Monday, August 17, 2009

Salmon Six Ways From Sunday

Ok five ways. So two weeks ago we decided it was time for salmon. And at one of the fishmongers at the Farmer's Market, we managed to score their last 'Fish In A Bag', a whole Coho salmon, gutted but scales and everything else on, all for $25. This guy was about 10 lbs total I'd guess. Very fresh, straight off the boat from the current Alaska runs. The idea was to use as much of this guy as possible, in several different ways, then figure out the cost/meal we got out of it.

Scale isn't so good here. That knife is about a foot long when open. Well, I had this whole fish. Time to get to work.

Filleted it out. Then cut one fillet in half. I believe the term you're looking for is "hacked by a blind woodsman." Could use a bit more practice here.

Head, collars and belly went into one bowl. Spine and trimmings went into another. Then I went back and pinboned the fillets as best I could. Also, I didn't think about scaling it before I got started, so I had to go back and scale the fillets, belly, etc. while they were separate. Which meant they were a floppy pain in the ass and difficult to handle. Oops.

Now that the salmon was broken down, here's where it went from there.


Laks really isn't very hard to make. Basically you're using the osmotic power of sugar and salt to pull moisture out of the fish and quickly cure it. The basic recipe I use is from Andreas Viestad's Kitchen of Light. His recipe calls for two 3-pound fillets, which is a lot of laks! Like 30 servings. But the basic cure ratio is 1 part salt, 2 parts sugar. Add some dill seeds, cracked black pepper, and some dill and that's your ingredients.

Take one half of your fillet and cover liberally with the salt/sugar, add your pepper, dill seed and dill.
Slap on the other half of the fillet. Then put a weight on it. I use these two nesting Pyrex baking dishes, separated by some plastic wrap. Stick it in the fridge. Every 12 hours or so you'll flip the fillets and use a spoon to spread the brine around (lots of liquid will come out of the salmon and will soak up the sugar/salt.) After three days it should be good to go. Wipe off the dill, thinly slice with a very sharp knife, and serve on some homemade bagels (yay wife!) like so:

It'll keep about a week before it starts to get pretty fishy. So if you're making a lot, best to serve it all at once at a party. Or make no more than a pound or so at a time. The two fillet/press method works well, but you could use one fillet and just put plastic down and press on that.

BBQ Salmon

To make dynamite BBQ salmon all you need is a glaze of honey, ginger and soy. And since that's what we always do, I decided not to go that rout this time around. Instead I went for the rub in Tom Douglas' Seattle Kitchen, which is more of a paprika based classic BBQ rub and which he sells in commercial form all over the place. As I remember I added some smoked paprika and my own chile powder mix to spice it up a bit.

But step one of grilling salmon is: cure it first. Just a quick cure before going on the grill will make it firmer and juicier and just all around better. I used the leftover laks salt/sugar mix and sprinkled it on, then left it for an hour.

You can see that it's starting to give off liquid and it helps form a nice pellicle, a tacky surface on the meat, which will help hold the smoke from the BBQ. Those are collars and belly in the photo, I was prepping them for their brine while this was curing.

After an hour or so I washed the fillet, then put the rub on it. Let that sit while I lit the BBQ. Advice on grilling fish:
  • Keep the skin on. Before putting it on the grill, oil the skin side.
  • Use smoke wood, I used alder here. You want a good medium heat on the coals.
  • Brush the grill really well first. Then apply cooking oil using tongs and a rolled up paper towel. Then on goes the fish. When it starts to flake and goober little bits of fat/protein then it's basically done. Don't overdo it, particularly if it's really fresh. If you want you can oil another section of grill, and flip the fillet over (meat side down) really quick before removing.
  • If your grill is really crusty, or your fish really fragile, you can also grill the fish on a piece of aluminum foil. This is also a good way to do the honey/ginger/soy glaze because it caramelizes and cooks on the foil.
Served with a bit of lemon/dill compound butter and a salad. Best fish evar!

Collars and Bellies

The collars are my favorite part of the salmon. There's a lot of fat and cartilage in that area, and when grilled or broiled it just comes out fantastic. The bellies too are pretty great, brined and quickly grilled. So the collars and belly went into a brine of soy sauce, ginger, garlic, star anise, and chile. Bring everything to a boil and cool, then in go the collars and belly. Steamy!

I let it hang out for a day or so. Then the collars and belly went onto a very hot grill until just done, served with some stirfried bok choi from the backyard. In retrospect I might have left out the star anise, I'm just not that big of a fan. But I have this whole huge jar of them so I feel obligated to use them.

Salmon Flakes

So there's a lot of meat on a salmon. And a lot of it gets wasted if you just eat the fillets. (Especially if I'm the one filleting it for you!) So you take the spine, and all the trimmings and bits leftover and throw them on the grill till done. Let it cool a bit, then pick out all the meat and discard all the bones.

That's a lot of flaked, cooked, slightly smoky salmon. Easily a pound and a half. You could make salmon salad with it. Or do what I did: salmon omelettes and salmon cakes. For the omelettes, just add a handful in when you're stirring the eggs around, and serve with a bit of lemon, dill and sour cream. For the salmon cakes get a big bowl and throw in anything that sounds like it should be there. Panko? Check. An egg or two? Check. Salt/pepper/cilantro/kaffir lime leaf/Rooster Sauce/chopped onion/garlic/whatever? Check. So long as it forms a patty. Then flour, egg dip, panko crusting and into a pan with some oil and clarified butter. Cook till golden brown and delicious. Serve with dill mayo or on a hamburger bun with some lettuce, remoulade, etc. We did both!

Fish Head Soup

Waste not want not. We had the head leftover, and some of the flaked salmon. This soup came from Hank at Hunter Angler Gardener Cook.

Into a pot went the head, a 2x3" piece of kombu, and some ginger slivers. Cold water to cover the head. Heated until 190 degrees, then left to simmer for half an hour. No boiling your salmon heads! Also, remove all the gills. I missed a spot (oops) but it didn't ruin it. Once done, strain off reserving the broth. Once the head cooled a bit I picked the meat off.

Those big white bits are the cheeks, and are one of the absolute best parts of the salmon. There's some other heady bits, and you can see a bit of gills that got through. They are bitter and not good eats.

Doctored up the broth with some mirin and soy sauce to taste. Then into the bowl went a tablespoon of miso. Poured a bit of stock on it and mixed throughly. In went some cooked somen noodles, some dry wakame seaweed, salmon bits from the head plus some of the BBQ flaked salmon to beef it up, and stock to cover. Subtle and delicious. A fairly easy and excellent soup using leftover nasty bits! Only wish I'd had some green onions for it.

  • Laks = 10 delicious breakfasts (frankly, we couldn't finish it all in time before it got a bit fishy)
  • BBQ = 4 awesome servings
  • Belly and Collars = two meals
  • Flaked Salmon = two big omelettes and four good sized salmon burgers
  • Head Soup = two meals
So I count 24 meals from our salmon, which works out to $1.04 a serving. Pretty sweet! I guess the lesson is, buy whole and use every bit of it. Putting in the extra work to scale and fillet it paid off in spades. The only downside is that by the end we were pretty salmoned-out. But maybe we'll get another one next week before the Alaskan season ends. And throw half on the smoker...


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