Circa 1995, A Tip from Mom: Eat More Salmon

Funny how a simple phone call from mom can chart a new course.

Back in 1995 my mom called me. I was living in Seattle and was a new mother. Mom was sitting at the kitchen table at home on Long Island. She didn’t beat around the bush. She got right to the point and told me I needed to eat more salmon. Huh?

Mom had read an article in The New York Times that morning and it was based on research coming out of Seattle’s University of Washington. Published on November 1, 1995 and entitled “Study Finds Anew a Benefit in Eating Fish,” the article presented findings from a six -year King County study that clearly showed how eating even moderately sized servings of seafood rich in omega three fatty acids held promising health benefits.

I soon received that hand clipped article as well as others addressing Vitamin D, darkness, breast cancer risk and more.  They all mentioned the benefits of eating oily rich fish such as salmon. I took it to heart.

After all, beautiful wild salmon was readily available at the seafood counters and in the local waters all over Seattle and frankly I found it to be a restorative and positive way to take action on a brutal reality that wasn’t fun, pleasant or even remotely palatable.

You see, my mom was 2800 miles away suffering through metastatic breast cancer and would soon undergo a bone marrow transplant with a tragic outcome. My older sister, who was 36 years old had just conquered breast cancer and intensive chemotherapy. As for me, I was only 30 years old and was faced with a tsunami of risk heading my way.

Back then I was actively participating in the High Risk Breast Clinic at the University of Washington. When I moved to Seattle, the specialists at NY’s Memorial Sloan Kettering had told me to go to the UW. So, I heeded their advice, and every six months I showed up at the University of Washington Medical Center for a check-up.

Although I dreaded those darn appointments, being a journalist, I always took solace in the “news” that my docs shared each time. It seemed like research was breaking new ground daily. My wonderful doctors, who faithfully followed me for the next ten years, educated me and encouraged me to participate in the new technology and warned me that “false readings” were possible but part of the research.  Hmm. Okay. And, indeed, when they were learning how to administer and read MRIs for breast cancer screening, I was on the table. I was injected. I was zoomed in and out of the MRI machine and I was often called back when some minuscule spot looked odd and they wanted to “dig further.” Dig they did.

To make a long story short, after a decade with UWMC, I was diagnosed in 2004 at the age of 39. It was early but the docs, like mom, didn’t tread lightly. I was told: “double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction.”  No chemo or radiation would be necessary because it was so early. With little waffling, I agreed and had the surgery.

I’ve never looked back and have been grateful to have nipped that nasty beast in the bud so early.

With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month and National Seafood Month, I was recently inspired to donate to Sea A Cure, a fundraiser bridging the seafood industry and the cutting edge research being done at  City of Hope.  The fundraiser popped up on my Facebook page and it resonated instantly.

For me, it was the amazing doctors and researchers, both here and in NYC, who dedicated their careers to finding solutions and better detection methods but it was also that simple no nonsense call from mom that cold rainy day in 1995.

Since then, I’ve known that I can’t always fix exactly what might ail me but I sure can take the helm and dish up a hefty dose of prevention right in my own little kitchen. That’s why over the years, wild salmon, as well as many other types of seafood, have played a big role in my every day cooking, writing and recipe development.  It’s quick, easy, delicious, versatile, widely available and ridiculously good for you. What’s not to love? Clearly mom was on to a good thing!

If you want to see some of my salmon articles and recipes, click here and here.

If you are interested in knowing more about the Sea A Cure Friends of the Seafood Industry fundraiser click here. For more about City of Hope, check out these informative links.

 

 

Copper River Gravlax: Recipe Refresh!

Sometimes you get in a recipe rut. You make the same version of a recipe time and again. Then, there are instances when you decide you need a reboot.

You need to bust a rut and revisit your technique.

That’s exactly what happened to me last May.

I was attending the Nordic Culinary Conference at the Nordic Heritage Museum and Andreas Viestad, the author of Kitchen of Light and the host of the PBS Television series New Scandinavian Cooking was giving a demo on gravlax.  My husband and I have been making gravlax for years but I thought it would be fun to learn or explore a new technique.

Generally, when we make it we use wild salmon that has been frozen and we make it during the winter months,usually around Christmas. We also used kosher salt and follow a recipe that essentially had us “burying” the salmon in salt. The results were good but I felt they could be better.

Hello, Nordic Culinary Conference!

While discussing the history and culture of gravlax and working at a very basic set up in the museum’s gym, Andreas sparked my Gravlax Recipe Reboot! He used a far gentler hand when curing his gravlax and he discussed the merits of curing the wild salmon first and then freezing it.  Aside from neutralizing any potential health issues with eating wild salmon raw, this curing THEN freezing method also results in a superior end product because Andreas explained that the curing breaks down some of the proteins in the fish and removes excess water in the flesh before the fish is frozen.

At the end of that class we were all treated to tastings of his version. Memorable morsels indeed.

At home, I anxiously awaited the launch of Copper River sockeye season and once I could get my hands on some, I adapted Andreas’s basic gravlax recipe. While standing face to fin with my Copper River sockeye, I decided to adjust Andreas’s recipe even further. He calls for curing with dill seed and peppercorn but I left those out and wrote up my own version of the technique, using an even lighter more intuitive hand. The end product is buttery, fresh and deliciously decadent.

The sockeye gravlax slices beautifully.

It drapes like silk!

Missy Trainer’s Gravlax Recipe

Adapted from Andreas Viestad, Nordic Culinary Conference (May 2016) and Kitchen of Light.

Copyright 2016 Melissa A. Trainer

Ingredients:

1 Copper River sockeye salmon, (tested with a four pounder/2016 season), filleted, pin boned, washed and patted dry lightly with paper towels

1/3 cup fine sea salt*

2/3 cup sugar

½ large bunch fresh dill, chopped coarsely

Equipment: parchment paper, Saran Wrap, large baking dish, such as Le Creuset roasting pan, small sandwich sized Tupperware containers, and four cans of Oregon Fruit Products cherries to weight the fish

Put the sockeye fillets, flesh side up on the parchment paper.   Combine the salt and sugar in a bowl and lightly sprinkle the sockeye flesh with the mixture.

I did this about three times and between each sprinkling the cure mixture would start to dissolve. This gentle subtle sprinkling technique results in a more refined texture. In the past and in many recipes they call for just dumping the mixture on the flesh, which essentially suffocates the poor bugger! After sprinkling,  rub the mixture around a little bit to distribute it.

In my method, let the salmon talk back to ya! Let it suck up some of the salt sugar mixture and rest for a second before you “load it up” again!

After three or four sprinklings, you’ll probably have some salt/sugar cure mixture left. I didn’t use it all the first time…I just set it aside in a jam jar and saved it for the next round of fish.

Then top the salmon with the chopped dill and sandwich the two fillets together. Wrap the sandwiched fillets in Saran wrap, put in the roasting pan and weight it as evenly as you can with the Tupperware and canned cherries…or corn or beans or bricks. This compresses the salmon and helps to extract that excess water.

Refrigerate and turn daily for two to three days.  Remove the cured fish, pat it dry. Do not rinse it. Leave the fresh dill intact. Cut into eight ounce chunks or whatever size you want. (Eight ounce chunks make it easy to avoid waste and use only what you need in each sitting.)

Vacuum pack if you have a Food Saver and freeze. Remove from freezer, let defrost and cut the gravlax thinly on an angle.

Drape the gravlax slices on whole grain bread, top with Scandinavian mustard and a garnish of dill.

Gravlax Twice as Good: Leftovers? Save even the smallest leftovers and tidbits and make a Scandinavian style potato salad with fresh cooked new potatoes, sour cream/mayo combo, celery, sweet onion, fresh dill and snippets of gravlax. The best!

*Salt:  In prior seasons we always just used kosher salt  but we now know that it is way too coarse and harsh. I switched to a bulk French fine sea salt from Whole Foods, which made a huge difference as the salt melts on the flesh within seconds.