Fall food themes continue with this pièce de résistance fit for a king. Chinook salmon holds center stage drizzled with herbed butter and served on butternut squash ravioli. Food stylist extraordinaire Barbra came up with the idea of rolling shaved parmesan into tubes.
With plenty of sockeye salmon harvested, cleaned and packaged in our freezers, it nonetheless wasn’t a case of “coals to Newcastle” when a friend offered up a couple fat fillets of Chinook. Reds, pinks, chums and silvers – they’re all welcome at our dinner table any time. But kings… with their higher percentage of healthful fat and their decadent melt-in-your-mouth texture… kings are special. With a batch of butternut and ricotta ravioli in the freezer courtesy of Barbra, I knew just what I wanted to do with one of the fillets. This was as fine a meal as we’ve ever enjoyed. (Barbra promises the pumpkin/squash ravioli recipe will be posted soon!)
This dish goes particularly well with Brussels sprouts, a vegetable we especially appreciate out here in the Alaska bush because they ship well and have a long shelf-life in the refrigerator. Our favorite cooking method is to cut the Brussels sprouts in half lengthwise, toss them in a bowl with olive oil, sea salt and cracked pepper, and then place them cut-side down in sizzling olive oil in a frying pan. Turn the heat down (but make sure they’re still sizzling) and cover the pan. Check, and when the cut side has browned, flip the sprouts to the leafy side. Turn up the heat a little to get things really sizzling again, then turn it back down to a little below medium and cover the pan. The leaves will brown up and caramelize and a few will blacken. They’re ready to be served.
Pan-Fried Salmon with Herbed Butter on Butternut Squash Ravioli
Ingredients (serves 2)
- 1-pound fillet of any wild-caught Pacific salmon, skin on
- sea salt
- black pepper
- (Optional) mirin or white wine – just a little
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 or 2 shallots, sliced fine
- 1/2 tbsp tarragon (dried) or 1 tbsp fresh
- 2 servings worth of ravioli stuffed with pumpkin, squash, mushrooms or light cheeses
- parmesan cheese, grated or sliced, to garnish
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Prepare ravioli per directions, timed so that it’s ready when the salmon is ready.
- Rinse fillet, pat dry with paper towels and cut into two portions. Inspect for pin bones, which can easily be pulled out with a pair of kitchen pliers. Sprinkle with sea salt and a little black pepper.
- Add a tablespoon or 2 of olive oil to a frying pan and turn to a little hotter than medium heat. When oil is ready to sizzle, carefully place fillets in the pan skin side up. Add just a splash of mirin. Cover and cook for 2 minutes, till meat is seared.
- Turn salmon over so that it is skin side down. Add another splash of mirin. Turn heat down to just below medium, cover. A general rule of thumb for fish is to cook for about 8 to 10 minutes per inch of thickness. When white substance appears on fillet, it is cooked through. Avoid overcooking.
- Meanwhile, over medium-low heat, melt butter in a small pan. Add shallots and tarragon and sauté just long enough to soften the shallots and release the tarragon’s aroma.
- Serve ravioli and arrange salmon on top. Spoon on herbed butter.
- Serve hot with a couple of fingers of your favorite bourbon.
With no place to pick up a case of beer for our Octoberfest sausage (grilling in the background), we decided to have a go at brewing our own. The results? A pilsner as light and crisp as the autumn weather we enjoyed today here in Chignik Lake.
Nothing compliments fried oyster po’ boys, grilled sausages with caramelized onions, deep fried rockfish or the end of a good run like a crisp, cold lager or ale. Living in a “damp” village where alcohol is permitted but not sold, we added “learn to make beer” to our list of culinary goals for this year.
For us, a kit was the way to go. The one we ordered came with a can of wort – the thick, molasses-like mixture that is the base of beer -, bottles, and everything else we needed. Total brewing time was about six weeks.
And the results… Well, take a look! We’ve already got our next brew going. Looks like it’s time to purchase proper beer glasses!
A great pleasure in life is obtaining seasonally fresh ingredients to take back to the kitchen. With Dolly Varden char at their fattest in fall and entering local streams, now is the time to go out and get them. Brookies and small lake trout shine equally well in this simple, exceptionally satisfying dish, as do Arctic char which are sustainably farmed and available in markets.
Char generally have a flavor that is richer than trout but lighter than most salmon. The keys to this dish are hearty vegetables, fresh charr, thyme, butter or quality olive oil and a good white wine. Add a spritz of lemon juice and a dash of salt and pepper. Don’t get hung up on specific ingredients; this is camp-style fare at its finest. And by all means, if you live where fresh herbs are available, substitute them for the dried herbs we use here in Chignik Lake.
This dish can easily be made in one pan. Simply hold the fish in reserve and add to the vegetables during the last half of cooking. Otherwise, prepare in two pans as follows.
- 3 or 4 cups hearty vegetables such parsnips, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, pumpkin, etc. chopped coarse
- sweet onion, chopped coarse
- approximately 8 to 10 garlic cloves, cut in half
- 1/2 tbsp thyme (dry)
- 1/4 tbsp rosemary (dry)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1/4 cup white wine
- sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Add butter and olive oil to pan and heat over medium-high heat.
- Add vegetables and seasonings, turning to ensure everything is well coated and seasoned.
- Add wine, stir and cover pan. Reduce heat. Stir occasionally. When done, a fork will easily pass through vegetables.
- 1 fresh char of about 2 lbs, gutted, head and tail removed, rinsed and patted dry
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1/2 tbsp thyme
- 1/2 tbsp tarragon (optional)
- 1/2 tbsp marjoram (optional)
- lemon juice
- splash or two of white wine
- sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- additional olive oil or butter for prepping fish
- Sprinkle lemon juice inside and outside of fish.
- Use fingers or a brush to cover fish inside and out with a light coating of butter or olive oil. Gently rub thyme and other herbs (if used) inside cavity and outside. Cut fish into three or four pieces and set aside.
- Place butter and olive oil in a pan and heat over medium-high heat.
- When oil/butter are hot enough to sizzle, add fish pieces. Add salt, pepper and a splash of white wine. Cover and lower heat to medium-low. Cook for six minutes.
- Gently turn fish. Sprinkle salt and pepper and add a splash of white wine. Cook for six minutes.
- Fish is done when flesh is opaque inside the cavity.
- Arrange vegetables on plates or serving platter, top with fish and serve piping hot with a favorite Chardonnay, Viognier or dry Riesling.
As the autumn air grows clear and crisp, Dolly Varden – close relatives of brook trout – are ascending streams on annual spawning runs. Salted and grilled over charcoal, there is no finer way to celebrate the coming of fall.
The small, icy-cold, brilliantly crystalline stream that flows less than 100 meters from our home has suddenly become positively choked with char. Only a week ago, the pools were bereft of anything but a smattering of fingerling salmon parr and equally diminutive juvenile Dolly Varden. The scene changed overnight when we woke to see the mountains rimming Chignik Lake gleaming with the season’s first snow. As the day warmed and the snow melted, the village stream filled to its brim with fresh snowmelt as clear and bracing as an Alaska September morning. Apparently that’s the signal Chignik Lake’s char were awaiting. When I checked that evening, each of the lower pools was packed with one of our favorite fish – Dolly Varden char. To be sure, there were no trophies among them, although a couple appeared to be pushing 16 inches. That’s fine. Eight to 12 inch fish (20 to 30 cm) are the perfect size for one of our very favorite foods – fresh char salted and grilled over charcoal.
I first encountered this simple but elegant fare while living in Japan. At festivals, fairs and inns in mountain villages, ayu (a trout-like fish highly regarded in Japan and South Korea) and iwana (white-spotted char very similar to Dolly Varden, Arctic Char and Brook Trout) are salted, skewered on bamboo sticks and roasted over hot coals till their skin turns a crisp golden-brown. With very small char, the bones are soft; it is common practice to eat the entire fish from tail to head.
Char Shioyaki (Salted Grilled Char)
- 8-to-16-inch char, gutted and gilled but with head left intact. (Brook Trout, Dolly Varden or Arctic Char)
- Sea Salt (We have found coarse gray sea salt, Sel Gris, to be best for complimenting salmon, trout and char.)
- Wooden skewers, soaked in water to prevent them from burning (Bamboo is traditional, but skewers fashioned from hardwoods such as alder, peach, apple, hickory and similar woods also work well.)
- Prepare a charcoal grill or campfire. (Alternatively, fish can be broiled on a baking sheet on the top rack of the oven.)
- Thoroughly clean stomach cavity and gills from fish. Do not scale. Leave head intact. Rinse in cold water and pat dry with paper towels.
- Using a very sharp knife, make shallow oblique cuts spaced about 1″ apart through the skin. Avoid cutting too deeply.
- Run sharpened skewer into fish’s mouth and through the body, making sure fish is securely skewered.
- Liberally salt the fish inside and outside.
- Placed directly on a very hot grill. To prevent skin from sticking to grill, do not move fish. Turn only once, gently loosening with a spatula if necessary. Roast till skin, tail and fins are crisp and golden brown, eyes are white and opaque, and meat is splitting where slashed. Alternatively, fish can be roasted on roasting stick over hot coals.
Serve with cider, a favorite bourbon, sake, or Pinot Gris.
With freshly cured salmon roe on hand and avocados just arrived from The Big City, we put one and one together. Wow! Perfect with a Sauvignon Blanc while grilling salmon. Click here for the ikura recipe.
And if you’re out in Bush Alaska and no Sauvignon is on hand, how about a home-brewed beer or a sparkling glass of Soda Stream fizzy water?
In The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath describes eating an entire bowl of caviar by herself. Which sounds a little piggish. Certainly we would never do such a thing. No, never. The happy little seal… well, he’s not talking.
Making your own ikura (salmon roe caviar) is easy. The recipe, linked below, continues to be one of Cutterlight’s most popular.
Click here for the recipe: Ikura: Curing Salmon Eggs
This batch came from a Sockeye salmon, and although chum salmon eggs are the traditional choice due to their large size, the ripe eggs of any species of salmon or trout work well.
This Japanese delicacy hasn’t quite caught on in America… yet. But as more and more people try it, they’re discovering what many residents of the Atlantic Gulf Coast have known for generations: this stuff is delicious!
Not long ago daughter Maia reported from Japan that she had just tried shirako. “What?!” I asked in astonishment. “Really? How was it?”
Translation: She had dined on the milt sacs of cod and found them to be delicious. “Really?” “Really!”
With this conversation in mind, I looked dubiously at the pair of milt sacs I’d just removed from a freshly caught Sockeye salmon. I’d done some reading and discovered that “white roe” – the milt sacs of mullet – are a traditional delicacy along the Gulf Coast of America. Packed with nutrition, they definitely belong in the Super Food category as well. “Well, why not,” I mused. “They look like they’re made to be rolled in corn meal, fried up and served with grits.”
That’s all there is to it. And yes, they were delicious. Really!
- Fresh milt sacs from salmon, cod, mullet or similar fish
- corn meal
- freshly ground black pepper
- salt or soy sauce
- olive oil (or butter or bacon fat)
- Heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil, butter or bacon fat in a skillet over medium heat.
- Sprinkle a tablespoon or two of cornmeal on a cutting board or plate. Add a little freshly cracked black pepper.
- Rinse milt sacs in cold water. Pat dry but leave a little dampness (so cornmeal will attach).
- Rolls sacs in cornmeal.
- When oil hot enough to gently sizzle, carefully place the sacs in the skillet. Add a few dashes of soy sauce or sprinkle with salt. Lower heat to medium-low.
- Sauté for 3 minutes. Gently turn and sauté other side for two or three additional minutes, longer if the sacs are particularly large. Both sides should be crisp and golden.
- Serve piping hot with grits or polenta.