Contributing editor David Draper recently returned from a fishing trip in Alaska. While there, we asked him to cover all things salmon–cooking, eating, and, in one case drinking. This is the second of five stories from his trip.
Alaska residents are blessed with access to an incredible abundance and variety of wild eats, particularly of the salmonoid variety. From May through September, the state’s rivers literally teem with fish, from the early king salmon and sockeye runs into the late-summer silver salmon spectacle. In addition to conventional fishing seasons, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game offers residents liberal limits in personal use fisheries, including dip and gillnetting seasons in certain areas.
With all these opportunities, ambitious Alaskans can haul in a year’s worth of salmon fillets within a relatively short span of time. Dealing with a pile of pink-tinged flesh can tax even the most seasoned of sourdoughs. I would bet Alaskans own the market on vacuum sealers and smoker chips, but even those two methods can get boring after awhile. There’s also salmon dried, jerked, candied and, according to Alaskan Gary Ramsell, another popular way to save your salmon.
Most summer mornings, Ramsell can be found with a cup of coffee watching the fisherman float by on the Kasilof River. The cabin he calls home sits on land his great uncle Archie homesteaded in 1946. From his deck, Ramsell could give a fishing report for the popular People’s Hole, and when the fish are in, he’ll drop his drift boat on the water. He also takes part in the dipnet season at the mouth of the river. By the peak of the run, the freezer gets full and smoker space is limited, so Gary Ramsell turns to a tried and true method for putting up fish. He cans it.
This isn’t the canned salmon you see in tin-can pyramids at every tourist shop on Anchorage’s 4th Street, but the hand-caught and homemade variety preserved with a pressure cooker and half-pint jars. Ramsell shared a few recipes with me, but this one is his favorite.
1 salmon, filleted
1 tsp. olive oil per jar
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. sugar
1 c. non-iodized salt
2 qts. water
Cut salmon fillets in 8-10 oz. portions. Leaving the skin on will help hold the fillets together, but isn’t necessary.
Make brine by adding dry ingredients to water, stirring to dissolve. Marinate salmon in brine no more than one hour. Remove fillets from brine and rinse.
While salmon is brining, prep good quality glass jars and two-piece lids according to manufacturer’s recommendations.
Fill pressure canner with appropriate level of water.
Add 1 tsp. olive oil to each jar.
Place a few slices each of jalapeno and onion in each jar.
Add salmon to within ½ inch of top of jar.
Seal two-piece lids finger tight.
Process according to your pressure cooker’s directions. (Typically 100 minutes under 10-11 pounds of pressure.)
David Draper is the author of the food blog, The Feral Fork._