When I woke up I was in bed, not the truck , and it was late morning. The salmon saga was to continue. There were two large coolers full of fresh caught, wild red salmon. Have you priced this in the stores lately? Precious, fresh caught, wild, red salmon. A valuable commodity that took an incredible amount of time and effort to obtain. We needed to be sure it was all taken care of as quickly as possible to maintain its freshness.
As we pulled the first fish out of the cooler it was still in rigor mortis. A good sign. Once this stage has passed, the freshness has already deteriorated. Did you know that? So, how fresh are the chunks of cellophane wrapped fish you buy at the market? Or the super expensive ones, on ice, in the fish case? Or the “flash frozen” filets you buy by the bag out of the freezer case at Target? The ones that you pay extra for because the label says “fresh caught wild salmon?” They’re stiff only because they’re nearly frozen. Or are frozen. Or they aren’t stiff at all. I promise you, they aren’t still in rigor mortis and aren’t as fresh as the fish we unloaded from the cooler onto the kitchen island today. What a rare treat for a suburban, Cali-Girl, Whole Foods shopper! And I live near the coast. I still can’t buy fish this fresh.
We enlisted the help of the neighbor which made the work much more fun and much more efficient. Of course wine and music were involved! The work, itself, consisting of fileting some of the salmon and putting them in freezer bags for freezing. Fileting salmon is a skill and one I didn’t personally take on. Just yet. I did observe and even took a video so I could do it, if I had to, on my own, some day. Just in case the opportunity to fish for salmon presents itself when I return to California, or return, again, to Alaska. Which it will. And which I will. In fileting a salmon, everything is preserved and used. The fins are often given to friends with sled dogs to be incorporated into their feed. The “backs”, so, the spine and ribs, are placed in another bag for later enjoyment. A real treat, and considered almost a delicacy by those who have had them before. I, personally, could eat salmon, in any form, just about everyday, and I actually come pretty close. I eat small portions, so one of these fish would probably last me about twelve meals. I think. We froze some larger portions and some smaller portions. I am, in fact, enjoying, at this very moment, some salmon strips I brought home with me. I like them more than Oreos, I swear, and have been known to just stand with the Ziploc bag and eat one after the other until they’re all gone. They are a treat that don’t last long and should be savored and rationed, but I just can’t seem to help myself. Nom, nom, nom!
We also “jarred” some fish, this actually being the preferred salmon of many. When “jarring” salmon, the common practice is to leave the skin and bones intact, providing calcium and other nutrients with the fish. The fish is cut and placed into canning jars, a little salt added, sometimes some jalapeños, too, for a little kick. The jars of fish are then prepared for canning and pressure cooked for an hour and half. You can eat the salmon, as is, out of the jar, or use it for salmon recipes or sandwich filling. Good stuff! Really, it may not seem like “canned” fish with the bones and the skin would be very appetizing, but it is fantastic! And it makes for the very best salmon sandwiches you’ve ever eaten, not at all like buying canned salmon at the grocery store, this actually has taste and texture and nutritive value with minimal processing.
As focused as I am on the food I eat, the number of processes any food I consume goes through, the nutritive value, the quality, the source, the handling, the purity, etc., being able to see the fish caught, cleaned and “processed” was a very rewarding and fulfilling experience. One of the things I so appreciate about Alaska and the people, is their reverence for food and the amount of time, effort and dedication that goes into catching, hunting, growing and gathering much of the food they will depend on for the long, dark winter. Brief is the summer and the long days of daylight. Every waking moment, and there are more waking moments in those long hours of daylight, is devoted to preparing for the long winter cold. And yet, there is joy and fun and fellowship in all that is accomplished. There are ample opportunities for recreation and adventure because that is as much a part of life and preparing for the winter months as the sun is to the summer. I am in awe and have so much admiration and respect for this way of life.
For lunch, as we waited for the first batch of jars to pressure cook, fish backs were fried up, with much anticipation by everyone, and a little trepidation by me. They smelled delicious, of course, and when done are eaten much like corn on the cob. You pull the salmon meet gingerly off the rib bones and spine with your teeth, and, truly, there is nothing like it. Nom, nom, nom! I could eat these all day. For the sake of modesty, I think I quit at four.
We continued jarring the rest of the afternoon and into the evening. Dinnertime rolled around and, again, salmon backs were fried up! I couldn’t be happier! Salmon, wine, friends, music, and a task to keep the hands busy. To some, a day of cutting up fish, bagging and jarring it, then eating the scraps, may sound like penance for some misdeed. Until you’ve actually been involved in the process, from start to finish, I don’t think you can ever truly appreciate the joy that comes from “farm to table”, as we like to call it in Cali, from source to supply. Bon apetit!