Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Wild Arctic Char

Farmed Arctic char is available year round and is a delectable seafood option for those who prefer a milder, subtler salmon-like flavor on their dinner plate.  The appearance of Wild Nunavut char, on the other hand, is a special occasion that happens only twice a year and its rarity in the market is an indicator of how precious its rich and delicate flavor is.  Wild Nunavut char are harvested by the Nunavut people at the top of the world: understandably, a location that proves to be a logistical nightmare. There are only two seasons during the year when this treasured fish is available and each lasts about two weeks.  The first is a spring run that usually goes for 2-3 weeks from July to August.  The second is a fall run that usually goes for 2-3 weeks from August to September.  For those of you keeping count, that’s a summer that lasts for about 3 weeks at a high temperature of 45 degrees F.  That’s living close to the North Pole for you, at least you can save money on air conditioning.

Nunavut is the largest and newest territory in Canada, officially separating from the Northwest Territories in 1999.  It is also the northernmost permanently populated place in the world.  There have been traces of Viking Exploration found there that predate anything found on Greenland.  The Inuit toil in a very harsh climate and ancient environment and we are rewarded by their labors a few weeks out of the year with carefully handled, pristine Wild Arctic Char.

The natives harvest the fish much the same way as it has been harvested for thousands of years.  They establish gill and weir nets at the water’s edge and patiently wait for the fish to come.  This passive way of fishing minimally disrupts the surrounding environment and by-catch is almost non-existent, making for a very sustainable way to harvest the fish.  After harvest, the fish are gathered and processed at water’s edge and then shipped out to our markets.  This entire process occurs all within 48 hours.  The result is a fresh product that is harvested in a way that does not harm the environment, is good for you, and is a very delicious, high quality protein. 

I am not sure what is most exciting about Wild Nunavut Char.  The fact that we get to look into a bit of history on our dinner plate, enjoying a fish caught in an ancient way in an unspoiled body of water with wonderful natural flavors tasting the same way it has for centuries.   On the other hand, maybe it’s because we can support an entire community that shares its way of life and sustenance with us, even though most of us will never be able to visit such a remote area of the world.  The fact that these fishermen are harvesting the right way should also be acknowledged.  They are stewards of their environment because they know it is by the grace of the waters and land that they inhabit that they are fed.  They understand the natural processes of the environment they live in and they do not exploit them.  Instead, they harvest in harmony with their environment, which is a secret undoubtedly passed down from many generations of surviving in such a harsh area, a secret we are continually trying to grasp.  If you get a chance to try wild Nunavut char, I recommend you do so.   Its flavor is exquisite, unique in nature.  Its an experience from an incomparable fish, from an incomprehensible area.  

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