What do you make of a famous chef, teaching a ‘Master Class’ in identifying and preparing seafood, who doesn’t know the difference between a wild Alaska king salmon and a pen-raised, fish farm Atlantic salmon? I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt. If he does know, he’s less than honest.
Gordon Ramsay is a reality show chef who seems to be most famous for belittling and insulting to other chefs and restaurant workers he considers inferior, incompetent or not true to the craft. ‘Master Class’ is an online variety of courses typically with 15 or 20 short classes presented by instructors famous in that field. Some are, “Hey, I’m really famous. Look at me.” Others are fascinating and you learn things.
Gordon’s Master Class is called Gordon Ramsay Teaches Cooking. His syllabus includes a class in ‘Mastering Ingredients: fish and shellfish’ and another in ‘Breaking down a whole fish.’ That fish he breaks down, we’re told, is an Alaskan king salmon. Wow. At our house we start every fall with a chest freezer full of fish so we eat fish a couple times a week. I’m always up for learning something new in cooking them.
‘Mastering Ingredients: fish and shellfish’
The very first fish Gordon holds up in fish identification, he identifies as a wild Alaska king salmon. Gordon says ‘literally’ a lot. Literally, everything he says about that fish is wrong.
For starters, it ain’t a king salmon. It’s an Atlantic salmon, literally all of which you find in markets are raised on fish farms because wild stocks are depleted almost to extinction. Ways to tell an Atlantic salmon from an Alaskan king salmon:
1.On the gill plate (operculum) Atlantic salmon have a distinctive spot pattern. No species of Pacific salmon has that pattern.
2. Gordon’s fish has white gums. King salmon have black gums and are black inside the mouth. Heads overall are darker.
3. He waxes eloquent, “Alaskan king salmon. Look at it. I mean, literally hours old…touch it, a nice bouncy firm flesh confirms the freshness of it.”
As you see when he bends it, Gordon’s fish is flabby. King Salmon are muscular as a plank. Looking at it face to face, the farmed fish bodies are rounder than wild king salmon. Taste aside, comparing flesh texture of ocean run salmon to farmed salmon is like comparing the flesh of a wild goose to a factory farmed chicken.
4. Fins on Gordon’s fish are ratty. Ocean run king salmon fins don’t look like that.
5. “The gills, they need to be bright red inside so have the confidence to get in there and check those gills. That! signifies the freshness of it. “
On the contrary, at the fish market, you won’t find gills on Alaska king salmon. If you did, you wouldn’t buy it because, ewww. It’s a quality issue. Blood in the gills will taint the meat. For that reason, Alaska fishermen gut and gill a king salmon as soon as it reports aboard. Then they put it in flake ice they get at the cold storage. If you leave the gills in, they soon turn a dark maroon color.
6. He points to the tip of the snout, “And then, this beauty here, when you see this hook underneath the lip, it’s where the salmon’s burrowing in and out of the rock and trying to feed, and so it just confirms that this is a wild, fresh, salmon.”
A top-shelf, fish eating, fast swimming, deep ocean crossing predator ‘burrowing in and out of the rock’? Absolute nonsense.
7. Gordon tells us, “There is nothing wrong with farmed, provided that it’s been farmed in an open pen, but the flavor difference between a wild and farmed is night and day.”
There are hundreds of articles, plus books and documentaries, on all that is wrong with farmed salmon. For starters, the food pellets they’re fed would leave their flesh dull gray, so they’re fed food coloring to make their flesh look like wild salmon flesh. Then too, there are abundant reports about heavy metals, pesticides, genetic modifications, mass escapements from net pens, diseases, antibiotics, parasites that infect wild fish migrating past the pens….again, ewww.
8. “That fat inside there is a healthy fat because this fish has been swimming non-stop for years, and when it comes home to spawn you can see how it’s formed that shape with its pointed nose and it’s on that mission to deliver the eggs.”
Breaking down a whole fish
The second class I wanted to see was the great man filleting a fish.
1. Again, he holds up an Atlantic farmed salmon, saying, “Now! Alaska king salmon. Look at it. I mean, it’s absolutely beautiful.”
2. He says, “This fish has been gutted and scaled. Really important; never start to fillet a salmon with the scales on because the knives won’t go through the scales. They’re so tough. So get your fish monger to gut it and scale it.”
Knives won’t go through the scales? Where does he get that stuff? I used to commercial fish and still fillet two dozen salmon a year for the freezer, mostly sockeye, with an occasional king, and, literally, I have never scaled a salmon. No one I know scales salmon. Sharp boning knives go right through scales. Also, as mentioned above, you wouldn’t ask your fish monger to gill or gut a king salmon because it’s already been done on the boat. If you come across salmon at the fish monger’s with guts and/or scales, that’s bad fish, mass produced, for people who know nothing about fish.
3. On the up side. Gordon does a decent fillet. Not world class to my eye, but decent. He correctly emphasizes getting all the meat off. He correctly mentions that the bellies are excellent. He cuts them off his fillets which most people don’t around here. Probably he cuts them off because it leaves a more uniform fillet (which cooks more uniformly).