This Friday, Oct. 26, four teams of culinary students from Southern Maine Community College and Washington County Community College will vie for the title of Maine’s first “Cutting Edge Chef.”
The contest, called the premier culinary college competition, is part of the many activities of Portland’s Harvest on the Harbor food and wine experience for 2012. It’s a cooking event with a cause. The four student teams will compete for the title as well as scholarships to help them further their educational goals.
The event will be held from noon-2:30 p.m. on the waterfront next to the pier in Portland. The address is 14 Ocean Gateway Pier. For additional information about the Harvest on the Harbor events that run from Wednesday through Saturday, visit www.harvestontheharbor.com.
The students will use fresh salmon and other foods from Maine to make their dishes. True North Salmon Company is donating the salmon and scholarships for the competition.
Salmon is the common name for several species of fish in the family Salmonidae. Some fish in the same family are called trout; the difference between salmon and trout is difficult to distinguish. Salmon live along the Pacific Ocean and the North Atlantic coasts. Salmon are also produced through aquaculture in many parts of the world.
Fish is an important part of a healthy diet and salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in every kind of fish but are especially high in fish such as salmon that store a lot of oils in their muscles. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in adults and promote healthy vision and brain development in infants.
Canned salmon often contains the softened bones of the fish, making it a great source of calcium. The pressure-cooking process makes the bones soft and edible, similar to canned sardines. Both farmed and wild salmon are excellent sources of high-quality protein, essential B vitamins and minerals.
Salmon quality is judged by the oil content of the fish, which is responsible for the flavor and the redness of the meat. The color of a salmon’s flesh depends on what it eats. The pigments that turn them pink are called carotenoids — specifically, astaxanthin, a pigment found in many crustaceans. This is the same natural substance found in lobster shells, carrots and egg yolks.
In farmed salmon, carotenoids are added to their diet to provide them with both vitamin A and to give them their pink color. Farmed salmon are considered wholesome, completely safe, and are approved by both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
A recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture revealed that farmed salmon typically has more omega-3 fatty acids than wild salmon, but it’s important to note that actual amounts can fluctuate since they are influenced by factors such as species of salmon, water temperature, type and availability of food and stage of maturity.
Safety concerns of eating salmon
The controversy about eating farmed versus wild salmon is threefold: environmental concerns, omega-3 fatty acid levels in edible portions, and contamination. It is difficult to sift through reports available in the media, scientific publications, and online, as many of the articles appear contradictory. On a positive note, both wild and farmed salmon have low levels of mercury, PCBs and other contaminants.
According to the Maine Sea Grant College Program at the University of Maine, much of the information available about other contaminants in farm-raised salmon is based on practices in other parts of the world and does not necessarily apply in Maine, where vaccines and integrated pest management have reduced chemical use and where preventative, broad-scale use of antibiotics, pesticides, growth enhancers, and more is illegal. All therapeutic agents are FDA-approved and must be prescribed by a veterinarian to treat a specific diagnosed condition or disease. Any Atlantic salmon raised in Maine are routinely tested by the FDA for chemical residues and contaminants — to date, none have been found.
Buying and preparing salmon
It can be difficult to tell if salmon was caught from Maine waters, as Atlantic salmon are also raised in Washington state, Canada, Chile and Norway. Salmon labeled as a “Product of Canada” was raised in the North Atlantic Ocean at salmon farms in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and possibly Maine if the fish was processed in Canada.
Want to try salmon but don’t know how to prepare it? Here are two quick, easy, and delicious recipes to get you cooking like a pro.
Sweet and Tangy Salmon
1 fillet of fresh salmon
1 cup of soy sauce
2 tablespoons fresh minced ginger
½ cup honey
Combine the soy sauce, ginger and honey. Place the salmon in a pan and cover with the marinade. Refrigerate for one hour. Grill over medium heat until cooked through and flaky.
Grilled Maple Salmon
Maple syrup not only gives this dish a beautiful glaze, but adds a sweet touch that the kids will love. Serves 4.
4 fresh Atlantic salmon portions
¼ cup maple syrup
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon garlic salt
⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
Mix the maple syrup, garlic, garlic salt, and pepper. Place salmon portions in a shallow dish and coat with the maple syrup mixture. Cover the dish and marinate salmon portions in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, turning over at 15 minutes. Drain the salmon portions and discard used marinade. Grill the salmon portions over medium heat for 8-10 minutes or until cooked to taste.
Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian and adjunct nutrition instructor at Eastern Maine Community College who lives in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.