BRITISH COLUMBIA

Pink Salmon: B.C.'s Bounty Is Delicious If Prepared Properly, Says Chef Robert Clark

09/15/2013 02:41 EDT | Updated 09/15/2013 02:45 EDT
Tom Charity

As B.C. rivers burst their banks with pink salmon, we thought it was time to look at this much-maligned species of the West Coast's favourite fish, and find out how best to enjoy it in all its sustainable glory.

The prejudice against pink is everywhere: an episode of last season's 'Top Chef Seattle' saw a contestant from Hawaii lambasted after he used it in a dish when he had other, more highly prized options available. "We feed that to our dogs," one disgusted eater snarled.

So why the hate?

Robert Clark, Vancouver's leading expert in fish sustainability told The Huffington Post B.C. that this species of salmon is languishing in a catch-22 situation.

"We've been trying to get the word out for years that here is a delicious, sustainable salmon," he says. "But because everybody regards it as a substandard product, it isn't handled properly, so often what shows up for sale just isn't that good.

"All that effort in educating consumers is lost when they buy it and it turns out badly, and then they think that either they can't cook fish or that pink really isn't a good choice, after all."

The difficulty is compounded by the different qualities of sockeye and pink that make their optimum shelf lives very different.

Clark says that sockeye can be kept on ice for 12-14 days and still be sold as fresh, while with pink, three days is the limit. You either need to buy it super fresh off the boat -- at Vancouver's Fisherman's Wharf, for example -- or it's better to go with frozen.

Even that is a quality minefield, however.

"I buy all my frozen pink salmon at farmers' markets," Clark says. "That way, I know the fish will have been treated properly, and the quality will be consistent."

The lack of consistency is one reason Clark is busy preparing to open his first retail fish store, The Fish Counter, on Main Street in Vancouver. Clark, the former executive chef of C Restaurant, is on a mission to provide the best quality sustainable seafood choices to the city, and says he will go above and beyond to make sure consumers feel confident in both the purchase and the preparation of the daily catch.

Not only will he offer his customers recipes and tips to balance their conscience with their pocketbook, he'll even cook the seafood for you to take home.

"If you come in nervous about how to prepare sardines, or you think they are too fiddly to handle, then I'll be happy to cook them up for you," Clark says. "Or you're not sure if you'll like a specific type of fish, then here, I'll prepare a taster for you, talk you through how to cook it, and let's see what you think."

When it comes to those beautiful pink salmon pulsing through our waterways, Clark says to treat them lightly.

"Add a little salt and pepper, some lemon zest and put the side on a wooden plank on the grill or skin side down," he recommends. "It's a very mild and light salmon, and the sides are thinner, so it doesn't need much cooking."

The Fish Counter is currently set to open in October at 3825 Main St.

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