My mom has skills. Had I paid more attention and wasn’t put off by blood and guts, I might have learned to clean and fillet a fish, but alas, no. This is one thing I now wish I had paid attention to, because unlike the other skills she has, this is one that would be of particular benefit to someone who loves food as much as I.
Needless to say, I did not need to perform that task on her last visit to Seattle, boasting her freshly caught salmon, because she had already exercised this fishing ritual prior to getting on the plane. She delivered a chunk to a friend of hers who lives in Tukwila, took another large portion to my brother’s house (where she spent the next couple of days) and sent the rest of it with her “opposite sex partner”, John, to bring to our house where he would be camped out working with Tom to finish our deck.
When John and my mom met, he was living/working in the Bay Area but had a cabin and airplane in Alaska (where his heart lived).
Despite the un-commonalities between them, they are at their core, kindred souls. Mom can fish with the best of them, sleep on a cot, squat in the woods, and spin a good yarn. They both like to travel, both love to fly, and the crisp chill of Alaska will never be replaced by the wet dampness of Seattle or the sunny bustle of California. They thaw their chilled bones in Tucson part of the year, but can mostly be found doing those things that only true Alaskans do… such as fishing.
So… a man, a woman and a fishing pole:
I asked Mom to write a few words about Alaskan salmon and this is what she had to say:
“Simply put—I love it! And that means fishing, catching and best of all: eating. Usually John and I fly to the Deshka River. It is about 15 minutes from the cabin or a several hour drive + boat ride from Anchorage. Weekends are horrendous but it’s pretty crazy any time the kings are running since so many boats anchor at the mouth and plug up the river. We prefer to troll a bit upstream since it’s much more civilized, our lines don’t get tangled with everybody else, and we are much more successful! We also make certain to be in the boat, hooks in the water, at precisely 6:00 am. Fish and Game closes the river between 11 pm and 6 am to allow for sufficient escapement, so you will often see 10-20 fish being caught the first five minutes. As you alluded in your previous blog (post), not too many women are as avid as I am, so even though the regulars are nearly all men, through either luck or skill, I definitely keep up.
John goes to the Nushagak River in Western Alaska every year with friends and I went for the first time in June. It was three hours by John’s Cessna but so worth it. The fishing was great, but I was surprised at how many boats were on the river so far from civilization. Most of the boats were chartered and the camps were leased from the local Native corporations. The village store carried a few essentials and sold gas for $7.50 a gallon.
While I like every kind of salmon, especially when fresh, king (Chinook) is my favorite. I could eat it every night and never get tired of it.
My favorite method of cooking is with nothing but lemon pepper, Wondra flour and maybe a few sprinkles of brown sugar. I very lightly grease a hot pan with olive oil and butter, brown the filet good side down, turn it once and finish it off in the oven. The critical thing is to not overcook it. I usually leave it a little red in the thickest part. Salmon is also good on the barbeque, but I miss the crust you can get in the pan.”
Mom forgot to mention Grandpa’s “fried salmon” which is what the lucky (no pun intended) recipients of my Grandpa’s fresh catch will get when he cooks some up at his restaurant, the Lucky Wishbone (never to be found on the menu… This is a “special treat” for his friends and family only).
My favorite way to cook salmon is on a wood plank on the grill. When John and Tom finished the deck, I asked Mom to cook the salmon she brought her favorite way. She was perplexed that I did not have lemon-pepper, “everybody in America has lemon-pepper,” she said in disbelief. But not us, so we used lemon zest, sea salt and fresh ground pepper instead.
The next day we went shopping (stopping also for her stock-up at Trader Joe’s). When we returned home, she handed me a jar of lemon-pepper and Tom and I had a hearty laugh. I promised I would give it a try on the other half of the salmon that night (they were on their way to the airport, time to go home).
I still prefer fresh lemon, salt and pepper but hey, I at least gave it a try.
Cedar Planked Salmon
A big, big… no, HUGE thanks to John for his stamina, endurance and encore on our deck; we could not have done it without you! Mom – thanks for everything else. I love the way you cooked your salmon for us! However, in honor of our new cedar deck, cedar-planked salmon (using planks left over from construction) it had to be – the night we ate dinner for the first time on our new deck.
1 lb. fresh king salmon fillets (in one piece or cut into individual pieces), de-boned, skin removed
1/2 – 1 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp raw sugar
Many grinds of fresh pepper
Herbs (of your liking – basil, thyme, tarragon, fennel frond, etc.)
5-plus thin slices fresh lemon (enough to cover circumference of fish)
1 cedar (or any type (alder is especially great) of clean, untreated wood) plank, sized to fit the fish; soak in water for at least one hour before grilling to prevent from burning
1 very hot grill, heated to 400-plus degrees
Pat dry the salmon and season both sides with sea salt and pepper, then sprinkle over sugar on the top side that had no skin (inside). I like to add a little more salt than I normally would since it is slightly curing first, but I also don’t want to overdo it as to make it too salty. The sugar is to offset the salt and adds a little color.
Top with fresh herbs and slices of lemon. Set aside until grill is hot and plank is ready to accept the salmon.
When you are ready to cook, put the soaked cedar plank, top-side down, on the hot grill for 10 minutes to heat. When hot, turn plank over and top with salmon fillet.
Place the plank of salmon on direct heat and close lid. Let cook until it is opaque with just a slight bit of red at the thickest part, approximately 10 minutes.
Remove plank with a hot pad or spatula and let rest a minute or two. Divide the salmon amongst plates, letting guests squeeze the juice from the lemon slices over their salmon.
FOR THE PUPS
I like to trim the ends of the salmon that are the fattiest (lots of good omegas) and the brown part on the back side left from the skin. I place the trimmings into a piece of foil, seal the foil and cook it on the top warming rack of the grill (not direct heat) or in the oven, until cooked through. I then open the foil, let it cool to a manageable temperature and feed it to Ginger and Buddy. This is not only healthy for their coat, cancer-fighting and good for their hearts, but it is also something that lets them enjoy the good eats of life too (AKA – good for their souls).