Each year I wait for it – that moment that defines that we’ve turned the corner from Spring and are moving towards Summer. For me, it has less to do with temperatures and blossoming trees, and everything to do with a Northwest tradition: The opening of Copper River Salmon season!
For the average person, it’d be easy to think that when it comes to flavor salmon is salmon (with the exception of that gawd-awful Atlantic stuff, of course). For years I, too, held firmly to the notion that within the scope of salmon options (from king to coho, sockeye to humpy) there wasn’t much discernible difference from one to the next. That notion held true until the mid 1990’s when a friend offered up a buy-in to a homepack of salmon sent down from her husband’s fishing boat just off the Copper River in Cordova. Boy, was I wrong!
Copper River’s salmon spend their end-days in the most frigid of environments. Milky waters run through a narrow glacier-lined gap in the shadow of southeastern Alaska’s Chugach mountains creating the Copper River. These legendary fish are the most prized for their buttery, melt-in-your-mouth texture. Spending time in these frigid glacial-fed waters powering-up for ferocious rapids means these glistening monsters develop more oil than most, producing a higher fat content. This makes for a decadent buttery taste and feel off your plate.
Enough of the back-story, here’s what’s important to know: Copper River salmon is now available in the Seattle market. While many local restaurants showcase it through the summer, I decided to make my way to a Seattle landmark for my first king salmon experience of the season. Ivar’s Salmon House sits perched on the north end of Lake Union – nestled under the ship canal bridge, next to Chihuly’s exclusive boathouse, and with captivating vistas of houseboats, float planes, boaters and a unique view of downtown Seattle. Fashioned after a traditional Duwamish longhouse (more on the Duwamish tribe here), the Salmon House boasts stunning native art, museum-worthy photos, and an open alder-pit fire that brings a traditional Northwest native style barbecue to their salmon dishes.
Oh, the salmon! I could think of no better way to welcome my first bites of the season than with the Salmon House’s Copper River Salmon Sampler. My preparation of choice was a cedar-planked version with a light-yet-sweet maple glaze nestled under a blanket of sautéed local wild mushrooms, smoked bacon and local Walla Walla sweet onions. Both king and sockeye salmon adorned my plate, allowing me to detect the subtle nuances each brought to my plate. Ivar’s special cornbread pudding, made in-house, was a welcome (and delicious) accompaniment.
The good news? You’ll find Copper River salmon’s pricing coming down as the season continues, although each particular run does have a definite date of availability. King runs through the end of the month, with Sockeye running through July and Coho ending the run in September. That’s nearly five months of delicious, fresh options for us in the Pacific Northwest!
If you’re needing a reservation at Ivar’s, or looking for suggestions in preparing your Copper River salmon at home, reach out to me on Twitter for a little one-on-one.