Q&A: Taking frozen salmon to the next level
Mark Tupper is on a mission. As president of Triad Fisheries Ltd. in Bothell, Wash., Tupper is out to prove that, when it comes to his salmon, frozen is fresher than fresh.
Triad Fisheries markets Bruce Gore Wild Alaskan Salmon. Gore, who now serves as Tupper’s consultant, has been marketing his troll-caught salmon from Southeast Alaska waters since the 1970s. The salmon are caught using a hook-and-line trolling method that contributes to the salmon’s quality, causing minimal stress on the fish and no bruising.
Once harvested, the fish are immediately bled, dressed, glazed and cryogenically frozen at sea. The fish are frozen at minus-40 degrees F pre-rigor mortis, which kills any parasites and guarantees that the fish is safe for raw consumption. Each fish is tagged with an individual serial number, and the fish are then shipped via barge from Alaska to Seattle.
Just because the 23 fishing vessels Triad deals with puts so much care into handling its salmon doesn’t mean the fish are an easy sell for Tupper. Educating chefs and retailers — and dispelling the misperception that frozen fish is inferior to fresh fish — is a vital part of his job.
In part one of a two-part interview, Tupper talks about the product’s attributes and the challenge of making inroads in the marketplace. In part two of the two-part interview, which will run on Tuesday, Tupper will explain Triad’s new Frozen is Fresher than Fresh campaign.
Hedlund: What sets Bruce Gore Wild Alaskan Salmon apart from the competition?
Tupper: About 1 percent of the fish caught in Alaska is troll-caught, and about 1 to 3 percent of troll-caught salmon are actually frozen. A lot of fishermen who freeze fish on trollers don’t have temperatures as [low] as we do — our minimum hitting the dock is minus-25 degrees F — and they don’t clean the fish or treat the fish as well as we do, so you end up with an inferior product.
We leave no fish on the deck longer than 15 minutes. Some [fishermen], if they get heavy on fish, they’ll ice fish in totes and put them in the freezer later on. Or they’ll pull them off the coils where they’re not cold enough, not frozen enough. They’ll glaze them and let them finish freezing in their hold, [which causes] cell brakeage.
How much effort do you put into training fishermen to handle the product to your expectations?
Basically, we go out and train [fishermen]. We don’t take their fish the first year; we wait till year two. We go through training every time they deliver saying, “The tails need to be splayed flatter, the fins need to look better, leave it on the tray longer to get your core temperature.” Things like that take us about a year to teach fishermen how to do properly.
How much of a price premium does your product fetch?
It depends on the year, the run and the economic conditions of our world. We generally demand USD 1 to USD 1.50 more a pound. Fishermen realize from USD 0.50 to USD 0.75 to even USD 1 a pound [more].
How well has your product been received in the European market?
I had a gentlemen come up to me from Switzerland [at the European Seafood Exposition in April] … and we developed a great relationship. Now he’s out selling it in Switzerland. He called me this morning and said, “OK, we got to get ready to go for this year.” We also had Deutsche See, which is the largest [seafood] distributor in Germany carrying no wild Alaska salmon at all, [and] now it’s carrying the Triad label. Tim Raue, a famous chef in Berlin, uses the [product] in his Asian-style restaurant, where he takes the whole fish, thaws it out, fillets it and serves it raw.
What about the U.S. market?
We went to San Francisco in January 2009 and did the Fancy Food Show. We had a choice — bring either raw fish or cooked fish. And I said, “Let’s serve the fish in its purest form.” So we took our salmon, thawed it out, hit it with a smidgen of salt to pump up the flavor a bit and [served it as] sashimi. And people were just going crazy over it. They did what I called the “happy dance.” They’d put [a sample] in their mouth and walk away, and they’d come back and they’d be standing there bouncing around asking, “What is that? Why is that so different?” They had never really tasted that kind of texture and flavor in a salmon, when you completely bleed out a salmon and then freeze it. You taste the ocean. It’s a whole different ballgame.
How do you measure just how fresh your fish is?
We had about 14 lots of coho on hand [at out Mt. Vernon cold-storage warehouse early this year], and I had Surefish come up. I said, “Pick any lot you want, any three fish you want … and do a bacteria test.” So they thawed three fish out, and it took eight days to get any plate count at all. After eight days, the bacteria counts they got were 10, 100 and 200 — absolutely no bacteria at all. You’d expect it to be in the millions after eight days on ice. That’s another reason why it tastes so different.
We clean our decks every 20 fish, so we keep our bacteria counts extremely low. We’re always keeping our holds extremely clean, and we’re bagging each fish with a tag number. Each boat is assigned a bag number so we can trace the fish back to the boat and the day it was caught. We’ve had traceability long before the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] and everyone else wanted it.All Supply & Trade stories >