Friday, January 29, 2010

Responsible and Delicious - Yukon River Salmon at RDG

We're glad to see all sorts of responsible movements happening in the world of food.  One of our favorites is the focus on sustainable sources - the last thing we want to experience is the disappearance of great ingredients, leaving us to dine on Soylent Green burgers (We've heard they taste like chicken.)

We recently attended a dinner at the swanky new RDG that was focused on an ingredient with a great story: Yukon River Salmon.  It's a wild salmon that has been harvested for centuries by the Yup'ik Eskimos, and they have partnered with Kwik Pak Fisheries to turn their staple food into a source of income for their tribe.  The Yup'ik harvest the salmon at the mouth of the Yukon river, before the arduous journey upstream, while the fish are vibrant and full of nourishing oils (rich in Omega 3 fatty acids).  The Yup'ik tribe is a careful steward of this resource (it is literally their primary source of food) so it's a prime example of a carefully managed, sustainable resource.

But how does it taste?  We got to find out.


Oldways, a non-profit organization devoted to educating the public on better ways to eat, put together a special evening that allowed a group of people to experience Yukon River Salmon in the hands of an expert.  The expert is nationally renowned chef Robert Del Grande, who also provided the gorgeous venue for the event.

Chef Del Grande created a dinner based around salmon, serving it in several courses.  First were the appetizers, passed around as everyone met and mingled.  Salmon was served smoked with a delicate green apple tartar sauce, seared with a red chili ginger sauce, and our favorite, fried into savory-sweet beignets, offered with a creamy buttermilk sauce.
Shortly after, we were seated, and had the chance to explore some other dishes.  First out was a light, clean dish featuring cured salmon n a creamy avocado dressing, served atop a mache and frisee salad.  The flavors were cool and crisp.

Next up was steamed salmon in fennel broth, accented with giant corona beans and black olives.

Then came our favorite dish of the evening.  Wood grilled salmon in banana leaves, served with a dark roasted tomato salsa.  Here Chef Del Grande's southwestern background really shined through; the rich, earthy flavor of the wood grilled salmon was accented by the sweetness from the banana leaves, and the tangy salsa provided a tart counterpoint.  Dishes like this demonstrate the chef's unmatched mastery of southwestern cuisine.

Dessert was the only course that didn't feature salmon (Chef Del Grande quipped that he probably would have included salmon in his younger days, but we applaud his wisdom here.)  A rich chocolate cake with chocolate mousse was complemented by a unique persimmon vanilla bean soup.

We consider the even to be a wonderful experience.  We like salmon, but we were wowed by the variety of flavor profiles and textures that it can take on in the hands of a master chef.  Thank you to Oldways, Kwik-Pak Fisheries, Robert Del Grande, and the Yup'ik people for making this event possible.

Special thanks to Alison Clancy of Oldways who was on hand to answer our seeming endless questions, and who made everything run smoothly.

If you'd like to read more about this event, Ruthie Johnson has her impressions on the Houston Press web site.  And if you'd like to try some of the Yukon River Salmon at home, it's available in Houston at Central Market.

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