WHAT'S SO SPECIAL ABOUT COPPER RIVER SALMON?
Copper River salmon particularly its king and sockeye salmon gets its reputation from high fat content. The salmon have to pack on huge fat stores because once they leave the ocean, they don't eat, and they have 300 miles to go up the Copper River before they spawn and die.
Still, it's possible to ruin great fish with careless handling. "I think a lot of the quality has to do with the way we treat our fish," said Fishwives food truck owner Mikal Berry, whose husband is a commercial fisherman.
Quality guidelines for Copper River and Prince William Sound fishermen require them to bring in drift gill nets after no more than one to two hours to ensure that the fish are alive when brought onto the boat, then bleeding fish immediately after getting them on the boat to ensure that their flesh remains firm, and storing them in a cold slush made of chipped ice and sea water to prevent decay. There's even a barge that provides ice to the fishing boats.
BUYING COPPER RIVER SALMON
Professionals in Cordova, Alaska chefs as well as commercial fishermen recommend buying Copper River salmon from a local fishmonger. There's a store locator online at http://copperriversalmon.org/ locate.
Connoisseurs can also look up direct marketers operations that catch the fish, process them and sell them to eliminate middlemen. There's a list of direct marketers on the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association website: http://copperrivermarketing.org/ resources/direct-market-fishermen.
Fishwives food truck owner Mikal Berry and her husband are direct marketers whose customers include the Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant in New York.
You can also buy Copper River salmon on Amazon.com (smoked) and at Costco.com, which will ship it frozen.
TIPS FOR SPORT ANGLERS WHO VISIT CORDOVA
September is the big sport fishing season in Cordova, when fly fishermen target silver or coho salmon, and Orca Adventure Lodge chef Jeremy Storm has one important piece of advice for visiting anglers: "Recognize how many you're going to eat in a year. Figure out how much you want." It's easy to overdo it, he said.
"And spend the money to have it vacuum-packed and flash frozen," he said.
While some species of salmon last a long time frozen, others don't. "Kings don't hold up as well they start to break down after four, five, six months," Storm says. "Plan on eating those sooner."
And while it's not always easy for the busy home cook to do this, Storm recommends thawing the fish slowly in the refrigerator, rather than immersing it in cold water (which works quickly) or thawing it in the microwave. He's seen a noticeable difference in quality in fish thawed slowly.