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Winter Steelhead

On a recent abnormal winter day, a couple chef friends of mine and I met up early to embark on a quest for the elusive winter steelhead. Many people before us have assimilated this quest to Snipe hunting (a fool’s errand sending inexperienced hunters on a “wild goose” type chase). Keeping this in mind, we were off to the Snoqualmie river at the mouth of Tokul creek, right below the falls. The weather was perfect, filtered sunshine, unseasonably warm weather, and a break from the rain. We set off from my home in Issaquah for the short drive east. I filled a small cooler with sandwich’s, brats and Rainier beer. A thermos of coffee and a flask of the newly released year 2000 Knob Creek, quintessential nectar for a day of fishing with the guys. Upon arrival, it’s sort of a show and tell of all the new tackle and gear purchased to wrangle the phantom beast. Armed with different colored jigs, bobbers and cured eggs from last seasons salmon catch, we set off to stake our ground for the day.

Both at home and in the restaurant, I have always relied on winter Steelhead as a means for fresh, wild, fish in the dead of winter. Once the fall salmon seasons come to an end, it usually isn’t until May when the Alaskan salmon runs commence. Steelhead are a member of the salmonid family, such as salmon and trout. The difference between salmon and steelhead however, is Steelhead rejuvenate after spawning and return to the briny Pacific. On a menu, it can be treated like salmon or trout; I prefer to prepare it with ingredients that would be found in the flora that surrounds us here in the Northwest. Simply cedar plank roasted, or grilled with cedar fronds, wild Hedgehog mushrooms and mountain huckleberry coulis, the possibilities are endless. I’ve sourced Steelhead from experienced anglers on the Columbia basin to the die hards of the Olympic peninsula. Whether wild or hatchery raised, it’s showing up in more and more stores as a fresh alternative to frozen wild salmon or a replacement for the farm raised Atlantic species that litters the coolers around our area.

Unfortunately for my buddies and I, this particular January day, our only “catch” was a midwinter sunburn, a slight buzz, and a memory to last us until next time.

Jeff Maxfield, Executive Chef


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