Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Cooking Salmon

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.



Blogger John said...

Mmmmm Salmon.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006 7:45:00 PM  
Blogger wolfbaby said...

I think you just described my husbands version of heaven LOL.... Im not a fish lover but that sounded good even to me:)... with my cholesteral level the way it is I guess I should learn huh!!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006 10:15:00 PM  
Blogger Wil said...

Great fish and an appetizing sight.

You ARE remembering the magic formula (a space or two at the top of the entry with the cursor BEFORE trying to upload a picture) aren't you? Of course you are... :)

Thursday, June 29, 2006 1:11:00 AM  
Blogger Wil said...

I forgot to mention that poached salmon with drawn butter was the traditional 4th of July meal with steamed fresh green peas and new potatoes and parsley as the side dishes when I was growing up. Usually followed by a big slice of watermelon.
Mmmmm, good!

Thursday, June 29, 2006 1:16:00 AM  
Blogger CCHuff said...

I love salmon and I want to come back to Alaska again and see more. If not for my kids,I would move immediately but I would literally die without being close to them.

Thursday, June 29, 2006 8:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Moof said...

I'm not a real big fish person, but I do like salmon - especially with bagels and cream cheese.

It's a pretty expensive treat here ... fresh shell fish is usually easier to come by.

You have some really interesting ways of preparing it ... I hope you don't mind if I save some of those ideas for friends of mine who really enjoy salmon, because I've never heard of some of them before ...

Thursday, June 29, 2006 2:35:00 PM  
Blogger TheTundraPA said...

King salmon is the king of fish in my book; I guess that means halibut would be the queen. I really loved the photo; our salmon is SO bright red compared to Atlantic salmon. And yes, wolfbaby, it is great for your cholesterol. cchuff--maybe you should just come for a visit. Thanks, all, for commenting.

Friday, June 30, 2006 7:09:00 AM  
Blogger TheTundraPA said...

oops--share away, Moof! and try some yourself, too. I agree about salmon and cream cheese bagels--with a thin slice of red onion and beefsteak tomato. I had that in Maine once, many years ago. Yum!

Friday, June 30, 2006 7:14:00 AM  
Blogger T. Comfyshoes said...


One way of getting around Blogger's irritating non-photo-uploading is to use a site like Flickr to store your pictures - Flickr will give you some html that you just paste wherever you want a picture and voila, no dealing with cranky Blogger!

Thursday, July 06, 2006 12:46:00 PM  

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