Sustainable and Stupidly Delicious Sockeye

As you may have noticed I like food. I like food a lot. If I didn’t hit the yoga mat pretty much everyday I’d probably be in trouble with my passion for food. As it is I do my best to maintain some balance between treating myself and being moderate. Every once in a while though you can both treat yourself and be moderate at the same time. The best time of year to do that is when the sockeye salmon run the Copper River in Alaska.

The Copper River is often considered the most sustainable fishery in the world. Copper River salmon runs are all carefully managed for long-term sustainability by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. ADF&G monitors sonar counters and fish wheels at several points along the Copper River and counts each salmon heading up the river to ensure an adequate number migrate to spawning grounds to reproduce each year. I stole that info from a great web page where you can learn more about Copper River Salmon if you are so inclined. What I want to talk about here though is how to eat it!

This weekend I got my hands on one the first of the season sockeyes: a beautiful fish that typically ranges from 5 to 7 pounds. I figured on a perfect holiday weekend I’d find a way to cook it outside and invite some friends. I’m not a big fan of grilling Copper River sockeye. I find that the delicious and delicate natural flavor is overwhelmed by the char of a grill. Solution? Grill poaching in foil! Now the only matter left to decide is how to accent the great natural flavor of the fish and which side dishes to add to complete the meal. After brainstorming and chatting a bit with a few other foodies I arrived at my menu. Grill poached salmon with meyer lemon, tarragon, shallot and white wine. Grilled Michigan asparagus. Quinoa and wild rice dressed with lemon herb vinaigrette. Sonoma spinach salad with grapefruit dressing. It may sound pretty fancy but it was actually remarkably simple and if I do say so myself rather delicious.

So after a few requests last night and this morning I’ve decided to take my blog into the world of food preparation and recipes and share with you my plan for last night’s meal. The one ingredient you can’t buy in the store though is the clean Michigan air or the energy of a special group of friends. The rest is entirely duplicatable. I’ll list the ingredients and the preparation of each of the four items separately. Enjoy!


  • 1 five to seven pound sockeye fileted into two whole side filets (skin removed)
  • 1 large shallot
  • 3 meyer lemons
  • 1 bunch of fresh tarragon
  • salt
  • olive oil
  • light dry white wine like sauvignon blanc
  • Reynolds heavy duty foil

If you have a 13×9 metal cookie pan it will be helpful in setting up the foil poaching bag and make it easier to transport fish to and from grill. Tear off two 24 inch sheets of foil and stack them directly on top of each other and place lengthwise on cookie sheet. Coat the top sheet with a thin film of olive oil and lay the two sides of fish lengthwise on the double thick foil sheet. Salt both side of each filet lightly. Slice the three lemons into 1/8 inch thick wheels and cover both filets from end to end. Finely mince the large shallot and sprinkle on top of the lemon slices. Break the fresh tarragon into three inch segments and place every few inches along each filet. Drizzle the entire foil pouch with approximately 8 ounces of white wine. Tear off a third sheet of foil and cover the entire pouch and crimp edges to seal. Transfer foil pouch to grill and cook over medium (gas) or indirect (charcoal) heat for 10 to 15 minute or until fish is medium. Flesh will be slightly translucent in the middle when it is perfect.


  • 2 boxes Near East Quinoa and wild rice mix
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp. fresh chopped oregano
  • 2 tbsp. fresh chopped thyme
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • olive oil
  • salt

Cook quinoa and rice mixture in rice cooker or on stove top but leave out ant seasoning packet. Instead add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of olive oil. In a bowl whisk together the juice of one lemon, herbs, garlic and drizzle in olive oil until you have the consistency of a good vinaigrette salad dressing. Salt to desired taste. When Quinoa mixture is done fluff with fork and right before serving toss lemon vinaigrette with quinoa/rice mixture.


This is pretty basic. You can make as much or as little as you think you will want depending on the crowd. We like a lot so I used about 2 pounds for 6 people. Take a stalk of asparagus and bend it until it breaks. The part where it breaks will tell you how low down on the stalks that the cooked asparagus will be tender. You can either bend and break all of them (tedious) or cut off the rest at about the same point. Lightly coat the asparagus with olive oil and salt to taste. Grill for a few minutes after taking fish off of grill. Rolling asparagus on the grill will help make a light char around all sides.

Sonoma Salad & Dressing

  • 3 ruby red grapefruit
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • cracked pepper
  • dijon mustard
  • honey or agave nectar
  • baby spinach (about 2 oz. per salad)
  • sliced avacado
  • pumpkin seeds
  • craisins or dried cherries
  • chopped walnuts

I don’t include quantities specifically because some people like more stuff on their salads and some people like less. Do whatever you think is best. For the dressing put two tablespoons of dijon mustard in a blender and the juice of one and a half of the ruby red grapefruits, a tablespoon or two of honey/nectar depending on sweetness desired and a pinch of salt and a twist of cracked pepper. Blend until all ingredients are one. Taste! If you think it needs more of anything add it. Making dressings is a case by case thing. They are never exactly the same. When you have the flavor you are looking for turn the blender on low and start to drizzle in olive oil slowly until you have the consistency of a light dressing. Taste again! Re-season as necessary. Take the other one and a half grapefruits and cut out meat into small segments and reserve.

To plate the salad put a handful of cleaned and stemmed baby spinach on each plate. This salad definitely eats better presented as individuals and not in one large salad bowl. On each salad add a few craisins, a small handful of pumpkin seeds, some crushed walnuts, a few grapefruit segments and a few slices of avocado. Drizzle with dressing right at serving time or put salads on the table and allow guests to dress their own salads at the amount they wish (which I think is a nice touch).

I’m a big fan of plating everything on one plate and putting it in the middle of the table so if you don’t have one already I suggest hitting the Cost Plus and getting a gigantic serving plate. Place one entire side of the fish in the middle of the plate. On one side lay the grilled asparagus spears and on the other side spoon the hot quinoa wild rice salad. If things have gone well it should look something like this.  Overall it was delicious and great fun. The salad I sort of stole from Hub 51 but I amended the dressing a bit. The quinoa I might have seen on Food TV at some point but I thought the light citrus flavor would be a great meld with the fish preparation. The fish I concocted in my head all by myself. I wanted to go for the flavor of a Bearnaise sauce but without all the fat and instead light and fresh. It totally worked out exactly as I hoped it would. What to drink you say? We went with a dry Washington state riesling and a brightly fruited Oregon pinot noir… and pretty much everything else ever bottled by the end of the night. As Tim Allen would say fresh food, good wine, great friends and a holiday weekend. Pure Michigan!

P.S. Thanks to those of you who read my blog about One Sister. It was one of my best hit blogs ever. On a side note I was touched to be re-posted by the chef on her own page. Thanks Iliana! The amateur chef and part time writer in me is quite honored.





About Jim Herbert

I've been wanting to write my whole life. By age 45 it had amounted to nothing more than a storage locker of half full journals and a lot of unfulfilled dreams. Then Paris in the fall of 2011 happened. It was the catalyst I needed to consistently blog. At first I had a hard time hitting the publish button, but now two blog sites and over 300 posts later I'm hitting my stride. I'm also a budding speech writer. I've recently been heavily involved in the Chicago Storytelling scene and have also won the Chicago Toastmasters Area 66 International Speech Contest. Check out our website at for more details about the amazing things that are happening in my life. A book or two are nearing completion. With another Paris trip on tap for Easter of 2015 I can only imagine that there are Infinite Possibilities on the horizon!!!
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One Response to Sustainable and Stupidly Delicious Sockeye

  1. Carrie says:

    Looks like a salmon recipe I might actually appreciate. 😉

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