By Tikaan Galbreath
As the end of winter draws near I open the chest freezer to find it mostly empty. It is a sight that stirs both sadness due to a diminished food stash and excited anticipation for how to best fill it again in these imminent summer months. A freezer full of locally grown and wild harvested food is no small task. With March here, it is time to start blocking out the weekends to ensure that we are in the right place at the right time for the many seasonal wild foods available in Alaska.
Without a successful hunt last fall, a major staple in my kitchen this winter has been the Copper River salmon caught dip netting last summer. 17 hours, 90 fish, and 3 freezers filled for the winter. My father and I met in Chitna mid-July at the peak of the red run. Fishing out of that region holds an appeal not only because of the fish -Copper River salmon is the best in the world- but also the fact that it brings me to the original fishing grounds of my ancestors.
To engage with this ancient tradition of the fish harvest speaks to so many levels of my being and my relations. After a 36 hour round trip ‘suicide run’, my father and I returned to Fairbanks to join the awaiting family with our newly acquired bounty. The following morning I found myself a part of a processing chain; cleaning, fileting, wrapping, and ‘putting on ice’ is a family affair when faced with the task of turning 90 fish into 180 filets.
For a household of two, 60 filets is a hefty amount of fish, and with a market price of $10 a filet it’s significant savings as well. With 52 weeks in a year, after sharing the filets with family we were still left with just under one filet a week and the many salmon spines we saved.
While there are many delicious, elaborate, and fancy recipes out there, this winter I consistently tried to accomplish three things. When I prepared the salmon I wanted the recipe to be easy and intuitive, to taste the fish, and a quick preparation time. That said, I never used an established recipe, or measured quantities, but below are some of the combinations.
If using salmon spines, 4 spines roughly equate to one filet worth of meat. Prepare the spines by boiling them. After the meat is tender and flakes off the bones, remove them from the water. Once the spines have cooled enough to handle, remove meat from bones and use in desired recipe. This flaked meat is good for recipes that don’t require a whole filet, such as salmon dips, chowders, and cakes.
Blend all ingredients, except for sesame seeds, until well combined; pour half of sauce over salmon. Sprinkle on whole sesame seeds. Bake at 350 for 8 minutes, the pour second half of sauce on salmon. Bake another 4-8 minutes depending on size/thickness of filet (fish keeps cooking after it’s out of the oven).
Note: This was the foundation for many variations. The addition of other ingredients, such as cilantro, cayenne, maple syrup, and honey, adds to the dish depending on what it is being paired with.
Pour lemon juice and spread capers evenly onto filet. Cube butter and place on filet (helps keep salmon from becoming dry and adds some salt, but is not necessary). Bake at 350 for 12-16 minutes depending on size/thickness of filet (fish keeps cooking after it’s out of the oven). Chop dill finely and add once filet is out of the oven.
Salt and pepper
Cooked flaked salmon
Combine all ingredients in a food processor, blend, and serve with crudité and bread or crackers.
Subsistence & Wildharvesting Contributor: Tikaan Galbreath
Fermented by the fine culture of Fairbanks, 20 years makes a unique sourdough. After 4 years of higher education and traveling, Tikaan Galbreath has returned to Alaska with a renewed passion for food and the positive community created around it. As his love for food spills over into his Athabaskan heritage, his concept of sustainability is currently under reconstruction as he engages with traditional practices of the past.