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.
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.
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.
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.
With this year’s short king salmon season in full swing, it’s been an all-hands-on-deck exercise in fishing, processing, brining and smoking salmon, vac sealing, curing ikura salmon caviar, fishing, smoking more salmon, fishing, etc, etc. Three smoker batches and two salmon-caviar-making sessions in, we are full steam ahead. We’ve been eating salmon every day for more than a week now, and nobody’s complaining. Oh, yeah, there’s also work, chores and summer sports camps in the mix as well. Did I mention fishing?
This is summer, when the longest days of the year fly by the fastest, and we try to make the most of every minute of daylight. And based on how much the kids love smoked salmon for school lunches, and how we ran out of it by February last year, it’s time to produce, process, package and preserve. And on that note, it’s time to go eat some of the smoked belly strips pictured above. I love summer.
Why the long faces? We’re down to the very last of our most recent batch of delicious salmon caviar. An entire quart of eggs gone in less than two weeks! But boy, was it good while it lasted. I love salmon and all the different ways we prepare it, but I’m really starting to think that ikura is my favorite. Even more than crisp, melt-in-your-mouth salt-broiled shioyaki steaks? Or savory, fat-dripping hot-smoked belly strips? Or Smarty’s awesome cold-smoked lox? Or salmon-salad sandwiches on whole-wheat sourdough garlic-Parmesan toast? Hmmmm…I don’t know. But it’s close.
Thankfully, we still have a few more weeks of primetime salmon season left. The kings are pretty much done, but silvers have yet to peak in the Sound and coastal bays. Time to get after it!
As we make it through these first few weeks of school, it’s a tough adjustment: For the kids, whose carefree summer days are now ruled by alarm clocks, schedules and classwork; and for the parents, who now have to make sure the kids stay in synch with all of the above. Plus, I miss having Skyla and Weston around all day, and the option to go do whatever we want, whenever we want.
So I look forward to their return from school each afternoon. Mostly because I love hanging out with them, but also because it’s a perfect time to share our favorite snack. As I type, I’m less than an hour away from another round. La Panzanella rosemary crackers, cream cheese and cured salmon caviar, or ikura. The arrival of this year’s Honeycrisp apples came just in time, too. What a combo!
And it’s not just my kids that love ikura. So far, pretty much every friend they’ve brought over has asked for more after the first bite. And on that note, it’s almost time to go meet the kids. Better get the snacks ready…and you know, sample a few before they get home and eat it all.
The big box of fish I brought home from Willapa Bay resulted in a flurry of salmon processing. Pictured above is the second smoker load of the week, just out of the brine and air drying before going into the smoker. Collars and belly strips on the left, fillet chunks on the right, and an extremely interested party in back.
The day after returning home, I filleted all the fish and cooked some prime center-cut chunks for dinner. Then Skyla and I made our smoking brine, cut the fish into serving sizes and started the first batch soaking. When that one was in the smoker, another round went into fresh brine. We also separated eggs from membrane to make ikura (salmon caviar) and started that curing in the fridge. The vac-sealer came out for more center-cut fillets going into the freezer. Meanwhile, we were already deep into salmon salad sandwiches, and when it was ready, eating smoked salmon and ikura two or three times a day. Happily, that pace has yet to let up.
Finally, I started vac-sealing and freezing smoked salmon…mostly to keep us from eating it all on the spot. Half the ikura went into jars for freezing as well. For the same reason. Whew! In all, it was about seven days of processing from two days of fishing. But all the good eating along the way–and in the future–made it more than worthwhile.