7 July 2013

Celebrate the Return of the Okanagan Sockeye Salmon with Dorie Greenspan's Salmon in a Jar for the Canadian Food Experience Project

Dorie Greenspan's Salmon in a Jar
Just the other day I drove south to Nk’Mip Cellars Winery in Osoyoos, the first native owned and operated winery in North America. This southern Okanagan area is home to Canada's only pocket desert being part of the Sonora Desert that extends from the Okanagan Valley in Canada to Mexico. With some of the most spectacular views in the Okanagan, our region is well known for its long, hot summer days and cool nights, mild winters and minimum rainfall (unless you're talking about the Spring of 2013). All of these factors contribute to this fabulous wine-producing region.

My soul purpose, other than a wine tasting of premium wines was to savour a salmon dish at Liam McNulty's "Patio." According to their website, "Liam’s food has been described as rustic and heartwarming with its family-style focus on rich, savoury comfort meals. He sources all of his ingredients locally, and is typically found buried to the elbow in handmade dough. As such, his pasta is always fresh-made, his tomatoes direct from the vine, and his butter would be personally churned if he could only get the licensing to keep a cow in his apartment."So I was surprised to find out that the salmon I was eating for lunch on the weekend on the winery patio came from the same sparkling lake that the resort butts up against.

Nk'Mip Patio
There are so many different types of salmon, which is loaded with heart-healthy, brain-boosting omega-3 fats, and ways to serve them that it would be hard for me to get bored with this fish. There’s a wide range in price, colour and taste among the six species of salmon we commonly eat, so it depends on your budget, what's available and the recipe you have in mind. The largest (and often most expensive), the king or chinook, is prized for its high fat content and buttery texture and is rich in omega-3s.  Sockeye, an oilier fish with deep red flesh, is also high in heart-healthy omega-3s but has a stronger flavour and stands up well to grilling. Coho is milder and often lighter in colour. Pink and chum are smaller fish and most often used in canning or smoking and are good budget choices. Last, the most common fish you will find at the market, the species known as Atlantic salmon, is a farmed species. It has a rich, fatty taste but is not recommended by environmental groups.

There is a new salmon on my radar, not because of the species, but because of the location. We have Sockeye salmon in the Okanagan Valley in our inland lakes! I was as surprised as you are. You will find it's story below. Like wine-fed beef from the Southern Okanagan it is difficult to source but with a little research and a lot of passion you will find locals that can hook you up whether it is from a local fishmonger or butcher to farm-to-table restaurants serving up local ingredients.

Okanagan Lake as seen from Summerhill Winery
As I savoured my salmon dish who would have believed that the humble salmon was once widespread in our inland lakes here in the Okanagan Valley Basin from the United States border to Lake Okanagan. Here in the valley we are more well known for our wine festivals and gastro-events where the draw is the hotdry weather, sheltering mountains and rich soil that blend together to create one of North America's most productive wine regions. The picturesque backdrop to  the over 200 wineries  is worth the visit alone with lush vineyards and soaring views. Some wineries are open year-round for tours and tastings, however, most wine-related activities occur spring through fall. It is my playground season after season.
Okanagan Lake from the Naramata Bench
Once the most abundant, prolific and hardy of fish, the Okanagan Sockeye salmon almost disappeared from our lakes altogether. It was only recently as an attendee of the Okanagan Food and Wine Writers Workshop held here in town, and spearheaded by my friend Jennifer Cockrall-King, that I learned about the reintroduction of sockeye salmon stocks in our inland lakes and tasted this incredible fish for the first time courtesy of the chefs from Cabana Bar and Grille on The Lake Lounge.

In this day and age I am forced to think about sustainability and the preservation of our fish stocks. We are blessed with sustainable fisheries. Living in the valley I have heard about and been fortunate enough to savour Kokanee which is a native word meaning "red fish." They are a type of sockeye salmon about the size of a river trout referred to as "landlocked" salmon because they spend their entire life in freshwater. Long-time residents of Kelowna provide anecdotal evidence that 60+ years ago the creeks where they spawn were red with Kokanee each fall season. They used terms like "millions of Kokanee" to describe the sight. Today they are an endangered species in some of our lakes and available only if you venture out in a boat with rod and lure on Wood Lake.

Kalamalka Lake - Photo by mrussell photography
But the returning sockeye salmon in this story are a species that live most of their lives in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of British Columbia. Did you know that once upon a time we had salmon living in Okanagan Lake? I didn't! The migration of salmon is considered one of the great ‘miracles of nature’ and is a source of fascination and interest the world over. Today thanks to the innovation and far-thinking ONA (Okanagan Nation Alliance), a stewardship group for the management and protection of native tribal lands and its natural resources, Sockeye salmon can once again be found in Osoyoos Lake in the Southern Okanagan in growing numbers; although there are not as many as there used to be. So what happened to the Sockeye Salmon in Okanagan Lake?

It turns out there have always been native salmon species in the Okanagan. They make an incredible 1,000-kilometre journey from the mouth of the Columbia River where it bisects the American states of Washington and Oregon, up the Columbia River, into the Okanagan River system. Historically, chinook, coho, chum and steelhead were also indigenous salmon species in the Okanagan River Basin, but until today they have been considered either extinct or found in very low numbers.  You can read a more detailed account in Okanagan Life from Jennifer Cockrall-King on this incredible fish and the efforts being made to stabilize and rebuild the declining wild Okanagan Sockeye population and to revitalize the Okanagan Nation salmon fishery. Which is why I was able to enjoy wild salmon, caught in Osoyoos Lake with rosemary confit potatoes, almond Romesco and organic mizuna greens on the patio of Nk'Mip winery.

Okanagan Salmon at the Patio
In the mid-1800’s, the Sockeye fishery began to change dramatically due to man-made adjustments to the river channels between the lakes. Settlement along the river, the building of nine hydro-electric dams, channelization, urban encroachment, commercial fishing, irrigation and other water management practises damaged salmon habitat, interrupted migration routes, and reduced stocks entering the rivers to spawn.  A decade ago, the number of salmon returning were down to a few thousand.
Salmon Run 
Since 2004, the ONA fisheries department has been working with governments, utilities and other agencies on both sides of the international boundary to restore fish passage for salmon up the Columbia system into the Okanagan, past McIntyre Dam and Okanagan Falls and a loftier goal into Okanagan Lake. The Okanagan Nations Alliance have initiated a 12-year project to reintroduce sockeye back into their former spawning and living grounds, a means of livelihood that has been closed to them for the last several decades. The studies are ongoing, although early results on returning salmon appear promising. So much so that for the last year or so Okanagan Sockeye salmon is available at one of our local fishmongers.

Jon and Anne-Marie Crofts of Codfathers Seafood Market in Kelowna have become involved with this conservation work and have signed an agreement with the ONA allowing Jon to process and distribute the salmon in the valley. Many people are surprised to be able to access fresh, local sockeye salmon, and the products are OceanWise certified by the Vancouver Aquarium program which ensures the fish are caught using a sustainable method of fishing and stock management.

The first year a recreational fishery for sockeye salmon was opened in Osoyoos Lake was in 2010, where a record run returned to spawn in the system. Instead of the 100,000 forecast, 300,000 sockeye returned to the trans-boundary lake. It was also the first time that sockeye returned almost all the way to Skaha Lake, but the dam at Okanagan Falls barred their way. Which makes it all the more incredible that this year, approximately 500,000+ sockeye salmon are expected in the Okanagan River system. These are numbers not seen since 1923. The salmon who arrive remain in good shape likely in part because of an elevation gain of only about 300 metres over the journey.

This story and this recipe continues my year long challenge from Valerie of A Canadian Foodie called The Canadian Food Experience Project. Valerie was one of the lucky few who attended the very first Canadian Food Bloggers Conference north of Toronto in April. Her experience inspired her to dig deep within herself, to discover what it meant to be a Canadian in our melting pot of food culture. She has challenged us to find our truly Canadian voice and connect with each other coast to coast through food, stories and experiences. The hope is that we will discover our truly Canadian voice and identity in this diverse country. Here’s what to expect:

  • Participants will publish a Canadian-themed post on the 7th of every month
  • Each month has a challenge theme, from regional dishes to cherished Canadian recipes
  • You can view participants’ posts (and learn how to get involved) over at Valerie’s blog, A Canadian Foodie - Canadian Food Experience Project. It will be interesting to discover how our fellow "food enthusiast" Canadians rise to the challenge.

To discover what it means to be a "food enthusiast" in Canada it is like peeling away the layers of an onion. By methodically removing each layer of the onion, you are able to appreciate the complexities at each level as you eventually reach the core where you can objectively define the answers. When you use a metaphor, such as "peeling away another layer," you visualize a central concept (a heart or core) that is buried within. 

At this moment in time it is hard for me to get to the central core and define what it means to be a Canadian in our food culture. I have lived in 4 out of 10 provinces, grew up in a British family where Yorkshire pudding and jello were the norm. My perception of how the melting pot of Canadian cuisine can be defined is muddled. By participating in Valerie's challenge I hope to sharpen my senses and dispel this mental fog just as I did on a tiny fishing boat at 4:30 AM off the shores of Newfoundland while jigging for squid while on a vacation in my last post. 

'A Regional Canadian Food' was this months challenge in The Canadian Food Experience Project which began last month in June, 2013. As participants in this project we will share our collective stories from coast to coast through our regional food experiences. Please join us here each month or on Valerie's Facebook Page as we embrace our nation.

 This month I highlighted the return of the Sockeye salmon to our valley. Every day I should be excited about what I am eating even if it just means something as simple as making use of a wonderful find at our local farmers market. Wineries, craft breweries and artisanal cheese makers are emerging all over the country and add a new dimension to our local cuisine, enriching it and extending it well beyond it's boundaries. West Coast salmon, New Brunswick lobster, Ontario cheddar are all being paired with wonderful Canadian wines and locally harvested fruits and vegetables. Food enthusiasts are in heaven and locavores are finally coming into their own.

When you eat locally, you eat what's in season. You'll remember that strawberries are the taste of summer.  Even in the winter, comfort foods like squash soup and pancakes just make sense...a lot more sense than flavourless fruit from the other side of the world. This is hard to do all year round when you live in the "Great White North" but we support our local producers as much as humanly possible. 

By recounting local experiences we are able to be inspired by the amazingness of other people, the world around us, and a sense of place. You can’t help but come out the other end loving what is unique about yourself. Through this exercise we will find our own individual – not to mention collective – voice.  After a year of discovery we will hear ourselves a little more clearly. 

This week I decided to make a recipe that I’ve been dying to try for forever...Salmon in a Jar from Dorie Greenspan’s book, Around My French Table. Now that I’ve tasted it, I’m kicking myself for not trying it sooner! This is classic bistro food, with succulent cured salmon and creamy boiled potatoes swimming in seasoned olive oil.
It takes a little advance planning – you’ll need to start the salmon the night before – but it’s otherwise effortless and the results are well worth it. This meal is pure decadence, the kind of meal that you’ll happily sit over for hours. And, since you prepare and serve the dish in jars, it’s very portable – perfect for a picnic! Serve it with crusty bread and some tangy olives and pickles to balance out the fatty fish and oil. A little champagne or prosecco doesn’t hurt either. (my picnic basket always, always, always includes a bottle of wine!)
Don’t be scared off by the amount of olive oil in this recipe – you don’t actually eat it, so almost all of it will be left once your meal is done. It’s also incredibly flavorful, so go ahead and use it to season other dishes throughout the week. Bon appetite!

**Salmon in a Jar**

½ pound salmon fillet, skinned
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
½ pound small yellow potatoes
20 coriander seeds
20 peppercorns
4 bay leaves, halved
8 fresh thyme sprigs
1 small carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
1 small onion, thinly sliced
olive oil
3 teaspoons white vinegar
Lemon wedges and crusty bread, for serving

Slice the salmon into 6 pieces and place in s small dish. Add the salt and sugar, turning to coast each piece of salmon evenly. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, the salmon will be deep pink and very firm. Run under water to wash off the brine.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the potatoes until they are soft and can be pierced easily with a fork – about 10 minutes. Drain.

Add half the salmon to a pint-sized canning jar; and half the potatoes to a second jar. Add some carrot, onion, and spices to each jar and top with a second layer of salmon or potatoes. Top with remaining vegetables and spices. Pour in olive oil enough olive oil to cover the ingredients. Add the vinegar to the jar with the potatoes. Cover both jars and refrigerate at least 6 hours.

Serve at room temperature with lemon wedges and crusty bread.

Serves 2 - 4

Nutrition information is an estimate calculated assuming each person will eat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Calories: 489 Fat: 28 Carbohydrates: 33.2 Fiber: 4 Protein: 28

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author/owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison. Best Blogger Tips


  1. I adore salmon, such an amazing fish and so absolutely delicious! I can't imagine how wonderful it tastes when so fresh out of the rivers. Such a beautiful area that you captured in your photos Val!


  2. I never think of Canada as having any desert area. The whole country just seems so green (or white) to me!

  3. I'd love to try this! Salmon is a favorite of ours and this recipe sounds so delightful. I'm glad you tried it first because I probably wouldn't if not for your review.

  4. What gorgeous landscapes! This is such a beautiful lake.

    A delightful way of preparing salmon! I love the idea.



  5. I love this post and cheer all the valuable information here. Thanks so much. I hope everyone reads it. I will share where I can. GREG

    1. Thanks Greg. We are proud of where we live and what we have available to us as consumers.

  6. We are huge salmon fans but not very well educated in all things salmon. Thanks for a great review. The recipe looks wonderful too, love these photos!

  7. What a fantastic discovery! I have never heard of the Okanagan Sockeye before - so cool the things that we are all discovering with this project :) The recipe looks amazing too, I definitely want to try this!

    1. I agree Korena. I think that after a year we will have learned so much about each and every region across Canada and what makes us tick as Canadians.

  8. I'm so glad the salmon are being restored to your region! I grew up on salmon caught there - my aunt and uncle canned them and they were divine!! :-) I love this idea of salmon in a jar. :-)

  9. That plate of salmon on the patio looks divine. We are big salmon fans and I agree with Chris, not very well educated when it comes to where it comes from. What beautiful scenery.

  10. Whoa! WHat a crazy cool concept! I never knew you could "cook" salmon like this!

  11. What beautiful photos, Val, and your information is a treasure. Have a great day. Blessings...Mary

  12. Sockeye in a jar? wow..that's SOMETHING! The salmon on the patio looks fabulous!

  13. Such an interesting post and recipe. There are landlocked salmon in our lake in Maine.

  14. What a beautiful place! I love that shot with the face carved in the wood and the mountains and lake in the background - great photo! I've never had salmon in a jar - it looks and sounds good.

  15. Great post Val! You wear the banner of a proud Canadian and a food enthusiast well!

    Gorgeous images and a delicious recipe that I want to try/

  16. I have never seen Salmon in a jar but love the idea. Looking at your pictures I miss BC so much :)

  17. I was so impressed by this story when attending the Slow Food Conference in Osoyoos this summer. We had this fresh water salmon for a dinner, and I brought home smoked, canned and candied versions of it. Outstanding. And the story is an incredible one. I really appreciate you sharing it. I have a post started to tell this story, too... as I was so touched by it and the Okanagan indigenous people that are fishing it sustainably and preparing it in their old way makes it even more compelling.
    Have you seen the movie: Salmon Confidential? Google it - it is long - watch it throughout a day, here and there. It is about the affects that farmed Salmon has on the wild Sockeye.
    I cannot ever get chinook here... and did not realize that almost ALL Atlantic Salmon was farmed until just now! I am shocked:

    The stocks of wild Atlantic salmon have been reduced to dangerously low levels. The reasons are many: overfishing, pollution, environmental changes, aquaculture, habitat deterioration and disturbances of migration routes. Wild Atlantic salmon stocks in North America, Europe and the Baltic have been over-exploited since the 19th century and in many regions the species has disappeared completely.

    Thanks for the passion, heart, detail and important post, Valerie.

  18. Very interesting article Val. You should have it published somewhere. People would be interested in this in the larger community.

  19. Great post Val.
    I'm definitely making this salmon in a jar!!


Welcome to my home. Thank you for choosing to stay a while and for sharing our lives through food. I appreciate all your support, comments, suggestions, and daily encouragement.


This blog uses comment moderation therefore SPAMMERS, SELF-PROMOTERS and ADVERTISERS will be deleted.