Isn’t that photo mesmerizing? Ethereal. Beautiful. No, don’t worry. I’m not about to tell you how to cook jellyfish — although they are caught off the coast of Georgia and sent to Asia, where they are preserved and served in all manner of ways.

There’s nothing as primal and pulling as water, especially the ocean. When I was a little girl and we’d go to the beach, I wasn’t happy until I had my feet in the water. I’m still that way to this day. If I am near the ocean, I am in the ocean. If I see a creek or a babbling brook, I want to wade in it.

The part I love the most about water is that I love to fish. Now, I am pretty high energy and don’t sit still too much. If I were to stand still on the edge of a body of water, I’d settle down for a little bit, but eventually? Eventually, my mind would be assembling lists and I would be thinking of all the things I need to do. I get restless. However, put a pole in my hand and I’m happy and content. I’ll sit still for hours and hours. My mind frees and it’s the most peaceful thing in the world to me.

There was a pond at my grandparent’s house and although we no longer own the property, it remains one of my most favorite places on earth. I was practically born with a fishing rod in my hand. One of my first memories was falling in the pond, the murky brown water, and the adults scampering to fish me out of the pond.

Mama said the first time I caught a fish on my own I jumped up and down so much that my diaper fell down around my ankles.

Like I said, I was born to fish.

I was also taught to respect the pond. Dede, my grandfather, explained not to keep bass that were too small. We were taught to recognize when females were swollen with eggs and release them back into the water. Fishing around the laying nests in the shallow end in the spring was forbidden, and sometimes, Dede would toss some of the bream (pronounced brim in Georgia) onto the bank if he felt like their stock was overpopulated and they were too skinny. We were taught to respect the pond and the fish it held. If a fish was hurt or maimed, we kept it regardless of size, and we always ate the fish we caught.

To this day, when I kill and gut a fresh fish I have caught, I thank that fish for its life.

About 12 years ago, I read a book that changed my life and the way I eat fish. The book was Cod: The Biography of the Fish that Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky. Not only did I quit eating cod, I started thinking about just what the heck we humans were doing to our oceans. I started applying that same respect for the fish in my family pond as I did for the fish in the ocean.

This curiosity eventually led me to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and their sustainable seafood advocacy program called Seafood Watch.

Fish and shellfish are part of a nutritionally sound diet. Seafood is high in protein, low in saturated fat, and contains heart-healthy omega-3s, which help boost immunity and reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer and other ailments. Omega-3s are especially important for pregnant and nursing women and young children.

The deal is, according to Seafood Watch, nearly 75% of the world’s fisheries are fished to capacity, or overfished.

Programs such as the Seafood Watch or the Marine Stewardship Council offer information to help you choose seafood that’s good for you — and good for the oceans. Using a simple red means no, yellow means caution, and green means go color system, Seafood Watch recommends which seafood to buy or avoid, helping consumers and businesses become advocates for ocean-friendly seafood.

These recommendations are available online, in printed pocket guides, or even downloadable on mobile devices. Whole Foods Market has started labeling their fish with the Seafood Watch color coding system as well as the MSC-certified seal of approval. The choices we make as consumers can make this situation worse, or improve it. Seafood Watch recommendations consider the fishery, habitat, species, management, and a host of other factors that affect each species.

Another book that has had a huge impact on me and my opinion and my seafood choices is called Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food written by Paul Greenberg. It’s about the 4 archetypes of fish flesh — starting at the shore with salmon and moving further out into the ocean with bass, cod, and then finally tuna, the fish that swims the length of the ocean. It’s brilliant. I was fortunate enough to meet Paul at Cooking for Solutions, an event held to raise funds and awareness about Seafood Watch and sustainable seafood. (Here’s a snap of me serving up shrimp and grits and fried catfish for the Savor the Gulf Coast Champagne Breakfast.)

In Four Fish Paul examines and explores the fish that dominate our menus. How many times have you seen salmon on the menu at a fish shack on the Gulf? Too many. Paul’s tale about catching a bluefin tuna is so real, so well told, you will feel the rocking of the boat. It’s powerful. This book will make you think about what fish you choose to eat, that’s for sure. Let me put it this way, I read it twice, back to back.

Earlier this week I cooked for a business luncheon. It’s been pretty warm, so while I was planning my menu, I was thinking about cold poached chicken or salmon with an herb salad with fresh greens from the garden. When I went to the store, I saw fresh sockeye salmon. I always look for fresh, not frozen, wild salmon and when I see it, I buy it. There are seasons for harvesting and catching fish just like there are for zucchini or apples. Sockeye salmon has a full flavored firm flesh. It’s the second most abundant Alaska Salmon species. (There are different salmon species just like there are different kind of apples, too.) The distinct, deep red flesh retains its color throughout cooking.

Poaching is a fantastic way to make an easy make ahead summer lunch or supper. I made mine the night before and chilled it in the refrigerator overnight. That way, I had precious little to do right before the big lunch. I think you’ll enjoy it.

Let me know what you think.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

PS On a whole other note, in the film “The Help” from DreamWorks Pictures and Participant Media, the food on the dinner table tells a story much deeper than the list of ingredients. Drawing inspiration from the film, TakePart brings you Every Recipe Tells a Story, a series featuring the stories behind the recipes. I was fortunate enough to be included, as was my friend and colleague, Sherri Brooks Vinton. Please check it out.

Poached Sockeye Salmon
Serves 4

3 cups water
2 cups dry white wine
2 to 4 sprigs tarragon, leaves coarsely chopped and stems reserved
2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 carrot, sliced
Coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper
4 (5-ounce) skinless salmon fillets
1 cucumber, peeled and sliced, for serving
Mayonnaise, for serving
Dijon mustard, for serving

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 to make a flavorful court-bouillon. Season with salt and pepper. Have ready a large, heavy-duty sealable plastic bag filled with ice cubes. Make an ice bath to cool the salmon by transfering several cups (or more, if needed) of the broth to a large heatproof 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). Return the heat to high and bring the remaining mixture to a rolling boil. Add the salmon fillets. Cover and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes.

Remove from the heat and remove the salmon from the poaching liquid. Transfer to the cooled broth 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 overnight until you are ready to serve.

When ready to serve, using a slotted spoon, remove the fish from the liquid. Pat dry with paper towels. Place on a chilled platter and repeat with remaining filets. Scatter cucumber slices over. Serve immediately with mayonnaise and mustard on teh side.

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, virginiawillis.com Thanks so much.