12 February, 2009

Fishy Delights 20: SeaBear Smoked Salmon

My family really enjoys smoked fish, especially the hot-smoked (or "smoke roasted") variety. We love smoked bluefish when it's in season, I follow the sales at local stores so I can smoke salmon and steelhead trout when the prices are at their best, and there are several New England companies that sell excellent, ready-to-eat smoked salmon from the refrigerated sections of supermarket seafood departments. So, I had high expectations when I bought a package of SeaBear brand Thai Chili Smoked Salmon, planning to enjoy it as a part of Sunday breakfast.

My daughter was less enthusiastic. "Oh, it's that salmon-in-a-box stuff," she said. "We've had that before. It'll be in a foil package like an MRE, and the fish will be mushy and overcooked. Disgusting cat food."

"Well, let's give this one a try anyway. Look, it's got Thai chili peppers. Maybe it will be better than that plain one," I replied. I had forgotten about that other "boxed salmon" we'd had; it was a gift from a client a few years before and although it was a thoughtful, heartfelt, and appreciated gift the salmon was indeed wet and mushy inside its plasticized foil coffin. At any rate, I didn't want to start making comparisons when I couldn't remember the brand name of the other stuff and hadn't even opened this one yet.

When I opened the box, the gold foil pouch that came out made it obvious that my daughter has a better memory than I do.

I opened the pouch and brought the fish out onto a plate, making sure to include at least some of the liquid that it was packed in (the foil pouch was printed with instructions that read THE POUCH WILL CONTAIN NATURAL JUICES OF THE SALMON. WE RECOMMEND POURING OVER THE FILLET FOR EXTRA MOISTNESS AND FLAVOR.

The salmon was indeed quite thoroughly cooked and very wet. The surface was varying shades of smoky brown. It smelled good; smoky, pleasantly fishy, a hint of hot red pepper. The juices appeared peppery - lots of fine grains of something and flaky chips of red pepper that looked like it might have been purchased as dried flakes and added to the pouch just before processing.

Unfortunately, the texture and taste of the fish left a lot to be desired. It was, as I said, wet. Refrigerated ready-to-eat smoked salmon is firm and moist with a fresh taste, but the SeaBear pouched stuff was overcooked and falling apart even before it could be touched with a fork. There wasn't a lot of flavor - some salmony taste, a hint of smoke, and seriously little heat - if it hadn't been labeled "Thai Chili" I never would have known by eating it. In fact, if I had been blindfolded and given a taste of it, I'm not sure I would have been able to tell the difference between this and plain old run-of-the-mill canned salmon. A six-ounce piece of fish pricetagged at $14.99, or about $40.00 a pound, shouldn't be mediocre - it should be awesome.

SeaBear has a big and loyal following, but it's hard to believe that any of it was won by this truly awful product. I hope that some of the other salmon they carry on their website is better, but browsing through the pages there I see a lot of pouches and I'm not eager to do any experimenting.


SeaBear Smoked Salmon

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