But there I was at Borough with some chefs, a few media pals, and some Canadians. There’s a new fish in town and you might be seeing a lot more of it, so without further ado I give you Skuna Bay salmon from Vancouver.
Here’s the deal, it’s farm-raised salmon, which often puts a little record skreech in the middle of our conversation as you “wuh?” and give me the stink eye. But even though I’m not a fan of Skuna Bay’s tagline of “craft raised salmon” (too much craft this and craft that) the bottom line is the fish is smart and the fish is good. They only select one purveyor per market and have partnered with our local The Fish Guys to bring it here. The salmon are raised in the glacial waters off of Vancouver Island, I met Steve one of the fish farmers who was a guy who appreciated the grizzlies and eagles aspect of his job as much as the three hour by boat commute. When ready, the whole fish is cleaned and chilled by hand, by one of only six guys who pack it in recyclable packaging (no Styrofoam) that is sealed and then driven to the chef. Yes, they drive their fish to us in order to best control the temperature and they claim to measure a smaller carbon footprint than those who ship via air and truck.
Only when that boxed salmon is in the hands of the chef 36 hours later is it opened, The Fish Guys don’t mess with it. They unboxed one in front of us and it smelled like the ocean, and it had those beautiful watermelon colored gills that is a tell-tale sign of freshness. It’s no small thing to say that Skuna has been awarded a Best Aquaculture Practice by the Global Aquaculture Alliance.
But can it really compare to wild caught salmon? Well, the Skuna boys were quick to point out that they aren’t trying to out-salmon mother nature, but that their mission is to reduce the pressure our global hunger has put on wild stocks and to help feed the world. And their real goal is to be the best farm-raised salmon out there which, according to Minikahda Club chef Ferris Schiffer, it is. Schiffer was at my table and has been using the product for a while and mentioned that “before, with a farm raised product, I would have to sauce it up to give it flavor. But with this fish, I only give it a simple preparation to showcase the real and true flavor of the fish. It has just the right fat content.”
Personally I have to agree. The chefs at Borough put out a four course salmon menu that started with a simple gravlax topped blini, a soft and luscious mouthful. The second, my favorite, was a carpaccio with compressed apple, crispy rice, jalapeno, wasabi, and cilantro. This underlying fish was firm and silky, a very nice vehicle to the flavors on top. Next up was a plate with both poached and smoked salmon, both had a subtle sweetness that worked well with the earthy beets and horseradish broth. And finally, of course, a pan-seared crisp skinned hunk of fish sat on potato butter with truffle, escargot, and port shallots: big heady flavors that were allowed to reign without the overwhelming richness of a fattier salmon. Overall I was quite impressed with the texture and freshness of the fish.
The Oceanaire carries it and Smack Shack will too. Not that you need national pomp to sway you, but other people who think it’s pretty good include Craft and Nobu in LA, Girl and The Goat in Chicago, Jean Georges in Las Vegas, and The James Beard House in New York among others.