Smoked salmon is popular across Alaska and the world. For those who want to learn more about the process of making it, there’s an annual two-day workshop in Kodiak. It’s open to novices and masters and shows them how to produce the savory treat on a commercial scale.
Students of Alaska Sea Grant’s Smoked Seafood School are skinning fillets of sockeye salmon at the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center. They’re preparing the meat to become smoked jerky. Richard Wilson is showing some of his fellow students how he skins fish.
“I usually leave a little bit of meat on the tail, just so you can grab it. Take it and go down and then you go down and just starting pulling it against your blade,” Wilson said. “If you have a sharp blade you’re just going to go ‘schweeep.’”
Wilson and his wife came to the workshop from Naknek, in Bristol Bay, where he works as a fisherman.
“We have a little family operation called Tulchina fisheries and just small just small family thing,” Wilson said.
Smoking salmon isn’t new to Wilson. He’s done it for years, but only for personal use. The annual two-day workshop will teach him and the other students techniques that could help them produce smoked fish commercially. Which is why Wilson’s here, to get information that’ll help him expand his business.
“Oh, we’re coming in here wide open,” Wilson said. “We want to learn it all and see what it takes to actually do a product that’s legal and that’s safe and sellable.”
This year, there are about a dozen students who’ve come from all over the country to attend. That’s not uncommon. Skill levels usually range from backyard enthusiasts to professionals from the seafood industry.
Chad Beatty came all the way from Seattle. He said he’s worked in “technology” for 17 years, but now wants to make the jump to selling smoked seafood. He describes himself as a sports fisherman and said smoking fish isn’t a new concept.
“Yeah, I have some secret recipes and ingredients that way for sure,” Beatty said. adding that making this career change will “marry my passion with my profession.”
The class covers a lot in two days. It includes preparing and producing smoked fish products, teaching safety regulations, and getting up to speed on different machines.
Chris Sannito is a Seafood Technology Specialist at the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center. He’s also one of the instructors at the workshop. He said teaching the class is one of his favorite things to do. Sannito loves smoking fish and the creativity that goes along with it.
“It’s kinda like winemaking,” Sannito said. “There’s hundreds of different techniques and everyone’s uncle makes the best-smoked salmon, and we’re trying to just lay out what is considered a safe product, and let people have the flexibility in creating their own methods too.”
Sannito said he’s learned a lot teaching the workshop over the years. And helping people learn how to make safe and delicious smoked fish is really fulfilling.
“You know we’ve been doing it for thousands of years and this is kind a putting the modern twist on it,” Sannito said.
This year’s batch of students worked on salmon jerky, the cold and hot process of smoking, and smoking herring. Sannito said all the students should leave at the end of the class with their arms full of the smoked fish they helped make.