Eat It to Save It: Bristol Bay Salmon Wednesday, Jul 10 2013 


Fishing for Salmon

The beach calls to many this time of year. I absolutely love the ocean. It’s so intensely primal and the only thing that could remotely come close would be the basic human reaction to fire. I’m pretty certain that if I lived at the beach I’d ditch my red Chanel lipstick pretty darn quick and become someone who fishes a whole lot more and bathes a little less. I love to fish. Mama tells me that the first time I caught a fish I jumped up and down so much my diaper fell off. That’s how young I was! Our whole family loves to fish. The photo below is my grandfather fishing for salmon in Alaska.


As a cook, I am wildly passionate about sustainable seafood. I am concerned for our oceans. I write about it as often as I can in print, online, and through my blog. I teach sustainable seafood in cooking classes all across the country, and I only buy, cook, and eat sustainable seafood. I do this because I am on the Blue Ribbon Task Force for the Monterey Bay Aquarium and a member of Chefs Collaborative. I “walk what I talk.” According to many scientists and scientific organizations, like Seafood Watch, the Marine Stewardship Council, and the Blue Ocean Institute, frankly, we are seriously jeopardizing the health and welfare of the oceans.


First, we are eating out of the ocean like it is an endless Las Vegas buffet and it’s not. Second, global warming is not a myth — but it has become a political pawn. According to Dr. Mark Hixon, one of the world’s premier authorities on coral reefs, as a result of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere the oceans are becoming warmer and also becoming acidified. Our fossil fuels usage is warming the entire planet, including the ocean. According to Dr. Hixon, scientists don’t argue about this — only politicians. We’re also destroying habitats of thriving fisheries through more direct ways such as direct pollution and runoff. We need to do something sooner rather than later to correct our perilous course.


There’s a fight going on about runoff and pollution in Bristol Bay, Alaska. This summer, Chefs Collaborative is teaming up with the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association on a series of dinners to help protect Bristol Bay’s salmon. The Bristol Bay region is pristine wilderness untouched by development, stretching from the snow-capped peaks of the Alaska Range, across wetlands laced with icy cold rivers that flow into the Bay. This region is  home to the nation’s largest wild salmon fisheries and one of the best salmon habitats on Earth. If you look at the map below, Bristol Bay is located between the Bering Sea and the Alaska Peninsula in the southwest region of the state. Every year, approximately 37.5 million adult wild salmon return over the course of just a few weeks between the end of June through mid-July.


However, the Bristol Bay is under threat from corporations that want to build Pebble Mine, an enormous industrial mining operation. The Pebble deposit is a massive storehouse of gold, copper, and molybdemum, located in the headwaters of the Kvichak and Nushagak Rivers, two of the eight major rivers that feed Bristol Bay. If built, this would be North America’s largest open-pit mine and one of the largest mines in the entire world. Due to the size, geochemistry, and location, Pebble Mine would run a dangerously high risk of polluting Bristol Bay — and risk destroying a $1.5 billion commercial and sport salmon fishery that represents nearly 75% of local jobs in Bristol Bay.


The good news is that you can help, and it starts with the tip of your fork. Buying Bristol Bay salmon provides economic incentive to protect Bristol Bay’s resources.

You’ve got to Eat It to Save It.

What to do? Take action and find out the latest at and the Save Bristol Bay Facebook page.

Where to buy? Click here for a list of suppliers and retailers suggested by Trout Unlimited. Also, I contacted Sea to Table, a business that partners with local fishermen from small-scale sustainable wild fisheries, finding better markets for their catch. Sea to Table delivers overnight and direct from the source. This reduces time and cost,  allows diners to know the ’who, how and where’ of the fish, and creates a direct connection from fisherman to chef.

Thanks so much for reading. It may all seem very overwhelming, but the choices we make, one meal at a time, add up. Together we can make a difference.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!


Poached Salmon with Herb Mustard Sauce
Serves 4

My grandparents drove their motor home all the way from Georgia to Alaska three or four times. Dede loved Alaska, mostly because he liked salmon fishing. They would fish and then my grandmother would process it in her canning kettle in her tiny motor home kitchen. They’d return with cases and cases of salmon preserved in mason jars. I was in my twenties before I ever tasted commercially canned salmon.

3 cups water
2 cups dry white wine
2 to 4 sprigs tarragon, leaves coarsely chopped and stems reserved
2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 carrot, sliced
Coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper
4 (5-ounce) skinless salmon fillets
2 cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced
½ cup Dijon mustard
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the greens

First, you need to prepare a court bouillon to poach the salmon: combine the water, wine, tarragon stems (leaves reserved), bay leaves, peppercorns, and carrot. Bring to a boil over high heat, then decrease the heat to low. Simmer gently for 15 to 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Then, we set aside some of the liquid to chill the salmon instead of letting it cool in the hot liquid which would overcook it, or, cooling it in cold water which would dilute the flavor. Fill a large, heavy-duty sealable plastic bag filled with ice cubes. Place a bowl over a bowl of ice and transfer several cups of the court bouillon in a bowl. Place the ice pack in the bowl of broth; move the pack around until the broth is well chilled (drain the bag and add more ice to it as needed). Set the chilled court bouillon aside.

Return the heat to high and bring the remaining mixture to a rolling boil. Add the salmon fillets. Cover and simmer for 7 minutes.

To chill the salmon: Remove from the heat and remove the salmon from the poaching liquid. Transfer to the chilled court bouillon and allow the salmon to cool in the bouillon. Cover the fish and broth with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours, or until you are ready to serve. (This helps boost the flavor and allows you to make it ahead without it drying out. )

For the mustard sauce: Meanwhile, put the mustard in a small bowl. Whisk the olive oil into the mustard in a slow, steady stream. Stir in the reserved chopped tarragon leaves. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.

When you are ready to serve, put the greens in a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss to combine. Arrange the greens on a platter Remove the salmon from the broth and pat dry with paper towels. Top the greens with the salmon and garnish with the sliced cucumber. Serve, passing the mustard sauce separately.

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, Thanks so much.

Photo credits – Virginia Willis

Copyright © 2013 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc.

Quick Weeknight Dinner: “NY Times Salmon” Wednesday, Jun 6 2012 

Favorite Recipe: Copper River Salmon

The recipe in the photo above is one of my new favorite dishes. We’ve been buying Copper River Sockeye Salmon at the local fishmonger and I’ve asked for it 2 times in less than 2 weeks. I love it. I love the dish, it’s so tasty. I love it’s a family dish with a well-loved, spattered recipe. (I also love it’s being made for me instead of the other way round!)

See the note in the corner under the splotch? Where it says “NY Times” and directly underneath it the word “superb?”  I adore that the descriptive is the word “superb” not “good” or a star or checkmark. Considering the cookery wordsmith who wrote it, of course it is.

Recipe Attribution and Testing

When I said I was going to write about it in this week’s blog my highly ethical salmon chef said, “It’s not an original. I think it’s from the NY Times.” (It wasn’t until a bit later I understood the scribble in the corner.)  I googled a bit and discovered the original recipe was from 1996. There’s been a lot of fuss and worry about recipe testing – or the lack thereof – and plagiarizing amongst a group of culinary professionals in the blogosphere of late. In regards to recipe writing, I came to a powerful realization a few weeks ago.

I can’t worry about what I am not, I can only worry about what I am.

It makes me crazy to read blog posts that have recipes that I can tell clearly don’t work or that are essentially overblown ads. Several weeks ago I saw a post with a recipe for really delicious looking grilled herbed chicken — but the bean recipe was to heat the can of beans. I saw another popular blogger had softly lit, shallow focus bags of frozen vegetables in her post. Seriously.

You know what? I don’t have to read them so I don’t. And, if a company or a PR firm wants to pay that person for those recipes – tested or untested, original or stolen –  then so be it.

I can’t worry about what I am not, I can only worry about what I am.

Earlier this week a journalist interviewed me and relayed praise that Central Market Cooking School raved about my recipes and how well they work. I was thrilled and it brought a big smile to my face. I love teaching at Central Market and it’s very professionally satisfying that I have their respect.

I can’t worry about what I am not, I can only worry about what I am. You know, that’s a whole lot of freedom.

In terms of the “NY Times Salmon” I’ve made a small number of changes in the original. There’s some magic number, supposedly 3, that transfers recipe attribution. Frankly, my version is probably altered enough that I could more than likely get away with not acknowledging the original source from 16 years ago.  This isn’t a famous recipe like like  Julia Child’s Reine de Saba or Kevin Gillespie’s Onion Bacon Jam. After all, there’s no copyrighting of recipes, which is part of the larger issue, and no one would know.

I would know — as would my kind and honest salmon-cooking wordsmith. And, that’s what’s only worrying about what you are and what you are not really means.

Bon Appétit Y’all

PS For quick, inexpensive, and sustainable keep in mind that Costco Wholesale market sells only MSC certified fish and adheres to Seafood Watch Guidelines. 

Broiled Lemon Herb “NY Times” Salmon
Serves 4 to 6

According to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute  salmon are born inland in freshwater rivers then migrate to live in the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean where  they grow to adulthood eating foods like shrimp, herring, and other marine life. At the end of their lifespan they return to the streams where they were born to spawn.

The Copper River derives its name from the rich copper deposits found along its riverbank. The salmon travel over 300 miles from the ocean to reach their spawning grounds. This arduous journey requires extra stores of omega-3 fatty acids that make these salmon some of the most prized salmon in the world.

1 large salmon filet, scaled, with skin and pin bones removed (about 1 1/2 pounds)
3 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons tamari, preferably wheat free
6 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, thyme leaves, cilantro, and chives
3 tablespoons sesame oil
1/4 cup extra virgin oil
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 sweet onion, preferably Vidalia, thinly sliced, optional
Coarse Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the salmon in a shallow ovenproof baking dish or rimmed half sheet pan. Set aside. Combine the garlic, sugar, soy sauce, herbs, oils, lemon zest and lemon juice in a bowl. Stir to combine and pour over salmon. Turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate to marinate, 30 minutes to an 1 hour. (Set the table and do your other food prep. Pour a glass of wine.)

Meanwhile, place the top rack about 4-inches from the heat source. Heat the oven to broil. About 15 minutes before ready to cook, remove the salmon to the counter to take the chill off and come to room temperature. Scatter around sliced onions. Broil to medium rare, 5 to 7 minutes depending on the strength of your broiler. Serve immediately.

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, Thanks so much.

Food pics by me.

Simple Summer Suppers: Everyday to Entertaining Friday, Jul 8 2011 

Tonight, I’m visiting friends in Westchester, NY. It’s a somewhat cool night. Well, mostly and at least to me, who is used to Georgia in July. It is in the 90s in Atlanta and it’s in the upper-70s here. Indoors is too warm for comfort without AC, but dinner on the porch was quiet and comfortable. First our hostess put out some easy nibbles for before dinner. Then, we enjoyed a selection of salads from a local gourmet shop. Entertaining guests in summer doesn’t have to be difficult. A nice loaf of ciabatta and a chilled white made a simple summer supper.

Earlier today, we enjoyed a casual business lunch and even in the middle of the day, the breeze was nice. I served fresh lettuces and arugula from our garden mixed with handfuls of parsley, basil, tarragon, and chives. After the rain last night I was able to harvest our 1st yellow squash. It was so sweet, I didn’t even want to cook it. I very thinly sliced it and tossed it with the salad in a sherry dressing with extra virgin olive oil. On the side we had cucumbers, Vidalia onion, and radishes in rice wine vinegar with chervil and dill. I also served cold roast chicken from a large hen I cooked last night with spicy Dijon mustard.

Simple, simple, simple.

Both meals were enjoyed al fresco and both meals were exceedingly easy. I commented as we sat watching the fireflies in the twilight that the meals today reminded me of eating in France.

Everyone thinks that French food is so fanciful, but I think the French revel in simple summer suppers. The honestly of the food and good ingredients, the concept of doing as little to something as possible so as not to mess it up, is what the French do best.

Truth is, sometimes that simplicity can be unnervingly hard to achieve. My life isn’t that perfect all the time, believe me. Sometimes it’s one of Jared’s sandwiches from Subway, not simple.

But – the thing, or at least my thing – is to try. I don’t have a garden in Atlanta, but I do try to go by the Grant Park Farmers Market to buy fresh, local produce. To find a farmers market in your area, check out I find the vegetables are so much fresher they last longer.

It’s about sharing food with friends and family, and not the drive through. It’s about asking that seemingly sisyphean question, “What’s for dinner?” and being able to answer with good, simple, food — for both everyday and when entertaining.

Two friends and colleagues of mine, Meredith Deeds and Carla Snyder have released a great new book, Everyday to Entertaining: 200 Sensational Recipes That Transform from Casual to Elegant. It’s seasonless, and while I am certain it will be great anytime of the year, it also seems perfectly suited for summer. I am enjoying it immensely.

I love their approach to the recipes. They’ve organized their cookbook in a strategic way that makes “everyday” simple to navigate, and “entertaining” easy to accomplish. Each section has side-by-side instructions for everyday and entertaining. They come equipped with supplies, cook time, start-to-finish time, and how many it will serve.

It’s dead simple and the recipes are delicious. I’m sharing some of their recipes here I think you’ll enjoy with farm-fresh summer produce. I’m also including their super easy recipe for salmon. (Make sure to only buy sustainably sourced salmon. For more on that, check out what Seafood Watch has to say.) And, we’ll finish up with classic chocolate mousse.

What’s not to like about classic chocolate mousse? I’ll take that everyday OR entertaining!

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

PS. This may seem antithetical to shopping at the local farmers market, and it is to a great extent. But it’s good news for Costco shoppers. The US farm-raised Steelhead Trout at Costco is rated by Seafood Watch as a Best Choice and would be excellent, here. Suburbanites can be sustainable, too.

Corn, Zucchini and Basil Fritters
Adding zucchini to these corn fritters takes them to the next taste level. And it gives you another use for the proliferation of zucchini that land on your porch, aka the surplus from ardent neighborhood gardeners. Thank heavens for the many uses the zucchini inspires, from sweet zucchini bread to these toothsome hotcakes.

Make Ahead
The fritters can be made up to 1 hour ahead and kept in a warm (200°F) oven.

Makes 10 fritters
Hands-on time 35 minutes
Start to finish 35 minutes

• Preheat oven to 200°F (100°C)
• Baking sheet, lined with parchment paper

1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
1⁄2 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
1⁄2 cup minced onion
1⁄4 cup minced red bell pepper
1⁄4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1⁄4 tsp baking soda
1⁄4 tsp salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 large zucchini (about 6 oz), grated
2 tbsp coarsely sliced fresh basil
2 tbsp minced flat-leaf parsley
1 large egg, beaten
1⁄4 cup milk
1⁄4 cup sour cream
3 tbsp vegetable oil, divided
Sour cream, optional

1. In a large bowl, combine corn, cornmeal, onion, bell pepper, flour, sugar, lemon zest, baking soda, salt, black pepper and cayenne. Add grated zucchini, basil and parsley.
2. In a small bowl, combine egg, milk and sour cream. Add to dry ingredients and stir just until combined. Be careful not to overmix.
3. In a large skillet, heat 1 tbsp (15 mL) of the oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add scant 1⁄4 cup (60 mL) of the batter per fritter. Flatten with tines of a fork and tidy up the edges. Fry for about 2 minutes, flip and cook other side for 2 minutes more or until browned and cooked through. (The fritters will be a little more fragile to turn than the previous recipe, but they will also be more vegetal and less bready as a result of the added zucchini.) Transfer fritters as they are cooked to prepared baking sheet and keep warm in preheated oven. Continue to cook remaining batter in the same manner, adding more oil and adjusting heat between batches as necessary.
4. Garnish with sour cream, if desired.

Cornmeal. All cornmeal is not created equal. Though any cornmeal will do, searching out fresh stone-ground cornmeal will reap tantalizing rewards. The coarse texture and enhanced flavor of a locally grown and ground product will add pizzazz to everything that you make with it.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Salmon with Rosemary Butter

Yes, we enjoy a challenge, but what we love even more is something that’s easy but looks like a challenge. This prosciutto-wrapped salmon certainly fits into that category. The simply seasoned seafood is encased in a paper-thin slice of prosciutto, baked, then topped with a dollop of rosemary-spiked butter. By the time the savory little package reaches the table, the hot salmon has melted the butter, creating the easiest sauce ever.

Serves 6
Hands-on time 10 minutes
Start to finish 25 minutes

Make Ahead
The salmon fillets can be seasoned and wrapped with the prosciutto up to 8 hours ahead and kept covered and refrigerated.

• Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C)
• Baking sheet, lined with parchment paper
Rosemary Butter
1⁄4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
11⁄2 tsp minced fresh rosemary
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 salmon fillets (each 6 oz/175 g), skin removed
6 paper-thin slices prosciutto

1. Rosemary Butter: In a small bowl, whisk together butter, rosemary, 1⁄4 tsp salt and 1⁄4 tsp pepper. Set aside.
2. Season salmon lightly with salt and pepper. Gently wrap one slice of prosciutto around each fillet. Place fillets on prepared baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until salmon is just cooked through and flakes easily when tested with a sharp knife.
3. Place a dollop of Rosemary Butter atop each salmon fillet and serve.

Paper-Thin Slices of Prosciutto. Although you can buy prosciutto at almost any grocery store deli counter, you can’t always find someone who knows how to slice it and package it. Prosciutto in most instances should be sliced nearly see-through thin. If the slicing is done correctly, stacking them together in the typical deli style will mean you’ll have to tear them to shreds trying to get them apart. The solution: single layering in sets of two or three on pieces of wax paper (or whatever paper the deli uses).

Chocolate Mousse
Luscious, decadent and done in a flash – we’re already in love, and we haven’t even got to the chocolate part yet. Our version of chocolate mousse is as simple as it gets. All we do is melt a generous amount of good-quality chocolate with a splash of coffee and fold it into a billowing cloud of whipped cream. How easy is that?

A higher percentage of cocoa makes for a more intense and less sweet chocolate flavor.

Make Ahead
Chocolate Mousse can be made 1 day ahead and kept covered and refrigerated.

Serves 6 to 8
Hands-on time 20 minutes
Start to finish 20 minutes

• Large pastry bag and tip, optional

8 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
4 oz bittersweet (dark) chocolate, chopped
(see Tip)
1⁄4 cup strong brewed coffee
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch salt
3 cups heavy or whipping (35%) cream

1. In a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, combine semisweet and bittersweet chocolates and coffee. Stir until melted and smooth. Remove bowl from simmering water and whisk in vanilla and salt. Set aside and let cool to room temperature.
2. In a chilled bowl, using an electric mixer, whip cream until soft peaks form. Fold about one-quarter of the whipped cream into the melted chocolate to lighten. Add chocolate mixture to remaining whipped cream and fold gently to combine. Transfer mousse to pastry bag and pipe or simply spoon into chilled serving cups or bowls.

Stainless Steel Mixing Bowls. When a double boiler is not in your kitchen cabinet, a stainless steel bowl comes to the rescue and does double duty as a mixing bowl and an efficient heatproof container to set on a pan of simmering water.

Excerpted from Everyday to Entertaining by Meredith Deeds and Carla Snyder © 2011 Robert Rose Inc. Reprinted with permission.

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, Thanks so much.

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