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In Celebration of the Mighty Salmon

Salmon fishing in Bodega Bay has been slow this season. Really slow. It’s evident for us here in at Peter Lowell’s when the menu continues to feature Salmon from Alaska with the occasional appearance of Bodega Bay Salmon tartare with crème fraîche & dill. Friends that head north every summer to work the fishing boats in Alaska are also returning home with stories of lack – not as much fish means not as much fishing means not as much pay. A typical month of Salmon fishing in Alaska could garner $12,000 easily and crews are coming home with half of that.

It’s no secret that the climate of Salmon fisheries is a stormy one. When I set out to write about Salmon, I wanted to write about my reverence for and celebration of this incredible creature. The more I read about the challenges that face this species chances to thrive let alone survive, the harder it became to write anything.

Salmon are magical fish. Truly. They are born in fresh water rivers & creeks from where they migrate into the ocean – adapting behaviorally and physiologically in order to live in salt water where they feast and grow large, only to migrate back up into fresh water rivers in one last exuberant frenzy to find a place to have sex, deposit fertilized eggs, and die. The scientific term is anadromous. I say they are miraculous. If this isn’t living large, I don’t know what is.

Nonetheless, writers block continued to arrest my computer keys until inspiration came to me in the form of a 30-pound silvery skinned Salmon. Perry Austin — mushroom hunter, fisherman, beer & coffee connoisseur, and amateur chef — had scored a 30-pound Salmon from a fisherman friend of his and generously offered to share it. “How many pounds do you want?” He asked. While I have access to very fresh beautiful food every day as one of the luxuries of living in sunny fertile Sonoma County – it is not every day that a whole fish fresh out of the ocean is delivered directly into my hands so easily.

I didn’t hesitate. I said, yes, I’d take 3 pounds. In a culture that prides itself on being able to provide anything at a moments notice in the supermarket packaged in plastic, getting to “meet your dinner” before you eat it is a special thing. The fish arrived on a bed of ice fat yet sleek, shimmering with light and razor fins designed to maneuver those 30 pounds fiercely through water. Salmon are ferocious in their own right – they have large sharp teeth and can range from 4 pounds to 110 pounds depending on the species. Even at the average high of 80 pounds for Pacific Salmon species, this creature is something to contend with if you’re a smaller fish, squid, eel or shrimp.

As Perry had shared so freely with me, I knew I had to share this gift with others in order to truly celebrate its life. A few days later, the perfect opportunity arrived when some friends of mine and I were called to make a thank you dinner for, Lisa, an elder in our community. A native of West Marin, she loves Salmon, and has been a strong anchoring force of unconditional love, inspiration, and guidance for many including myself. Salmon in tow, we took over her kitchen and got to work at feasting her!

The salmon was baked encrusted with whole grain mustard & black pepper, finished with fresh chives, accompanied by sautéed green beans & toasted walnut, and a coriander rice and lentil pilaf. Flowers were picked fresh from the garden and we poured a very cold crisp French white wine. The evening was FULL of story and celebration befitting the exuberance of this Salmon’s life. Gifting our loved ones with store bought items is more common these days than making them and often just doesn’t have the power of connection that making gifts does.   All at the table that night felt the rich simplicity of making a meal with ingredients so connected to place. Connection fosters care. What shape would our rivers be in and thus our salmon populations if we were all so intimately connected to our food? and through the sharing of it, to our people? And through the harvesting or hunting of it, the land? It’s pretty clear where our bias lays — Local Food Matters.

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