A post from my friend Carri in Alaska (it’s about more than just fish). Above, “the family that fishes together”—Carri’s husband John and their girls laugh between sets, salmon fishing in Bristol Bay.–M.R.
In a recent New York Times article that went viral, Paul Greenberg laid out three simple rules for eating seafood, one of which is to eat American seafood. I was happy to hear that since it is a subject that has become near and dear to me in a very surprising way.
When first I stumbled into Homer, Alaska, on a sunny spring day 30 years ago, the fact that this was a “fishing” town had completely escaped me. It wasn’t until I was drinking a beer at the Salty Dawg Saloon on my first night (conveniently located right across the street from my tent) and overheard the grizzled old guys at the end of the bar talk about the upcoming salmon fishing season. Terms like Sockeye, Coho, King, and Chum all swirled around in my head in a huge d’oh moment. I realized instantly that if I wanted to fit in at all here I had some serious schooling to do on both fish and the people who fished for them.
I grew up in southwestern Michigan on the shores of Lake St Clair. We had fish all right, not always sure you wanted to eat them, but they were there. The idea that people fished for a living was somehow a foreign concept to me. Now, I am married to a commercial fisherman and my three children identify themselves as fisherpeople. I do not fish. I am, however, happy to take whatever catch they give me and make it delicious. I also have learned it isn’t enough to know about fish if you live here, you have to know how to cook it as well. Folks around here won’t tolerate poorly cooked fish.
This time of year the Red Salmon are the most plentiful and we have learned to cherish it both as a resource (my husband and son are in Bristol Bay fishing for them as I write this) and a lifestyle for our family. When asked which was their favorite salmon recipe, they all agreed it is grilled or broiled with a drizzle of honey and cayenne. So simple and quick, all you need is a salad for a delicious summer meal.
To cook the salmon this way, leave the skin on the fillet but pull out the pin bones with a tweezer or needle-nose pliers. Place the fish on a broiler pan or sheet tray if you’re grilling. Drizzle on the honey-cayenne mixture and let it sit for 5 or 10 minutes to soak in. Preheat your grill or your broiler. Place the fish on the medium-hot grill, skin side down, or slide the pan under the broiler flame. Let it cook for 10 minutes or so and begin to check for doneness by pushing in on the flesh; when it feels firm, pull it off the flame and drizzle on more of the honey mixture. Serve immediately.
If you want to get fancy, here is a simple but dramatic way to show off your fish:
Here I have a headed and gutted whole fish. If you don’t have that, you can still do this with one filet; your cooking times with be drastically reduced.
Otherwise you will need:
- 1–2 lemons, depending on the size of your fish
- fresh herbs, such as dill or chervil
- kosher salt
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- heavy duty aluminum foil
- sheet tray
- 1 cucumber, preferably English style
- honey-mustard sauce (1/2 cup honey, 1/4 cup mustard, 2 tablespoons vinegar, 1/4 cup olive oil, big pinches of salt and dried or fresh chopped dill, stir together and store in the refrigerator)
1. Lay your fish on a large piece of foil and rub the cavity liberally with kosher salt. Stuff it with fresh lemon and herbs.
2. Drizzle in the white wine (or water) and seal the fish in foil, making sure the edges are airtight. Place on a large sheet pan and bake in a 400°F oven until the center temperature reaches 140°F. (It will rise to the desired 145°F after coming out of the oven; you could even pull it at 135°F if you like your fish less cooked). Let it sit for 10 minutes, then open it up to cool.
3. At this point you could refrigerate it and finish it the next day or chill until cool and peel off the skin and cut back the foil. Transfer to your serving platter.
4. Brush the honey-mustard sauce over the flesh in a thin layer and refrigerate for 15 minutes to set. In the meantime, peel and slice the cucumber as thin as you can get it, not quite see-through but close. Using a little more sauce as glue, arrange the cucumber “scales” starting at the tail and working your way up the fish.
5. Finish with a garnish of fresh greens that can be eaten with the flesh and the sauce. Slices of crusty bread eliminate the need for plates. The hardest part is getting someone to take that first portion, it’s just too pretty to eat!
Want to know the difference between a sockeye and a king? These folks at Salmon Nation tell it way better than me.
If you’re looking for a source for salmon, there are fisherpeople who direct-market their product—the folks at SEASHAKEN are one of my favorites. If you want to look like a fisherperson, check out the talented ladies at Salmon Sisters—their one-stop shop lets you buy fish and will have you dressing like a local in no time!
If you liked this post on salmon, check out these other posts:
- My recent posts on Chicken Eggs, Genius Recipes Food 52, Taking Back Our Pasta, and Everything We Eat.
- Carri’s past posts: MAD! (Beet-Cured Rockfish on Fig Rye), Bacon Truffles, Nettle Pesto, and Yule Log.
- A list of the five main types of Pacific salmon.
- Carri runs the Two Sisters Bakery in Homer, Alaska.
© 2015 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2015 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved.