This Friday at Cooking by the Book we had what can only be called a Salmon Salon. Organized by Verlasso, a new aquaculture company, the subject was important: the evolution of sustainable salmon farming on our planet. And, what does sustainability mean for food companies, food distributors, grocery stores and — most importantly — for the consumer.

I grew up in Oregon on the Willamette River. During salmon season twice a year, I could walk down to the river bank, wave a ten dollar bill, and some fisherman would motor over. An exchange would be made. And two or three hours later, fresh baked salmon was on my dinner table. That is real freshness. At other times, we’d drive to the Pacific coast or to a river, and find a Native American by the side of the road selling “just-completed” smoked salmon. Freshly caught native salmon smoked on Northwest wood using centuries old techniques.

In short, I am a salmon snob. Trying to get fresh, good salmon in New York City, and almost everywhere else, is often a fruitless task. Here in the city, even the best fish stores only offer farmed salmon. A taste of that leaves me flat. That’s why in past years, we have ordered direct from Pike Place Market in Seattle. You know. The market where the guys toss the salmon around?  Nothing can compare with that.

Or couldn’t compare with. Verlasso is a new venture combining food science, best practices, and optimal geography to produce a very new style of aquaculture. Their seminar here discussed the essential features of their business. They feed their salmon differently and much more responsibly. The fish receive absolutely no growth hormones or antibiotics. The salmon are grown in water, of course, at the edge of one the driest places on earth: Patagonia in far Southern Chile. One benefit of southern ocean waters is a distinctly better quality of water. Humans have been polluting northern oceans for centuries and there are serious issues with, for example, PCBs.

Down south, humans have done far less damage and the waters therefore yield salmon that are much healthier for us to eat.

Verlasso is rolling out its product across the United States. Here in New York City, Fresh Direct offers the product. On Friday, a nutritionist from Fresh Direct was forthright in the quality checks Fresh Direct made before considering Verlasso. That’s the sort of endorsement that you should consider. It’s a quality check that none of us, except biology professors, could even consider.

And for me, the salmon snob? Scott Nichols, the Verlasso Director and man with deep personal  concerns for sustainability, gave me a tour of why the Verlasso product is so obviously different. He had three sides of salmon:

  • A wild salmon with its typical 8% fat content
  • A typical farm-raised salmon with a typical 18% fat content
  • And a Verlasso-raised salmon with 11% fat content

That wild salmon, of course, reminded me of Oregon days. Vibrant salmon color across the whole side. The farm-raised salmon, had wide streaks of fat, which is one of the resevoirs for ingested chemicals. And a typical farm-raised salmon consumes 4 pounds of feeder fish for each pound of harvest salmon.

The Verlasso salmon, which use only 1 pound of feeder fish for each harvested pound, did have little streaks of fat, but not those wide bands. Scott explained that meant that Verlasso salmon is going to cook and taste much, much more like the wild salmon. And, Verlasso is working to reducing the fat content even more, striving to have their product as much like the wild as possible.

So, from the standpoints of science, business, and sustainability, Verlasso is very promising. The last hurdle? Taste. We had half dozen dishes, both main courses and appetizers, on Friday. How did Verlasso taste? Like salmon is supposed to.

On Friday, we had many experts in fish sustainability here. They have ideas, recipes, and important information. In the coming months, I’ll be passing that along to you. And we’ll maintain our discussion on the wonderful contributions Verlasso is making  to sustainable aquaculure.