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 final story from his trip.
Some weeks ago, having little or no money left in my 401(k), and nothing in particular to interest me in the Lower 48, I thought I would take to the air and see a wilder part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the ennui and replenishing the larder. Whenever I find myself growing grim… Whenever it is a hot and dry summer in my soul… Whenever I find myself pausing involuntary before tackle shops and lingering about boat docks…
That’s when I figure it is high time to get to cooler climes as soon as I can.
My Moby Dick on this adventure was the ivory Chinook, a fish so rare only one in 100 are said to trade red flesh for white. These ghostly king salmon swim among their more typically tinged brethren, and only when you cut into them do you find the ivory as coveted as that from Africa, at least among fish mongers and foodies. They’re thought be lacking in the genetic make-up to absorb Astaxanthin–a caratenoid found in fish’s diet that makes your run-of-the-mill salmon, and lobster shells, red. Whatever it is that makes them mutants, it also makes them delicious.
In truth, I wasn’t hunting the ivory Chinook, but was after the Kenai king, a fish that can seem nearly non-existent, at least when you spend day after day back-trolling for them. It’s said an angler has to put in 100 hours on the water before he’s worthy of a Kenai king. In this production, Ahab was played by Captain Mike Flores of Ninilchik Charters, and our Pequod a 21-foot Koffler. Finally, at the bottom of the last hole on the last day, we hooked our white whale in the form of a 20-pound jack, and we were happy to have it in a year when Kenai kings were even harder to come by than normal.
Back in Anchorage, I did find a white king salmon, though not at the end of my line. Instead, it was the Saturday night special at the popular and always packed Glacier Brewhouse, surfacing on a plate of garlic mashed potatoes with harpoons of grilled asparagus and swimming in roasted red pepper sauce. The alder-smoked, white-fleshed fish was no less delicious than a fresh-caught king, but with a more subtle flavor that came and went as quickly as a short-biting rainbow. It was perfectly complemented by a Glacier Brewhouse’s hoppy, crisp India Pale Ale.
Had I caught a white king, I would use this simple recipe adapted from one of Mike Flores’ favorite ways to cook salmon.
Recipe: Alder Plank Salmon
1 skinless king salmon fillet, cut to fit planks
Salt and Pepper
Soak alder planks in water for several hours.
Prepare an indirect fire on your grill.
Brush salmon steaks with olive oil.
Season with salt and pepper.
Toast planks on hot side of grill until just smoking, move to indirect heat.
Place salmon on planks, skin side down and roast until flesh flakes easily, approximately 15-20 minutes.