Beginning in April and throughout the summer, wild Pacific salmon leave the ocean and swim upriver to spawn in streams where they were born.
Their journey has been a cause for celebration for centuries. Natives of the Pacific Northwest honored the salmon’s annual return to its home waters with rituals of food and song, and today’s residents of the Northwest celebrate salmon season with equal zeal.
Grocery stores and restaurants proclaim the arrival of the first salmon on signboards and menus. Seattle locals crowd the fish stalls at Pike Place Market, the city’s famous farmers’ market.
Christine Keff, executive chef-owner of Seattle’s Flying Fish, most often grills salmon by basting it with a simple lemon-butter sauce. As she notes, “Really good fish doesn’t need much.” Ditto for Tom Douglas at Etta’s Seafood Restaurant who claims that “when you work hard to find the very best product, you shouldn’t screw it up by overcooking it or covering it with a gloppy sauce”.
The Pacific Northwest natives agreed. Their traditional method was to roast salmon on cedar and alder planks staked around a pit fire, a method that’s easy to simulate today. Conveniently packaged (and untreated) in a size practical for any grill, today’s wood planks add subtle smoky aromas that enhance the flavor of salmon. One taste and we predict you’ll be seduced by salmon, roasted Pacific Northwest-style with wood, smoke and fire.
By Judith Dern, a food writer in Seattle.