And who won? Obviously the partridge because he got to eat the salmon – both of them! The Friday night May 25th Get Jesse segment of KING 5 News featured a taste off of Copper River Chinook vs. Washington marbled Chinook. Where is the partridge in this scenario?
Consumer reporter Jesse Jones invited Danny Bonaduce, morning cohost on 102.5 KZOK, to act as the official taster of the salmon at Diane’s Market Kitchen in Pike Place Market. In the way of many actors with success early in their careers, Danny is best known for his role as Danny Partridge on the 70’s sitcom the Partridge Family. Chef Diane LaVonne expertly prepared the competing salmon fillets and offered them bite by bite to Bonaduce. While each taste of the wild salmon elicited sounds of agreeableness, it was the Copper River that Danny preferred.
Did this bother me? Not really. Well, okay, just a little because Washington marbled Chinook is the locally caught fish and who doesn’t cheer for the hometown team?
My husband and I fish for Chinook off the Washington coast in the months of May and June before we head north to Alaska to chase the Chinook in those waters. For years we have been eating Chinook from both Alaska and Washington and loving them both for what they are: our favorite fish and what we serve when we celebrate with our friends and family.
What Danny did in the taste off was proclaim his preference for one Chinook over another. His preference. Is it my preference? No. I like the Chinook I catch. Ask any fisherman; the fish they catch are the best tasting fish, regardless of whether the fish are caught in Alaska, Washington or any of the other places where Chinook are swimming. One thing all fishermen can agree on is that the fish comes from the water inherently delicious; nature does that not the fishermen. It is the quick, careful handling and icy cold storage of wild fish by fishermen that turns the catch into seafood of superior quality.
A few things were left on the editing room floor for that KING 5 segment. After all, you can only get so much in a 3:21 minute segment. Such as what is Washington marbled Chinook?
Marbled Chinook are predominantly caught in Washington salmon fisheries. Like its red and white school mates, marbled Chinook is rich in both flavor and nutrition. The color difference refers to the flesh of the fish as the silver sided exterior of all color Chinook looks the same. Only once the fish is cut open will the fishermen know if the Chinook they caught is red, white or marbled. The marbled Chinook will have varying degrees of white and red marbled through the fillets. While Washington caught Chinook will be available fresh in season at Seattle area fish markets, the daily variable of what color Washington Chinook is found in the seafood cases will be determined by what color Chinook was caught by the fishermen on their last fishing trip.
All wild salmon are fabulous animals and a part of our Northwest heritage but not all wild salmon taste the same. This is in part because there are five species of salmon indigenous to the Pacific Northwest – Chinook a.k.a. King, Sockeye sometimes called Red Salmon, Coho or Silvers, Chum or Dog (also sold as Keta) and Humpies or Pinks.
In addition to each species of wild salmon having a unique flavor profile, another aspect of the taste difference in wild salmon is where they were caught and when they were caught. Much like the terroir of wine, the taste wine grapes absorb from the soil in the region in which they are grown, wild salmon caught in different regions will taste different from each other. This is because salmon in different regions are eating different food at different times of the year. A salmon dining on herring as its staple food will taste different from one who had krill or squid available to feed on.
If you are a fan of oysters you have become familiar with and look forward to the different flavors that the briny bivalves from different bodies of water will offer you. Should we call this merroir? Bring this same anticipation for a new flavor experience to the table with you when you eat wild salmon. Make sure to ask you fishmonger or waiter where the fish you are about to enjoy was caught.
While the 2004 movie Sideways dissed merlot, it at the same time sparked a convivial debate of the wine varietal’s merits. The popping of corks in cafes and kitchens could be heard nationwide. So I ask the wild salmon eating public, what is your preference? Copper River Chinook or Washington marbled Chinook? The only way to know is to eat both fish side by side in your own backyard taste test. You might find your preference for one fish to be different than that of your tasting companions. They are both great fish, taste ambassadors from the waters they are native to.
I am a fisherman not a gambler but I would put my money on this: you may buy Copper River Chinook for your own personal taste off but I bet locally caught Washington Chinook of all colors will be the fish you bring home again and again from the seafood market or grocery store.
Commercial Salmon fisherman Amy Grondin’s homeport is Port Townsend, WA. When not fishing she works in commercial fisheries outreach and sustainable seafood consulting.