Salmon – a wise choice


It is a symbol of determination, strength, and wisdom.

It has given and sustained life for numerous coastal communities.

And somehow, it is able to find its way back from the ocean to the precise spot in fresh water where it was born.

If it sounds like I’m introducing a watery God of sorts, you’re absolutely right. Salmon is many things, and just about every one is impressive and, at times, mysterious. Scientists still debate on what it is exactly that allows these fish to find their birthplace, sometimes nearly a thousand miles away, when it’s time to spawn. Their physical ability to jump and climb through rapids is out of this world. They are, in effect, a marine biologist’s “wet” dream! Of course, my main interest in this fish lies in the shallows, where lip-smacking thoughts of how well it goes with wine wade dreamily in the waters of my brain.

Very well. Extremely well. In fact, thanks in part to its inherent fattiness and distinctly meaty flavor, it might be The most versatile seafood we know of when it comes to wine pairing. Depending on how you prepare this marathon swimmer, it will pair beautifully with lighter whites  (sauvignon blanc and Gavi), full-bodied whites (chardonnay, viognier), light to medium bodied reds (young tempranillo and pinot noir), and even some of red’s big guns (cabernet and syrah). And let’s not forget the dry roses and sparkling wines. You have to work hard to screw up this combination — maybe not as hard as they do to go “home”, but still, this is definitely one of wine and food’s more user-friendly combinations.

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The symbology of salmon includes themes such as persistence, abundance, wealth, and rebirth. It also serves as a symbol of unity for much of the Pacific Northwest, both historically within the native American cultures, and presently for all peoples living there. This all makes good sense since salmon has provided populations in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, as well as Idaho and northern California, with a rich and abundant food source for many generations. What really struck me, though, was an old Gaelic/Celtic mythology associated with salmon.

Legend tells of an ancient pool surrounded by nine magic hazel-trees. Divine salmon live within this pool, and when  hazelnuts (said to contain universal wisdom) fall from the trees, the hungry salmon jump up and swallow them, thereby receiving all the knowledge of the world and henceforth becomes known as the “Salmon of Knowledge”.

The first thing to reflect on here is that salmon and hazelnuts are both DELICIOUS, and although I don’t think I’ve ever had them together, it sounds like a potential recipe this week. More to the point, though, is how this legend alludes to one of salmon’s many health benefits.

As you all know, salmon is an incredibly healthy food, rich in protein, vitamin D, and Omega-3 fatty acids. Within these fatty acids, one in particular — Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — is closely related to our brain functions, and has been studied extensively as a treatment for Alzheimer’s, cancer, and depression. Now call me a complete nerd here, but the connection between an ancient symbol for knowledge and scientific evidence that, in a roundabout way, supports this is incredible. And kind of creepy…

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All this chatter about symbology and science has made me hungry. Years ago, I went to a cooking class at Sur La Table in downtown Portland, where the theme was “Spring in Italy”. One of the dishes we learned was fresh baked salmon with an Italian parsley-lemon zest topping. It was amazing, taking nothing away from the fish’s natural flavor, and adding a fresh, bright nuance. You can add some black pepper and maybe a small amount of pecorino cheese, but don’t doctor it up too much — the simplicity of this preparation and the purity of its flavors are what make it so good.


Fresh salmon with a lemon zest, Italian parsley, and black peppercorn crust.

For those of you in the Pacific Northwest, you are truly blessed with one of the world’s best fish at your fingertips: Pacific salmon. This includes species of Chinook, Coho, Pink, and Sockeye. Unfortunately, this proximity has created lots of eco-political issues that center around the ways in which local populations are impacting the salmon here.

salmon_safe_logoLuckily, there is Salmon Safe, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “restoring agricultural and urban watersheds so that salmon can spawn and thrive.” Many of Willamette Valley’s wineries work with this organization to prevent any run-off or erosion from vineyard sites that would eventually reach salmon watersheds. Look for the “Salmon Safe” logo on the wine bottles produced by NW vintners.

Pacific salmon is normally a better eating salmon — both in flavor and health benefits — since most all of Atlantic salmon is farm raised; salmon that is farm raised often loses some of its natural, carnivorous diet (smaller fish, krill, etc.) and, therefore, doesn’t have as much of the Omega-3’s as wild salmon does. This can also account for the marked color difference between wild and farmed salmon, as salmon gets its rich, pinkish-red color from all those little shellfish it feeds on.

Scotland has its own eco-political issues concerning salmon, as many of the wild stocks have been severely depleted. Mass farming has led to its own set of problems, though, and one has to wonder what solutions — if any — remain for this problem. Here, among the Hebridean islands, I am fortunate to have fresh, wild salmon (Bute Inlet has several streams with wild salmon populations) at my fingertips. I’ve also developed a sense of appreciation for these animals that stretches beyond how lovely they go with my wine.

Many Pacific Northwest tribes believe that salmon are actually people who disguise themselves as salmon and offer their lives to the villagers. As a sign of gratitude and respect, the villagers would throw all the bones back into the sea, and thus allow the spirits of these “salmon people” to renew their life cycle. It’s an old but relevant story that speaks of natural rhythms, appreciation, and harmony.

Salmon Art

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A toast, then, to this oldest and wisest of creatures. A staple for man and beast (that’s you, g-man) throughout history. Swimmer of impossible obstacles, provider of oiled, heart-healthy nutrients. And oh so very good on the end of our forks.

With good cheer and worlds of wisdom,



~ by Jared on August 28, 2009.

5 Responses to “Salmon – a wise choice”

  1. […] rest is here: Salmon – a wise choice « Jared Wines Up Tags: a-cooking-class, docosahexaenoic, Healthy, portland, zest-breading- […]

  2. Yes, salmon is the noblest of fish and deservedly so. And what have you been drinking with your salmon? Is there a scotch that would pair nicely with salmon?

    • Hey g-man,

      Hmmm… If I’m baking it, I like a nice lemony sauv blanc or maybe a French pinot gris (Oregon would be good too). Of course pinot noir and salmon are like PB & J.

      Scotch? You know I haven’t tried that w/ salmon. Yet. I think one of the Islay whiskeys, w/ all their smokiness might be really good (smoked salmon?), or even a lighter Speyside with a mushroom sauce of some sort. Maybe I’ll give this a shot this week and report back…


  3. You know what else is fed hazelnuts? PIGS!

    • Mmmmmmm… pigs. Great link!

      You know what would be good? Grilled salmon with little bits of pepper bacon and hazelnuts sprinkled on top. Served with a good barbera. -drools-

      Hope you’re well my friend, and the garden sprung up glorious herbs and veggies for you this summer!


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