"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Fish Tale (Canning Salmon)

One of the many blessings of living where I live is the seasonal availability of the world's greatest fish, the noble King Salmon. Salmon of one kind or another, often farmed, are available year round, but I wait for the local wild runs. To my mind, no other fish can come close to the deliciousness of a fresh caught wild salmon. 

Salmon has become very expensive in recent years, as has most quality seafood. The damage we have done and continue to do to our oceans through overfishing, pollution and acidification is catching up with us fast. The price of good clean fish is really the least of it, but I don't want to get sidetracked into a rant. Point being, I can only afford a few fish a year, and I want them to be salmon. 

A small scale local fisherman shoots me an e-mail when the fish come in, so I was ready. These fish came off the boat yesterday morning about 6 a.m., and I was there with a hundred dollar bill at nine. That bought me these two lovely twelve pound fish. I know that sounds like an awful lot of money, but I did some math, and by using up every last gram of meat on these fish, I can make each fish feed my family four times, maybe even five. That is, I can get somewhere between fifteen and twenty servings from each fish, and that brings the price right down in a very reasonable range. 

fresh kings

One of the fish was for eating fresh, and the other was for canning. I know that sounds like sacrilege, but ever since a friend of mine who lives in Alaska sent me some canned King salmon several years ago, I've wanted to try it. A King salmon is a big fish, it's hard to eat a whole one, and I like canned salmon better than frozen salmon. In fact, canned salmon is delicious.

I've never canned fish before - in fact I've never used a pressure canner and don't own one.  Luckily, a wonderful couple I know from church offered to help me. The gentlemen half of this couple is none other than Duckman , an avid hunter and fisherman who has been very generous with us. The lady half is R., one of the most welcoming women at Zion and an old hand at canning the fish her husband brings home. I was very grateful to have their help. First, however, I had to deal with the fish I planned to cook for dinner last night.

Never having filleted a whole fish before (I know, I know, how does a woman who considers herself a serious cook and who loves salmon as much as I just said I do get to the age of 40 without ever filleting a fish? Buy small ones and bake them whole, or pay the fisherman) I was terrified I was going to massacre it. Because it was so fresh, only hours out of the water, the fish was covered with a thick layer of slime, and it was so slippery I could barely hold on to it.

Thank God for Youtube. It took ten seconds to find a short, no nonsense video of a chef with a thick European accent cutting up a whole salmon. Of course, he made it look easy, which it wasn't. Maybe his fish wasn't as slimy as mine. Certainly, his knives were sharper. Mine need professional help. However, I don't think I did too badly for my first ever attempt.

Here is the fish after I removed the filets, with the bellies alongside. I know I left a lot of usable meat on the bones, but don't worry. I chopped the fish into pieces, removed the gills, and put the whole carcass into gently simmering salted water with a little lemon juice. It only needs about five minutes poaching, then all the meat easily slips right off the bones (ok, you have to dig around a little in the head). I salvaged close to a pound of meat from that carcass, and froze it in a ziploc bag. Sometime in the future, it is plenty to make a salmon cake dinner.  Also, I took the collars and bellies and marinated them for a few minutes in a mixture of sugar, soy cause, rice vinegar, and sriracha, and then broiled them skin side up under the broiler for 10 minutes or so. These bits we just gobbled up like candy, but it was plenty of meat that I could have made a separate meal out of it if I wanted to.

Here are the filets. They aren't super pretty, but I think I did okay. One of them was dinner last night (with enough leftovers to make some salmon salad sandwich spread) and the other is in the fridge, marinating in a dry rub. I'm going to break out my "Little Chief" smoker - which I've never used - and attempt to make some real smoked salmon. 

The second fish went out to Duckman's house with me in the afternoon. Let me tell you, watching him with a knife and a fish was a thing of beauty. In about a minute flat he had that big old King filleted, and the filets cut into pieces. He did a neat little trick where he sliced the skin off (not good for canning) without losing a millimeter of meat. Once again, I took the trim (a lot less of it, this time) for poaching and picking. 

We packed the raw salmon into wide mouth pint jars, and added nothing at all except a quarter teaspoon of salt to each jar. You leave plenty of headroom. No water, oil, or anything else. 

 Top the jars with sterilized lids and rings, and into the canner they went. R. and Duckman have a propane cooker set up in their shed; they don't like to can fish in the house because of the smell. I personally find the smell divine, but maybe it lingers.

I'm still a little sacred of the canner, to tell the truth. I just don't quite get exactly how it works. I mean, I can follow instructions, and I can tell when it's working correctly and when something is wrong, but I can't exactly visualize what the parts are all for, and what is happening inside. Anyway. We put the eight pints in the canner and added 2 quarts of water. We ran hot water over the inside of the lid and checked that the gasket fitted into the groove tightly all the way around. We closed it up and put the cooker on low. If you heat it up too fast, you run the risk of breaking all your jars.

When you can see steam venting continuously from the vent, you carefully place the regulator on. The little vent in the middle ought to pop up. If it doesn't, you just wait until it does. Then the pressure will start to rise, and you watch the gauge carefully. Salmon is canned at 10 pounds pressure for 100 minutes. Don't start the timer until the pressure rises to 10.

Then, settle down in your chair and read a book. We had to adjust the flame several times to keep the pressure right; it wanted to creep up. It's fine to let it go a little higher than ten, but you don't want it to go above 15. Once it's at pressure, it only takes the barest whisper of flame to keep it up.

While we were waiting, R. made hamburgers and corn on the cob from her garden. I had brought over a blackberry cobbler as a thank you, and so we had a fine meal. The girls ran and played on the lawn in the late afternoon sunshine and we grownups sat back and chatted about local goings-on. There's a new pastor at Zion. The grandchildren are coming to stay. A fishing trip planned for October. 

When the timer went off, we just turned off the propane. You have to let the pressure dissipate completely before you open the lid - in fact, you have to let it cool down. That takes quite a while, and it was getting late. The sun was setting and a big full moon was rising over the mountain. We decided to just let the canner cool down overnight and I'd come back for my fish in the morning. 

Which I just did. It's beautiful. I brought over a quart of my dill pickles as a thank you for Duckman, but he wasn't home. He's out on the Skagit river, fishing for humpies. 


Laura said...

I've used my pressure canner a lot for chicken and stock. They really don't explode (the myth professed by our mothers and grandmothers), and are quite easy to use. I would love to get some salmon - we have them in Oregon too - but right now have 7 rabbits to process and 3 more in the freezer that will be canned.

I'm happy to hear that you used an outdoor propane burner - I have a couple, and with it still being warm, was figuring that I'd have to wait until cooler weather. I was/am worried about the ease of maintaining pressure, and the possibility of the flame going out in the stiff breezes we get here. I'll consider it again, as I'd like to get ahead of the game on this!! My first batch will be conejo chile verde - I can't wait!!

Aimee said...

Laura, if possible, I would definitely shield the cooker from the wind. This one was inside a shed, and my neighbor told me that wind would be an issue. Either for the flame, or more likely, opening up the hot canner and the stiff breeze hits the jars and they break. You can avoid that by doing what we did, and letting the jars cool completely in the canner, but if you are doing more than one batch in a day, you'd want to get the cans out quick.