'Discolored' and dissed, not to be missed: Washington's own marbled King salmon

You can't judge a fish by its flesh color.

Many Washingtonians may be surprised to learn that we have a tasty, wild King salmon in our own back yard. Copper River this, Copper River that.... Although no one is going to discount Alaska's fabulous fish, if you can buy local, high-quality salmon right here in the Apple State, why not?

Washington's wild, marbled King salmon, a.k.a Chinook salmon, is high in Omega-3s, superior in taste and, unlike all the other ruby salmon swimming in the sea, our fish is two-toned in color and unique. The marbled salmon has varying amounts of both red and white flesh mixed throughout the body.

The marbled effect, a genetic anomaly, makes the salmon less pink than other varieties. That's unusual, like red hair or green eyes, and to an untrained observer could be interpreted as a sign of inferiority. That, of course, would be an oceanic mistake.

"It has been called anemic and discolored," admits Steve Wilson, a fisherman since the late 1980s and a man who sells the marbled salmon directly to consumers at farmers markets throughout Washington. "Thankfully, people don't go by looks alone - they go by taste," he says.

Three years ago at the Puyallup farmers market, Wilson gave samples of the marbled King to customers who had purchased a red King salmon. Red, white and marbled Chinook salmon are all the same species, but each has subtle taste and textural differences of its own. Wilson wanted customers to conduct their own taste test and see what they thought.

"People came back a week later and would tell us, 'The red was good, but can we buy some more of that marbled King?'" remembers Wilson. "By the end of the season we were selling more marbles than red Kings."

But don't just take Wilson's word for it.

This month, Queen Anne's very own Canlis is featuring the marbled salmon with a bing cherry reduction and crushed pistachios on their tasting menu.

Sous-chef Norm Owens is excited about serving the local salmon, and because he is a fisherman himself, appreciates that these fish are troll-caught.

Jonathan Sundstrom, renowned chef and owner of Lark restaurant, has served Washington's red, white and marbled salmon since he opened in 2003. "It doesn't get much better than this," Sundstrom says, "a wild, healthy Washington King salmon that never gets on a plane, is affordable and has its own delicious taste and unique look."

The marbled salmon are genetically distinct and only occur in the fisheries of Washington and southwest British Columbia. Fishermen believe that they originate from the tributaries of the Lower Fraser, Harrison, Vedder and Chilliwack rivers of B.C. Most of the marbled salmon are caught off the Washington coast near Neah Bay. The season begins in May and runs until the allocated quota of salmon are caught, which has been known to mean through August.

"Discolored" is shifting to "special," and as more people learn about and sample this regional salmon, its popularity is increasing.

"Due to the variables of catching fish, the marbled salmon may or may not be available," points out Amy Grondin, a consultant with Pacific Marine Conservation Council, explaining that fishermen don't know what type-red, white or marbled-fish they will catch during the season.

"It is random chance, and you are lucky when you find these fish."

To increase your luck, and for more marbled fish information, visit www.marbledsalmon.com or www.wilsonfish.com.
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