Monday, March 25, 2013

Otolith's Great (Frozen) Fish

It's not from the Gorton's fisherman, thank heavens. The frozen fish sold at some Philadelphia farmers' markets by Otolith Sustainable Seafood is among the finest fish -- fresh, frozen, dried, cured, whatever -- I've tasted.

This past Saturday I quick thawed (according to package instructions) a filet of King (a.k.a. Chinook) salmon purchased in early November from Otolith's stall at the Headhouse Square Farmers' Market. I cooked it about as simply as you can: hot cast iron pan, maybe a tablespoon or two of neutral vegetable oil (expensive olive oil would be wasted in this application), just salt and pepper as seasoning. The filet (which I cut into two six ounce portions) was a tad over an inch thick, so over the medium high flame with a hot pan it just took a little over 10 minutes to cook. I served it alongside a rice pilaf studded with raisins, pine nuts, gently saut├ęd onions and par-cooked diced carrot, seasoned with half a teaspoon each fresh ground cumin and cardamom seeds and a teaspoon of ground cinnamon, plus salt and pepper.

The fish turned out succulent, beautifully colored with a deep salmon flavor. The leftover oil in the pan smelled fishy, but the fish didn't. She Who Must Be Obeyed, who detests "fishy" fish, devoured her portion. The crispy skin was a real treat: you could package this stuff and sell it next to the pork rinds at Wawa. If tuna is chicken of the sea, a good salmon is heritage pork.

Although some of the credit goes to the variety of salmon (Chinook is my favorite, closely followed by sockeye) the real reason for its deliciousness goes to the way it was caught, handled, frozen, shipped and stored.

Based on what I could divine from Otolith's website, it appears this fish was caught out of Sitka in Southeast Alaska in September. My guess is the fish was caught by trolling, in which the salmon are hooked and handled individually, rather than gathered with a seine or gillnet. The fish are headed and gutted onboard, iced, then brought ashore where they are quick frozen.

The care in handling is why frozen fish frequently can be better than fresh. That was certainly the case with the Chinook I ate this weekend: it was as good as any salmon I've ever had, including some meals in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest!

This is not a fish for the parsimonious. If I recall correctly, the filets are $23/pound. Still, that's a competitive price: it's what you'd pay for fresh Pacific Northwest Chinook at any qualify fishmonger in season.

In addition to Chinook, Otolith sells Sockeye, Coho and Pink salmon, halibut, rockfish, Pacific cod, sable (a.k.a. black cod), shrimp and King crab, all from Alaskan waters.

Otolith sells most Saturdays throughout the year at the Rittenhouse Square Farmers' Market.. I expect they'll be at Headhouse when it reopens the first Sunday in May. A few retailers also carry Otolith frozen seafoods, including Green Aisle Grocery in South Philly, and, in West Philly, Milk and Honey Market and Mariposa Coop.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, the Otolith fish is truly wonderful. I'm glad you discovered it. The only drawback is: once you've had their fish it's hard to go back.

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