oil

2 tablespoons cucumber

1 tablespoon mint

Salt and pepper, to taste

<strong>For potatoes:</strong>

1 pound fingerlings

Vegetable, peanut, or grapeseed oil, good quality

For Baby Fennel and Cherry Tomatoes:

1 tablespoon olive oil

6 baby fennel bulbs, quartered

1 tablespoon white wine

1 tablespoon butter

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

<strong>For salmon:</strong>

4 to 6 salmon filets

1 tablespoon vegetable, grapeseed, or peanut oil, good quality

<strong>For vinaigrette:</strong> Mince garlic and shallot and add to a bowl. Pour in balsamic vinegar and let sit for 5 minutes. Add Dijon mustard and whisk until combined. Pour in olive oil slowly, whisking constantly. Add cucumber and mint. Salt and pepper to taste.

<strong>For potatoes:</strong> Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Blanch fingerlings for 4-5 minutes and let cool. Slice fingerlings on a bias. Heat a saute pan with high quality vegetable, grapeseed, or peanut oil, then add potatoes. Saute for 1-2 minute.s then put the pan in the oven and cook until the potatoes are golden brown. Add salt and pepper to taste. Heat olive oil in a saute pan, then add baby fennel and cook 2-3 minutes. Add white wine and butter then put the pan in the oven. Roast the fennel for 4-5 minutes or until the fennel starts to caramelize. Remove the pan from the oven and add the cherry tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

<strong>For salmon:</strong> Dry the skin of the salmon with a towel, then season with salt and pepper. Heat a flat-bottom saute pan or skillet on medium high heat until the oil is about to smoke. Add the salmon filets skin side down and cook for 2-3 minutes. Place the pan in the oven and cook 3-5 minutes depending on what temperature you would like. Remove the pan from the oven, then flip the fish to its flesh side and let it rest.

<strong>To assemble:</strong> Put the potatoes in the center of a plate then drizzle with 1 to 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette around the potatoes. Add the fennel and tomato mixture then place the salmon on top.

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<em>This is an Asian-inspired preparation for cured salmon from Jackson Clark of Wild Fish.</em>

<strong>Cured Salmon</strong>

4 to 6 6-ounce salmon filets

1 stick of lemongrass

1 piece ginger, finger-sized

3 cloves garlic

3 Thai chiles

1 bunch basil (preferably Thai)

2 cups brown sugar

1 cup salt

Add sugar and salt to a bowl. Roughly chop all ingredients and add them to the salt and sugar. Mix salmon filets with the sugar and salt mixture until well coated. Put the salmon and the rest of the ingredients into a Ziploc bag and store in the refrigerator for 2 days. Rinse and dry the salmon, then serve.

<strong>Serving suggestions:</strong> Slice thinly and use as an appetizer with raw vegetables or on blini pancakes with cr?e fraiche and herbs.

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<em>In this recipe from Wild Fish, the sweetness of the tomatoes complements the sweetness of the salmon.</em>

<strong>Wild Salmon Chowder with Fire Roasted Tomatoes</strong>

Makes 4 to 6 servings

6 medium tomatoes, roasted

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon olive oil

1 small yellow onion, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon flour

? cup white wine

4 cups fish stock

2 fresh bay leaves

2 teaspoons fresh thyme

1 medium russet potato, diced

? cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons chopped basil

8-10 ounces salmon

Quarter the tomatoes, then cut then into triangles. Add the tomatoes and 1 teaspoon of oil to a saute pan then place in a 375 degree oven for 8-10 minutes or until well roasted.

Add the olive oil, onion, celery, garlic, and a pinch of salt to a stockpot. Over low heat, sweat the aromatics until translucent.

Meanwhile, make a roux by melting 1 tablespoon of butter then add 1 tablespoon flour to it. Stir the roux until well combined then set aside (the roux can be omitted).

Once the aromatics become translucent, add the white wine and cook until almost dry. Add the stock, bay leaves, and thymem then bring to a simmer. Add the roux and bring to a light boil. Add the potatoes and cook until al dente. Remove the pot from the heat.

Add the heavy cream and 1 tablespoon chopped basil, reserving the extra basil. Cut the salmon into bite-size pieces and add them to the pot. Let sit until the salmon is cooked to the desired temperature. Salt and pepper to taste. Use the reserved chopped basil for garnish.

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<em>This recipe is from Marc Dym, executive chef at the Little River Inn in Little River.</em>

<strong>Pesto-Style Pacific Salmon on a Bed of Wilted Escarole</strong>

<em> Makes 6 servings</em>

<strong> For the salmon:</strong>

6 salmon filets, boneless and skinless (7 ounces each)

? cup pine nuts, chopped fine

1 bunch basil, washed leaves only

1 cup canola oil

? teaspoon white pepper

1 teaspoon salt

For escarole:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 heads escarole, washed and rough chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper, to taste

<strong>For salmon:</strong> Chop pine nuts in food processor, until fine, and season with salt and pepper. Spread a thin layer of chopped nuts over one side of boneless, skinless salmon fillet. Refrigerate until needed

<strong>For basil oil:</strong> Puree basil (leaves only) in food processor, adding canola oil in slowly. Puree until smooth. Season basil oil with salt and pepper to taste, and reserve.

<strong>To cook salmon:</strong> Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat cast iron pan over medium heat. Add small amount of canola oil. Cook salmon (nut crusted side down) over medium high heat, 2-3 minutes, until nuts are light brown.

Turn over and place on a sheet pan nut side up. Finish cooking salmon in oven 3-5 minutes (medium rare) in preheated oven

<strong>For escarole:</strong> Heat saut?pan with olive oil. Saut?garlic until light brown, adding chopped escarole and cook 2 minutes until wilted. Season escarole with salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese.

<strong>To serve:</strong> Place a bed of wilted escarole in middle of plate. Place cooked salmon over escarole. Drizzle salmon and plate with basil oil. Dust with Parmesan cheese. Serve with grilled polenta.

<em>You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com</em>