Just Say No to Farmed Salmon

by Russell Chatham
Holiday 2003

When I conceived the new incarnation of the Livingston Bar & Grille in 1995, I was determined that it be a unique establishment, the best to have ever existed in the northern Rocky Mountain states. The mission statement was clear: to offer only the finest products, simply and classically prepared, and served with casual yet professional dignity.

Because of the ease and efficiency of air transport today, chief among those products would be top-quality fish and shellfish. Using purveyors I had known and trusted for years, I could bring in with confidence items unheard of in a Western cow town, such as Icelandic rock lobster, wild Gulf shrimp, Australian cold-water spiny lobster and wild Nigerian tiger prawns.

This being the case, nevertheless one of the things I most wanted for my guests was Pacific salmon. To obtain salmon, and all other products indigenous to the Pacific Northwest, I planned to use a family owned business in Seattle, one of the most responsible fish dealers in the country.

Our first order consisted of two king salmon weighing about 15 pounds each. It would be filleted, oven-baked to medium rare, and served with a light dill cream sauce with bay shrimp. With it would be blanched snap peas laid on a light tomato coulis. Fresh chopped dill would be the garnish on a plate sent from heaven.

That evening I went to the restaurant with several friends, anxious to treat them to a beautiful salmon dinner. When the plates arrived, I was literally squirming for joy, and rudely launched into my meal. Within moments, I was as close to throwing up in a restaurant as I ever hope to get.

Looking furtively around, hoping it was only me who had been served a highly treacherous UFO, I saw the others picking tentatively at their meals. A veil of depression settled over me. I apologized and suggested we start over with something else.

The next morning I went to the cooler, brought out a couple of filets, and cooked them myself. The result was the same: a strange, unpleasant fishy odor and taste.

Needing to get to the bottom of the problem, I called the company's owner and explained the situation.

"Those were farm-raised fish," he told me calmly.

"Oh," I replied. Then, because I didn't know what else to say, I asked, "Why am I getting those?"

"Because that's mostly what we sell now. If you want wild troll-caught fish, you have to specify. And they're a lot more expensive."

"Oh I get it, it's the American Way: Eat shit just because it's cheap."

And all I got was a little chuckle.

About the Author

Russell Chatham is a landscape painter, lithographer, author and the publisher at Clark City Press. He has been a student of food and wine for decades, and is currently the owner/operator of the Livingston Bar & Grille. He is also a passionate, lifelong angler.