Fresh Isn’t Always Fresh
Many restaurants claim to serve “fresh” seafood, including salmon. But when Duke first got into the restaurant business, he learned something shocking: ‘fresh’ doesn’t always mean fresh.
“Fresh salmon can actually be up to twenty-seven days old!” Duke shared this surprising fact when speaking to a crowd at the annual fundraiser for Long Live the Kings, an organization that works tirelessly to fund efforts intended to protect and increase Wild Salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest.
Duke explains that fresh salmon have two major enemies: time and temperature. Consistently controlling those two elements is essential to locking in the delicious flavor of fresh-caught salmon. And the only way to do that effectively is through the practice of ‘freezing at the source.’
“A fish that isn’t frozen immediately could sit on a runway for days because that load of cargo was bumped,” Duke further explains in his cookbook, As Wild As It Gets. Don’t be fooled into thinking Alaska is cool enough to keep fish at a safe temperature. “On a summer day, black tarmac at the airport can get as hot as 90 degrees,” he cautions. Combined with other factors such as bad weather, delayed processing, and rough seas, there are just too many variables that could keep “fresh” fish really fresh.
Getting the fish frozen as soon as possible after catching is the secret to retaining the fresh, clean and natural flavor that makes salmon so incredibly delicious. After decades of working closely with one another, Duke and his team of Alaskan fishermen have developed a system of best practices to ensure that Duke’s Chowder House receives only the highest-quality seafood.
Many restaurant owners and chefs have no idea where their seafood comes from. They don’t know how or where it was caught, how it was processed, or even how it was transported to their kitchens. This is how you end up with ‘fresh’ three-week-old seafood on your plate. For Duke, this is simply not good enough.
“Everywhere I’ve gone, I learned details about what affected the taste of our food,” says Duke. “I learned about bleeding fish, icing fish, handling, transporting, how to identify great fish and, most importantly, how to identify great fishermen and processors.” Not all processing systems are created equally, though it is a crucial factor in the final quality of the fish. In order to pass Duke’s strict quality standards, all Wild Alaskan Salmon must be handled and processed as follows:
- Bleed the fish immediately and thoroughly after capture.
- Clean fish within 30 minutes of capture.
- Ice or immerse in refrigerated sea water (RSW) immediately after bleeding and throughout the time before arriving at processing plant. Fish temperature should not exceed 34 degrees F.
- One day old fish only.
Gill Net Fishermen
- Bleed fish no later than 24 hours after capture.
- Ice fish immediately and throughout the time before arriving at processing plant.
- Ice fish from arrival up to the time for fillet, vacuum pack and freezing.
- Fish temperature not to exceed 34 degrees F at any time during processing.
- Head and gut (H & G), then fillet fish immediately. Note: Pin bone fish one day after arrival (difficult to pin bone same day—it tears the fish apart) and then vacuum pack and freeze immediately.
“What sets Duke’s apart is that we know!” Duke exclaimed with passion in a recent interview. “We know the boats, we know the captains, and we know how they process the fish.” This knowledge of the ocean-to-table story was no simple task.
Duke began traveling to Alaska in the early 1980’s to source sustainable seafood, long before the sustainable food movement took off in the United States. Since then he has worked with and learned from the dedicated fishermen and women of Alaska, committed to delivering the freshest seafood to his customers.
The Reason Behind It All
If you ask Duke why he does this, why he puts so much time and effort into sourcing fresh and sustainable food sources, he might have a few answers. But in the end, there is really only one reason Duke does what he does, “I will do everything I can to make sure there is plenty of salmon and Wild Seafood for my grandchildren, and my grandchildren’s grandchildren,” he said in his speech at the fundraiser for Long Live the Kings.
His dedication to sourcing and serving sustainable seafood is at the heart of Duke’s Chowder House. And he hopes that one day, restaurateurs who want fresh salmon won’t have to travel to Alaska to find it. He continues to support Long Live the Kings, Salmon-Safe and other seafood-restoration groups, trying to revitalize the Wild Salmon population in the Pacific Northwest. But until that day comes, expect to see Wild Alaskan Salmon on the menu at Duke’s Chowder House. And if you ask Duke where it came from, settle in for the story. You’re gonna be there for a while.
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