Kristine M. Kierzek
In October, Grace Parisi was named culinary director for Sitka Salmon Shares. The former senior test kitchen editor at Food & Wine magazine and food editor for TimeLife Books has spent more than 20 years developing recipes and working in test kitchens, most recently working with meal kits.
She knows good ingredients, and she believes the way we eat has impact. That was a big part of the appeal of this new job, which provides a direct connection to fishermen and the catch on your table.
Sitka Salmon Shares, which offers “boat-to-doorstep” seasonal seafood boxes, delivers to members across the country. Connecting consumers to fishermen in Sitka, Alaska, the business was founded by Marsh Skeele and University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate Nic Mink.
The duo began selling in Wisconsin at local farm markets and direct-to-doorstep sales through a small ad in the back of a Madison newspaper. Last fall, they opened a space at Madison’s Garver Feed Mill to continue to grow in the Midwest, though currently offices there are closed.
Through Dec. 9, Sitka Salmon is offering holiday seafood and crab boxes starting at $129. Additionally, reservations are being accepted for 2021 shares, with delivery beginning in April. Every Sitka Salmon Shares order comes with recipes and information on the fishermen and the seafood they caught. Find information and recipes at sitkasalmonshares.com.
Question: How did you get started in the culinary world? How did you find yourself working with Sitka Salmon and creating recipes for using different seafood?
Answer: I went to art school. Having a career in art, it was fraught for many reasons, but the impulse to be creative and express myself has always been there. Coming from an Italian-American family, food was very central to our family gatherings and experiences.
The perfect amalgamation of art and cooking was I started working as a food stylist for TV commercials. … Ultimately, it wasn’t as satisfying as making something delicious and edible. … It was a natural progression into food people actually ate.
Q: How did you get comfortable cooking fish?
A: When I worked at Food and Wine, fish was included in every single issue, so I got to work with fish all the time. But I did not go to culinary school. I am completely self-taught and learned on the job. … I was nervous about how long to cook fish, what temperature. I could never get cod to release from the pan. It would always stick. I was always impatient at the stove. Early on, a chef instructed me not to touch that piece of fish. Do not touch that fish until it develops a nice crust on the bottom and it will release itself. I still have to fight the impulse to peek and slide it around, but that lesson stuck with me.
Q: What is your favorite seafood or fish?
A: There are some super favorites available now in the holiday boxes. Dungeness crab is amazing; not only is the meat sweet and tender, but the shells serve a double purpose, because you save them and make great crab stock. I also really love our halibut. Two of our holiday boxes have halibut, and it is quite delicious, the flesh is sweet and firm.
Q: When it comes to fish and seafood, what does reputable mean?
A: A good portion of the fishing industry and the world is big massive corporate fishing fleets. They drag nets across the ocean floor for miles and grab whatever is there, disrupting ecosystems and fish life and coral reefs. They engage in what is called bycatch — it is not their catch, they don’t process those fish and animals, they’ve just taken animals out of the ocean and do nothing with them.
Responsible and environmentally sound practices are small family boats, small fishing fleets, line-caught … it is important.
Q: Were there any surprises in working with a subscription seafood program?
A: Everything in the (Sitka Salmon) packaging is recyclable or compostable. The environmental impact of the packaging is very little, and that was very counter to what my experience with a meal-kit company was previously.
Having frozen fish (by mail), I was so skeptical about this fish. My earlier experience with meal-kit companies was awful. The first time I got a Sitka kit, it was like I’d just gone to the market. … Our fishermen are paid a bit more because of the labor it takes to process the fish.
Q: Have you seen any shifts in purchasing patterns during the pandemic?
A: We have actually seen a marked interest in memberships and delivery, and with the world opening up soon potentially, there is still enormous interest and the numbers keep going up. I think people may have initially found us through circumstances, but we’re finding members are staying with us.
Q: Is there a kitchen tool worth investing in to cook seafood well?
A: Absolutely. … A decent nonstick skillet, and a good cast iron skillet that is good for blackened sable fish or crispy skinned salmon, sturdy fish.
Q: What do people need to know about a share?
A: You’re guaranteed to get fish in the species, or in the realm of the species that you’ve ordered, but because of the unpredictability of the fishing season and the runs you may not get exactly what you ordered. You will get something of comparable quality and comparable flavor profiles. You might not get sable fish, because the season was short or the run wasn’t particularly robust, but you’ll get an equally premium piece of fish like halibut. The same thing with salmon — you may not get king salmon, the runs can be limited by all sorts of factors, but you’ll get coho or sockeye. … It is like being a member of a CSA; it is dependent on things that are outside our control.
Q: What else do you want people to know about?
A: We’re working toward offering boxes of seafood for anybody. … We’re working to make that available in January, when people are not receiving shares. Our fishermen are not on the waters in January, it is too brutal. That is when they mend their nets, take jobs on other boats.
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