Labor Of Love

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Even though fishing wasn’t exactly red hot on the Willapa, gradually, over the course of eight tides, we accumulated a pretty decent box of fish. And all of it had to be processed right away. In other words, I spent the better part of last week cutting, brining, smoking and packaging about sixty pounds of fish. First up was two full smoker loads of king salmon, brined with our usual 2/3 cup kosher salt and 1-1/2 cups dark brown sugar per nine cups of water, and plenty of alder smoke. The results, above.

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For the silvers, I made “coho candy” with smaller strips of fish, more sugar in the brine, a brown-sugar glaze, some cracked black pepper, and apple-wood smoke. The idea here is convenient, easy-to-eat finger food for snacks or a little protein with breakfast.

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Of course, there were also eggs. Big, prime, fall king eggs that burst in your mouth with fatty goodness. I screened out about a gallon of eggs and cured them with just a little soy sauce, rice wine and kosher salt. That’s the salmon eggs after screening and rinsing, just before seasoning. After a few days to cure in the fridge, the ikura (salmon caviar) went into a dozen small canning jars to be frozen for many great meals and snacks in the future. Over rice, on crackers, or simply by the spoonful, this stuff is unbelievable.

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Finally, and with a sense of relief and satisfaction, Skyla and I made a kind of production line with the vac-sealer. This is what kids’ favorite school lunches look like just before going into the freezer, although I also admit that a sizeable portion has already disappeared. We’ve been eating smoked salmon at least once a day now for a week straight. I’m still not tired of it. Tired, for sure, but not tired of smoked salmon. In fact, I’m going to eat another chunk right now.

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Labor Of Love

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And then, the serious work starts. Finally plowed through about four days worth of processing, but the kids pitched in and made the work both faster and more fun. It wasn’t long ago that kids “helping” made things slower, but I think the investment of time then is really paying off now. We started with butchering four kings and a silver into fillets, and then smoking-sized chunks. That’s part of the pile, above.

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Skyla made two big bins of brine, and we filled ’em up. A little salt, a little brown sugar, and the magic happens.

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18 hours of soak time, and the chunks went onto racks with a box fan blowing over them to dry. All this wet weather really raised the humidity, and it was tough drying, but after about four or five hours, the fish was good to go.

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11 hours in the smoker, over a mix of alder and apple wood–all the while, our mouths watering–and our first batch of smoked salmon was ready. Even though it finished up at around 2:00am, I had to eat two big pieces on the spot. Oh, man! Refrigerated the rest overnight, then the kids and I went to town with the vac sealer, and stacked it in the freezer. Then we started up with the brine again for round two. A LOT of work, but definitely worth it.