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'Craft raised' salmon impresses Chicago chefs

Friday, November 16, 2012

Like any farm, at some point, it's time to harvest, and on the western edge of Vancouver Island - where Canada meets the Pacific - thousands of "craft raised" salmon are raised in pens near Nootka sound.

"So they've managed to get the fish into a small pocket, which the last phase, just before they go up this sort of water slide pump system onto the harvest boat," said Stewart Hawthorn, head farmer for Skuna Bay Salmon.

On the boat, the fish are packed in ice within 15 seconds. In terms of environmental impact, Hawthorn says it takes only 1.2 pounds of feed to raise a pound of salmon; underwater cameras ensure they don't overfeed. And the fish are never overcrowded.

"Never more than 1.5 percent of the farm is fish. 98.5% of it is this beautiful, pristine, oceanic water that we've got fed by glaciers from Vancouver Island," Hawthorn said. "And we're really confident that the way we're farming here is having a very small impact on the environment."

Processing goes quickly. But only about 10 percent of the harvest is set aside for the Skuna Bay program, which has nearly 20 quality checks, all done by hand. Belly walls are checked, while fat and blood are cleaned, since those will oxidize first. The Skuna Bay salmon are packed three-to-a-box, filled and covered with pebbled ice, then shipped via truck only, preserving the cold chain, to chefs all over the country.

One of those chefs is Greg Biggers, the Executive Chef at the Hotel Sofitel, which includes the restaurant, Café des Architects. He just returned from a trip to see the farms for himself.

"The percentage of fish-to-water, and how they're keeping them and how they're raising them..These guys had the same attitude, they had the same care and passion for what they were doing as the guy 50 miles from here growing beets," said Biggers.

Biggers breaks down the fish himself, cleaning the fat and trimming them down. He'll either pan-roast a fillet, or better yet, do a brief cold smoke, over bourbon-soaked pecan chips, then carefully slice the salmon into sashimi. He pairs those delicate pieces with an assortment of flavors - yuzu gel; dollops of pink peppercorn goat's milk yogurt; beets, pickled mustard seeds, citrus and micro tatsoi greens for a refreshing appetizer.

"This fish is really fatty. It's really a great sushi fish as well, and so you need something that can cut through that thickness and that fatness that's in the Skuna Bay salmon," he said.

Café des Architectes
Hotel Sofitel
20 E. Chestnut St.
312-324-4000

Skuna Bay Salmon available locally:

312 Chicago
Acadia
Ada Street
Adelle's
Bakersfield
Bistro Bordeaux
Carnivale
The Chicago Club
Embeya
Fifteen
Fulton's on the River
Gibson's Steakhouse-Rush
Gibson's-Oakbrook
Hugo's Frog Bar-Naperville
The Local
Lux Bar
Maya Del Sol
The Meridian
Nellcote
North Shore CC Glenview
The Park Hyatt
Parker's Restaurant & Bar
Park Ridge Country Club
Perennial Virant
Renaissance Chicago Hotel
Rustica
Skokie Country Club
Sola Restaurant
Spiaggia
Standard Market-Seafood Dept
Tavern at the Park
Three Forks
Townhouse-Chicago
Treasure Island Broadway
Treasure Island Hyde Park
Treasure Island Clybourn
Treasure Island Elm
Treasure Island Wells
Union League Club
Untitled 111
Waldorf Astoria-Chicago

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