Food: Trolling The Web For Salmonby
John Dunn prefers his smoked salmon sliced thinly and served with a squeeze of lemon on his mom's "beautiful" brown bread. He should know what's good: His family has been smoking fish at Dunn's of Dublin for 175 years. Alisa Meyer, whose family runs the Totem Smokehouse in Seattle's historic Pike Place Market, prefers her salmon with cream cheese on crackers, or diced into chowder, or served in cream sauce atop fettuccini. And me? I like it the New York way, layered on a poppy seed bagel with a schmear of cream cheese.
However you eat it, there's no doubt that salmon is an ideal luxury gift for a friend or business associate, or a treat to dress up a holiday brunch or dinner party. But finding top-quality smoked salmon can be a hassle, especially if you live outside New York or a few other Atlantic or Pacific Coast metropolitan areas where the fish has long been a culinary staple. Thanks to the World Wide Web, however, you now can net salmon with a click of your mouse.
You'll find a slew of smokehouses and specialty retailers in the U.S., Canada, and Europe (table). Many offer unusual recipes--like Totem's smoked salmon pasta sauce. And all seal their sides of presliced salmon in plastic, swathe them in ice packs and Styrofoam, then hand them over to a shipping service to get the fish to your table in two days or less. "Some people even request Saturday morning delivery to have their salmon in time for breakfast," says Richard Schiff, regional sales manager at one of the nation's temples of loxdom, Brooklyn's Acme Smoked Fish.
When I sailed across the Web in search of salmon, the first thing that hit me was the variety available. Years ago, when I was growing up in Manhattan, the selection in my neighborhood store was limited to salty lox (actually not smoked at all but soaked in brine) or the milder-tasting Nova Scotia-style salmon. You can still find these varieties in stores and online, of course. But you'll also find smooth-tasting Irish, Scotch, Norwegian, and Pacific salmon. Some fish are farm-raised, others caught in the wild. Mild-tasting and pleasantly fatty, farm-raised "Atlantic" salmon may come from the U.S., Canada, Europe, or even Chile. The wild variety hails from the northern Atlantic or Pacific, is less oily, and has a more pronounced flavor.
Each species of salmon, be it sockeye, king, or chinook, also has a distinctive flavor and texture. I boned up on the different types at the Salmon Page (http://www. riverdale.k12.or.us/salmon.htm), a project of the Riverdale School in Portland, Ore., that includes a useful shopping guide. Once you've decided on the type of salmon you want, figure out how you'd like it prepared: Each smokehouse has its own recipe combining salt, hardwood smoke, and sometimes sugar and spices.
To check out some of the Web's fishy fare, we assembled a crew of BUSINESS WEEK staffers to sample salmon from Totem, Dunn's, and Homarus, a popular smokehouse in Mt. Kisco, N.Y. Totem's cold-smoked sockeye costs $24.95 for a 1.5-pound side, plus $28 for shipping up to four such fillets. Sockeye is a Nova-style wild Pacific salmon featuring firm, bright-red flesh. Many of our tasters liked its intense, smoky-salty flavor. Totem's hot-smoked sockeye ($19.50 for 8 ounces), which is cooked by smoking at higher temperatures, fared less well. Many found it to be like canned fish.
CRUNCH AND SNAP. From Dunn's, we tried a side of wild Irish salmon ($58 for 800 grams, about 1.75 pounds, including shipping). Dunn's gets its salmon from fishermen who ply the waters off the Galway coast. An easy runner-up with our noshers, the smooth-tasting fish elicited such comments as "classic," and "gold standard."
No.1 by a fin was Homarus' pastrami-smoked salmon ($41.75 for 1.33 pounds). The cool, bland taste of the fish contrasted dramatically with the crunch and fiery snap of the cracked peppercorns, garlic, and other spices covering the fillet. Homarus also offers orange, lemon-dill, and tequila-flavored smoked salmon, while Acme features jalapeno and honey-baked varieties. As someone who grew up eating Nova for breakfast, those seem a little exotic. But who would have thought pastrami salmon would be so delicious? When you're shopping online, it pays to be open-minded.