If June is the month in which Alaskans are plagued by mosquitoes, it is also the month in which we are blessed with salmon. Right now there are three species swimming upriver towards their spawning grounds: kings, chums, and reds. The kings can be really huge, sometimes 60 to 70 pounds each. Small kings, the 15-20 pounders, are called jacks. Chums and reds are also in the 15 to 20 pound range, and all three of similar size tend to be caught in the same net. If the net has some unmended holes in it, a few big kings may be hauled in at the same time. People who are fishing for the big kings use a net with larger mesh, which the smaller fish can swim right through.
Fishing is really good this year; the Department of Fish and Game has put no restrictions on subsistence fishing days. In previous years when the run was poor, we were only allowed to fish Wednesday through Saturday, to allow sufficient escapement for subsequent years.
Henry took his boat out last night for the first fishing trip of the season. Joan and her son Michael went with him. The lower Kuskokwim is a tidally-influenced river, with two tides per day, and the best fishing is usually just as the tide turns from going out to coming in. They were putting the net into the water just at that magic moment, and the fish began hitting immediately. It is so exciting to watch the string of floats begin jumping and bobbing. They only did one drift for about half an hour and caught so many fish it was all they could do to get them in the boat. Henry estimated the catch at nearly 400 fish! Most were chum, which will be frozen whole in his trailer-sized walk-in freezer and cooked up for dog food over the next year. About 80 were reds and jacks, and there were four big kings tangled in the holes at the bottom of the net. What a catch!
Dutch and I were gifted with a king fillet for dinner, which we had on the grill within three hours of being hauled from the river. It doesn’t get much fresher than that. The photo above is actually half of the fillet, and it was from a small king. Sorry I can't show you the "after cooking" photo with the fat running; Blogger is only allowing me one photo tonight (grrr...).
I love salmon just about any way you cook it, but overall, I think simple is best. Grilled over hot coals with a little garlic salt and lemon pepper is absolutely yummy. When the fat is running out and the meat flakes easily, it is ready. Add some fresh corn and a green salad and you have a feast.
When the weather is rainy and windy and grilling outside is not an option, my second favorite way to cook salmon is on a cedar plank. I have a professionally made, store-bought one, but any two-inch thick piece of sanded cedar will work. Soak it in water for an hour or so first, coat the top with cooking oil, and slap the salmon on it (fillet or steak doesn’t matter). Cook it at 350 degrees, about 20 minutes per inch of thickness of the fish. I often make a dry rub for the fish consisting of paprika, lemon pepper, onion powder, garlic salt, tarragon, basil, and a little light brown sugar—roughly equal amounts of all, except twice as much paprika. It doesn’t mask the great salmon taste, but adds a nice little extra flavor.
My third favorite preparation is to sauté chopped scallions, halved cherry tomatoes and whole black olives in a skillet; add salmon steaks and cook until done. I think of this as “Mediterranean style” because of the olives.
And of course there are plenty of other options too. Salmon soup, salmon salad, salmon dip, salmon burgers, salmon croquettes to name a few. When you start with such a great fish, it is hard to mess it up. The key is simply not to overcook it. Ummmmm…I’m making myself hungry. Time to fire up the grill.
Labels: Life in Bethel