Monday, September 6, 2010

Steveston drew crowds of salmon lovers

If nothing else, the recent salmon buying frenzy in Steveston had taught me a couple of lessons.

First of all, a heck of a lot of folks really fancy this singularly unattractive-looking fish.

The constant stream of vehicles beelining it to the landing and threading their way back out of the village reminded me of the usual crush at the Salmon Festival each July 1st. Instead of waving maple-leaf emblazoned paper flags, however, everyone's hand is grasping heavy-looking plastic bags containing the rich sea harvest.

The air was charged with a sense of urgency to get the fresh kill home. No more leisurely pace back to one's car, except for those who had the foresight to trot down the gangplank with a cooler firmly in hand.

I didn't join the horde of people lining up in front of boats moored at the dock. From the craning of necks and nervous milling about, it was apparent that people couldn't wait to pick out their fish before all the best ones were gone.

These were serious shoppers. And probably great cooks to boot! Me, I would be happy to pick my salmon from a grocery store, nicely beheaded, scaled, and gutted of course!

Yes, I know, you can't compete with freshness.

According to one sign propped atop a boat, their fish were of "sashimi quality" and the fisher even provided a definition to what this meant.

For the uninitiated like me, the term means "not frozen." But, as I found out when I Googled the term, its definition is actually quite precise. For example, to the Japanese, "sashimi quality" means less than 24 hours after a fish was caught. In addition, the fish must also have been killed, gutted, and stored on ice until sold.

For you math whizzes, try this on for size! For every hour a freshly caught fish is not stored on ice, it loses one day of shelf life. So, which is of better quality - a freshly caught fish that has not been chilled for four hours or a five-day old fish that has been kept on ice since it was caught? did you know that a fish that is stored correctly has a usable life up to ten days?

Of course, ideally, you should instantly haul your catch home, cut it, let it float on a bath of herb and melted butter, sprinkle it with salt and pepper, and shove it in the oven. Just the way Mark Bittman - my favourite chef - recommended it done.

Although the buying frenzy is now over, I really enjoyed it while it lasted. What a treat to see wave after wave of cars, some sporting Washington license plates, descending on our neighbourhood. Kind of like the 2010 winter Olympics back in February, but happening right at our doorstep. Hm, is it possible to have post salmon-run depression?

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