The King Of Salmon

Fishing on the Mighty Columbia River

The Mighty Columbia River

No other river captures the heart and soul of the Pacific Northwest quite like the mighty Columbia River, known to native tribes as Wimahl, Nch’i-Wàna or Swah’netk’qhu. Its story encapsulates thousands of years of human history, interweaving tales of native Americans, discovery, exploration, hydroelectric energy, logging and unparalleled fishing within its waterways.

90 Year Old Salmon Fisherman Les Clarke on the Columbia River.

Overfishing and Dams

Overfishing since the late 1800s dramatically reduced populations. Canneries operating since 1867 exported millions of pounds of canned salmon worldwide every year. By the early 1900s, the decline was so noticeable that laws and regulations were drafted and passed. Conservation became an issue.

Hanford Site

A fifty mile stretch of the river passes through the heavily polluted Hanford site, located near the confluence of the Columbia, Yakima, and Snake rivers, near the Idaho Washington border. It was designed and built by DuPont on an experimental design by Enrico Fermi in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project for the war effort. Its plutonium was used in the bomb that devastated Nagasaki.

Salmon Whisperer and Commercial Fisherman Les Clarke

Salmon fisherman and legend Les Clarke

The Wagyu of Salmon

Columbia River kings have a higher oil and fat content of about 22% compared to Alaskan salmon at 16%. This is attributed to thousands of years of adapting to their environments. King salmon start their lives in freshwater tributaries before heading out to sea for 4 or 5 years. When they return, they stop eating as soon as they leave the ocean. They subsist on fat reserves till they reach their spawning grounds.

Rex Zach, Yakima Fisherman

Native Yakima fishing platforms along the Columbia River

A Yakima Legend of Overfishing and Sustainability

The Creator taught the people how to care for this food which was created especially for them. He said, “Do not neglect this food. Be careful that you do not break the rules in taking care of this salmon. Do not take more than you need”.

Escalope of Columbia River king salmon in a sorrel sauce.

Troisgros Brothers Escalope of Salmon in Sorrel

To properly celebrate perhaps the world’s best salmon I go to a time-honored recipe from one of the world’s great cooking duo, the Troisgros brothers. Over fifty years ago they made salmon in a sorrel sauce and enduring classic. I could think of no other dish to prepare with this beautiful king.

Columbia River King Salmon with Red Sorrel

One of the easiest and most classic of all salmon preparations made famous by the Troisgros brothers

  • 2 tablespoons butter

Sorrel Sauce

  • 2 shallots chopped
  • 2 cups fish stock
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 2 tablespoons vermouth
  • 1.5 cups cream
  • 1-ounce butter
  • 1/2 lemon juices
  • 3 ounces sorrel chopped

Prepping the King Salmon

  1. Remove any bones from the salmon with needle nose pliers.
  2. Cut skin off filet, then cut salmon into two equal pieces.
  3. Cut each piece in half horizontally, cover in parchment paper and flatten slightly with a meat tenderizer or bottom of a saucepan. The goal is to make all four pieces the same dimensions. Reserve till you finish the sauce.

Making the Sorrel Sauce

  1. Mix chopped shallots, fish stock, white wine and vermouth in a sauce pot, and reduce over moderate to a glaze.
  2. Add cream and simmer for five minutes, or until thickened.
  3. Strain into a clean pot, whisk in butter and season with lemon juice. Lemon juice cuts the fat and adds depth and layers to the mouthfeel.
  1. Add sorrel to the hot sauce, and spoon immediately onto a plate.
  2. Top with salmon and serve at once.

Recipe Notes

It’s hard to believe a dish so simple and easy was the wunderkind of Michelin three-star restaurants for so long. It is a tribute and testament to the careful attention in sourcing the absolute best ingredients to use in your cuisine. The best food in the food is the least complicated.

My earliest attempt at cookery began with the filleting of my sister's goldfish at age 2 and cooking my pet rabbits by age 7. Life has been downhill ever since.