Pietro’s Fish: What Comes After Wild Salmon?

Fisherman Pietro Parravano is understandably upset about the 2008 wild salmon crisis –fishing this season is prohibited – but he’s used this as an opportunity for creativity. The cheerful owner/skipper of Half Moon Bay’s Anne B and a longtime fixture at the Palo Alto and Menlo Park farmers markets is offering his throngs of customers some appealing choices. Even wild salmon (but not caught by him).

To read more about what Pietro has to say about the regional salmon problem, check out a recent piece in the Almanac.

Local wild king (Chinook) salmon used to comprise a lot of what Pietro caught and sold. Now he’s offering more line-caught local halibut – including hard-to-find and delicious halibut cheeks – and other choices like sablefish (also called black cod), sand dabs, pacific snapper, ling cod and some other items acquired through his fisherman connections.

Here’s a recent for-sale board from Pietro’s stand at the Palo Alto market, some notes on each fish and cooking recommendations.

Salmon – Yes, Pietro still sells it, but he gets this wild king salmon from Alaskan fishermen and the prices are in the luxury item category. Happily, this non-local supply enables him to continue preparing the delicious smoked wild salmon and lox that have earned fans in previous seasons.

TIP: Buy Pietro’s salmon backs, which are meaty, tasty and cheap (less than $6/lb).

Cooking Suggestions:

It’s hard to beat grilled salmon filets. Rub olive oil, chopped garlic, salt and pepper on the flesh side, place skin side down on the grill, flip over after around 4 minutes and cook 2-4 minutes on the flesh side until medium rare. Serve with lemon wedges or a sauce.

Grilled salmon backs are even better, if less attractive. The bone adds lots of flavor and moisture.

Pan roasting is an excellent and easy way to prepare higher-fat fish; restaurants do it this way frequently. Preheat the oven to 350-400 degrees. Rub olive oil on the flesh side and add any desired “toppings” (chopped garlic, lemon zest shavings, roughly chopped spices like coriander and fennel seed) and salt & pepper. Coat the bottom of an oven-proof frying pan with high-heat oil (grape seed, etc.) and put on high heat. Add the salmon, skin side down. Sear for 2 minutes or less. Move into preheated oven for ~12 minutes or less (for medium rare).

Salmon cakes are delicious! And cheap, when using salmon backs. See recipe.

Local Halibut – This is a delicious fish with a moist, meaty texture and rich but mild flavor. Pietro also sells halibut cheeks, but these often run out early in the day. The cheeks can be fresh or frozen. Unlike with most fillets, freezing doesn’t seem to ruin the texture of the cheeks, which are dense and don’t flake like fillets do.

Cooking Suggestions:

Use the same grilling and pan-roasting techniques as with salmon fillets (see above) but cook slightly longer. Halibut has an affinity for many different treatments and its white color shows off sauces nicely. Recipes coming.

Halibut cheeks are terrific sautéed. Recipe coming.

Wild Shrimp – Purveyed from fishermen Pietro knows who catch these little beauties in the gulf, this item is to farmed supermarket prawns what fresh English peas are to dreary canned peas. Pietro says, “they taste like shrimp is supposed to” and he’s completely right. They’ll be juicier and have a slightly richer taste if cooked in the shell, but they’re more messy to eat that way. If removing the shells, save and freeze them for making divine homepage stock. These shrimp are medium large but cook quite quickly; don’t overcook them! They come frozen, but this doesn’t take too much away from their enjoyment.

Cooking Suggestions:

Lightly marinate and grill (quickly)

Sautee in olive oil or butter, diced shallots and/or diced garlic, and lemon juice or wine (in case of the latter, make sure to cook off the alcohol), throwing in chopped fresh herbs at the end (dill, parsley, tarragon, or whatever you like)

A fast, easy approach is to use a version of en papillote (baked in parchment) in which the shrimp are tossed with olive oil, lemon juice or wine, garlic and/or shallots, herbs, etc. and placed inside foil packages in which the seams are tightly closed. These can be cooked on a low burner on the stovetop or in the oven.

More recipes coming.

Sand Dabs – This mild flat fish is particularly good crusted and fried. Here’s a terrific recipe from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Sablefish/black cod is a silky-fleshed fish that deserves broader popularity, since it’s got the same omege-3 level as salmon and is quite delicious. It can be pan-roasted, baked or grilled (although the latter isn’t really optimal) in similar fashion to salmon and halibut. It particularly lends itself to Japanese fusion recipes. Renowned celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa (who runs the Nobu restaurants) has a #1 signature dish called Black Cod with Miso. Epicurious printed the recipe from his cookbook, but it’s a bit of work. Bon Appetit’s June issue has a simplified iteration that I simplified further. Recipe coming.

Pacific snapper and ling cod – These lower-fat, mild fish, sweet-tasting fish are best roasted, baked or sauteed. If super-fresh, they’re also great in ceviche.

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