Arctic char

Other Names: Alpine char; alpine trout; Arctic charr; blueback trout; charr (Canada); eqaluc (Greenlandic); fjaeldørred (Danish); golec (Russian); Hudson Bay salmon; omble chevalier (French); Quebec red trout; röding (Swedish); røye (Norwegian); saibling (German); salmerino alpino (Italian); salvelino (Spanish); sea trout. Salmonidae.

General Description: Arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus) resemble small salmon and are the most commonly sold northerly freshwater fish. Wild Arctic char live only 500 miles south of the North Pole. This species is a close relation to the
brook trout. The Inuit of Canada have long enjoyed char, which they freeze, and the fish are a favorite at Canadian government dinners. The landbased, closed-cycle systems used to farm Arctic char are considered environmentally responsible.

Locale and Season: Wild-harvested char come from remote, icy waters of Europe (especially alpine lakes), Asia, and North America. They appear as far south as Newfoundland, Iceland, and Norway. Most of the char on the market today are frozen. Farmed char are available year-round. Wild char are available in limited quantities in the fall. Landlocked freshwater char are highly prized and are found in England, France, and Switzerland.

Characteristics: Char’s mild but rich flavor is more pronounced than that of trout and less than that of salmon. These fish have moderately firm flesh with a finer flake than either trout or salmon. With their high fat content, Arctic char stay moist in cooking and can be successfully broiled or grilled. The flesh ranges in color from pale pink to deep red, depending on the fish’s diet. Wild Arctic char can grow to 25 pounds, but market weight for farm-raised fish averages 4 pounds.

How to Choose: Char from the late summer or fall will be fattier and more flavorful. Two-thirds of the world’s supply of char is farm-raised. Farm-raised char has reddish skin with cream-colored spots; wild char has silvery skin.

Storage: Refrigerate Arctic char in a perforated pan over another pan to catch the drips. Top with crushed ice for up to 2 days after purchase. Like other anadromous fish, char can contain parasites, which are killed by freezing for at least 2 days or by cooking.

The skin becomes leathery when cooked. It can be
removed either before or after cooking.
When broiling or grilling, leave the skin on. Using a
sharp knife, cut the skin in a crisscross pattern, making
1/2-inch-deep cuts into the flesh.
Cold- or hot-smoke, pan-fry, poach whole, grill, broil, or bake.

Suggested Recipe: Salt-Baked Char (serves 4): Place 2 teaspoons each chopped chives, parsley, and rosemary; 1 sliced lemon; and the zest of 1 lemon inside a trimmed whole 3-pound Arctic char. Whip 3 egg whites to soft peaks and mix with 3 pounds kosher salt to the texture of damp sand. Spread a 1/2-inch layer of the salt mixture on a large baking pan. Place the fish on top of the salt and cover with the remaining salt to enclose completely in a 1/2-inch thick layer. Bake at 400°F for 25 minutes or to an internal temperature of 140°F. Remove from the oven and let the fish rest for 5 minutes. Crack the crust with a rolling pin, remove the salt chunks and the skin, and serve.

Flavor Affinities: Basil, butter, chervil, chives, cream, curry, curry leaf, ginger, lemon, mushroom, parsley, rosemary, sesame, shallot, tarragon, white wine, wild lime.

from Quirk Books: