Arctic Char is a Great Alternative to Salmon

Arctic Char with Minted Sweet & Sour Pan Sauce is another example of something I have noticed swimming around on a lot of blogs lately. I am talking about sustainable seafood.

The state of the world’s oceans is a topic of great interest to me. Because I love all the tasty tid-bits from the sea. Do you love seafood as much as I do? I hope you do. I actually hope you love it enough to stop and think about the consequences of that love.

Love, indeed, has consequences and condoms are not always the answer.

Because these last few decades, the way we get seafood to market has begun to drastically alter our marine ecosystems. Overfishing, environmental degradation and destructive harvest practices are becoming cataclysmic.

But I am proud to say we bloggers seem to be taking a lead on this subject and I think the word is getting around.

Organizations such as Seafood Watch have been trying to educate consumers about many of the collapsing fisheries in the world. I first got involved with Seafood Watch in 2008, and made my first post on the subject (with video) in January 2009. Because without healthy eco-systems the seafood we all love will simply disappear.

Arctic Char Info

It’s a touchy subject though, and everyone is entitled to make their own decisions about what works best for them regarding the choices they make. So I think it’s important to present the information so that we as individuals can make the most informed and appropriate choices for our lives.

Which sometimes leaves me in a quandary. Sometimes I go to blogs and see wonderful recipes for Monk Fish, Orange Roughy, or King Crab. As delicious as the seafood choices are. They are not considered sustainable by Seafood Watch for a variety of reasons. In the past I have kept my mouth shut in these instances. I figured my beliefs are my own choice and I probably have no right pointing out these things to other people. Besides why risk hurting feelings, rustling feathers or getting gills in a lather, right?

Wrong, because I now realize as bloggers our choices reach far further than just our own kitchens. Which makes me wonder, how many other readers saw those same recipes. And worse how many of them ran right out and purchased these types of fish. Thereby supporting the belief that simple market demands determine supply.

Well, we are all in a position to help change market demands. Because there are many wonderful choices of seafood that are safe, healthy and sustainable. I pledge to always make these choices to the best of my ability, though I concede it is a complex problem. Because I’ll be honest. Chilean Seabass has found its way into my kitchen more times than I care to admit. But I am trying.

Because if we bloggers make responsible choices, and explain to our readers why we have made these choices– we can help shape the tastes and practices of our seafood loving communities. As you know, one thing we bloggers do very well is reach out to our communities. We can influence the future of the world’s oceans, in small ways and large.

Which (finally) brings me to a recipe. A recipe, sure but mostly an excuse to introduce you to Arctic Char. Char is a terrific alternative to farm-raised Atlantic Salmon. Now farm-raised Salmon is not the worst choice you can make. But it is raised in pens out in the ocean where they pollute the waters and drive away indigenous species. So farmed Salmon is never as good a choice as wild-caught Salmon, but wild Salmon is not always available, right?.

That’s where Arctic Char comes in. It is raised inland in a clean and sustainable environment. It is related to Salmon and is close in appearance also. At least it’s close in appearance to wild Salmon. Because the color of the flesh is the same deep red hue. Farm-raised Atlantic Salmon’s color is enhanced with chemicals.

Tastewise there is some similarity between Salmon and Char as well. But I personally think it tastes more like trout. Steelhead Trout to be precise. Which, of course a lot of people say tastes like Salmon. GREG

Arctic Char with Minted Sweet & Sour Pan Sauce serves 4 CLICK here for a printable recipe

  • 1 T vegetable oil
  • 2 clv garlic, peeled & minced
  • 1⁄4 c chicken broth
  • 2 T brown sugar
  • 1⁄4 c rice vinegar
  • 1 T asian fish sauce
  • 3 T mint leaves, thinly chopped
  • 4 arctic char fillets
  • salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste


charHeat oil in a small saucepan set over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir until coated with oil. Let the garlic cook, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes until just beginning to color. Lower the heat to low and add broth, brown sugar, vinegar, fish sauce, and half of the chopped mint. Stir often until the sugar is dissolved. Turn off heat and cover the pan while you prepare the fish.

Heat a large non-stick or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until nearly smoking. Salt & pepper the fish fillets generously on both sides. Add them, skin side down to the dry pan. Cook until the skin is very crisp, dark brown and releases easily from the pan. This should take 2 to 3 minutes. Do not be tempted to check or move the fish around in the pan during this time. You will only succeed in making it stick to the pan or worse ruin your beautifully crisp skin.

As it cooks you will notice that the fish gets lighter and more opaque. Do not let it cook more than about 1/4 of the way through the thickest part at this point. You might be worried that the rest of the fish seems quite raw, but honestly this is a good thing. Once the skin has crisped flip the fish, and cook it an additional 2 minutes more, or until cooked to your liking. Do not let it cook all the way through, however. The fish will continue to cook after it leaves the pan. Your goal is a succulent flesh graduating from a rare to medium-rare center outwards to a crispy crackly skin. The nature of char with it’s thick and thin parts assures you will get plenty of variety in texture and doneness.

Once the fish is cooked. Remove the fillets to a warm plate. Pour the sauce into the hot skillet through a sieve. Discard solids. Cook the sauce, scraping any bits from the bottom of the skillet, until it is reduced somewhat and a bit syrupy.

Plate the fish and drizzle some of the minted sweet & sour pan sauce over or around each fillet. Garnish with remaining chopped mint. Serve warm.

Greg Henry writes the food blog Sippity Sup- Serious Fun Food, and contributes the Friday column on entertaining for The Back Burner at Key Ingredient. He’s active in the food blogging community, and a popular speaker at IFBC, Food Buzz Festival and Camp Blogaway. He’s led cooking demonstrations in PanamaCosta Rica, and has traveled as far and wide as Norway to promote culinary travel. He’s been featured in Food & Wine Magazine, Los Angeles Times, More Magazine, The Today Show Online and Saveur’s Best of the Web. Greg also co-hosts The Table Set podcast which can be downloaded on iTunes or at Homefries Podcast Network.

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  • Look for Greg’s book Savory Pies coming Nov 2012, from Ulysses Press