Broiled Salmon Spine with Roasted Vegetables on Farfalle: Getting The Most out of Every Fish

Close to the bone, salmon meat near the skeleton is lean and tasty. Salmon spines (salmon carcasses with some meat still attached) are perfect candidates for the broiler. Add some vegetables to the broiling pan and you’ve got a gourmet meal for two.

No sooner did we return back home in Chignik Lake than we began turning our attention to filling our freezer and smoker with salmon. Wild salmon are precious, and every last bit of salmon meat is delicious. I don’t always get the fillets off the bones as cleanly as I’d like. That’s where this dish comes in. While the photos depict a Sockeye salmon, other species work well, too, and of course a fillet works as well as a spine in this recipe.

1. Position your oven rack to the second level below the broiler. Place a broiling pan on the rack and turn on the broiler to preheat the pan and the oven.

2. Chop up some of your favorite vegetables. Pick ones that are hardy enough to withstand a few minutes under the broiler. Whole garlic cloves roast up soft, slightly charred and delicious in this recipe. Fruit such as pitted olives work well, too.

3. To serve two, measure out about two cups of Farfalle pasta. Other types of pasta are fine.

Mise en place: whole garlic cloves, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, fresh oregano, sea salt, pasta and Kalamata olives. You’ll also need a good extra virgin olive oil, a broiling pan, and, of course, the salmon spine or fillet. 

4. Toss the vegetables together in a bowl along with sea salt and olive oil. Fresh or dried thyme or oregano are good herb choices.

Sprinkle salt into the vegetables to taste, add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, then mix together. As an additional option, a tablespoon or so of mirin – a light, sweet cooking wine – adds a hint of sweetness and helps the vegetables brown and char.

5. Next, rinse the salmon in cold water and dry and clean it with paper towels. There may be some dark matter running along the spine inside the skeletal cavity. That’s the kidney. If there’s a lot of this, you can use a knife or even a spoon to scrape it out. It can be further cleaned up with a stiff brush. A toothbrush works well for this.

6. Place the salmon spine on a cutting board and give it a fairly generous sprinkling of salt.

A good sea salt (we like gray sea salt) really brings out the flavor of salmon.

7. Take the preheated broiling pan out of the oven. Use a brush or spatula to coat the surface with olive oil. Arrange the salmon and the vegetables on the pan.  It should be sizzling hot. Place the pan back into the oven and broil for about 8 or 9 minutes.

8. While the salmon is broiling, prepare the pasta according to the maker’s directions.

Colored bell peppers and Brussels sprouts char and caramelize beautifully under a broiler.

9. After about 8 or 9 minutes, remove the broiling pan from the oven. Transfer the salmon to a cutting board and use a fork to pull the meat off the bones. You want chunks of a good size to go on a fork along with a bite of vegetable and a bit of pasta.

10. Finally, plate up the pasta. Add the salmon and vegetables. Finish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and a couple of grinds of freshly cracked pepper. Serve hot with a bright Willamette Valley Pinot Gris.

 

Winter Landscape in Black and White: Spruce Tree with Mountain

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I made this photo just a few feet from my home in Chignik Lake. The challenge was to somehow clean up the assortment of utility poles, wires, satellite dishes and the dissonant array of scrub alder closer to eye level. I actually knew as soon as this assignment (Winter Landscape in Black and White – the second weekly assignment from Outdoor Photographer magazine) was posted the scene I wanted to shoot. I put on a long lens, waited for the right light, and got this frame.

Next Thursday: Patterns of Winter

 

Winter Macro Photography: Other Worlds

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Abstract #4: Parallel Worlds – Among new projects in 2017 is a commitment to taking on the “Weekly Photo Assignment” challenge at Outdoor Photographer magazine. The first new assignment for 2017 was Winter Macro. 

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Abstract #4: Fracture – For the first time in perhaps five years, our lake, Chignik Lake, has frozen solid. The first day it was reasonably safe to walk on the ice, it was incredibly clear.

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Abstract #9: Galaxy – As I walked around scanning the bottom for fish and aquatic insects, here and there I noticed bubbles trapped in the clear ice.

Next Thursday: Winter Landscape in Black and White

Uni & Ikura Amuse Bouche (Sea Urchin & Salmon Roe)

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Fresh from the sea, uni and ikura create a salty, savory combination.

Much as is true of most Japanese people, most Alutiiqs love virtually anything harvested from the sea. From octopus to chitons (locally known as bidarki), if it’s fresh from the ocean it’s likely to find its way onto the menu here in Chignik Lake. Sea urchins are highly prized.

And there’s really nothing to preparing them. Insert a small knife into the opening on the bottom of the shell, cut the shell open, and remove the bright yellow lobes, which are the urchins’ reproductive organs.  (They are not roe.) Most people are careful to remove the dark colored matter inside the shell, but the urchins we had were small and including this substance added, we thought, both a subtle additional flavor and contrasting color. In Alaska, we almost always have a jar or cured salmon roe on hand. This bright, salty, translucent salmon caviar is a perfect finishing touch on many dishes. For a popular recipe for making your own ikura, click here.

Perfect Sourdough English Muffins: Easier than You Think!

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Perfectly round. Perfectly chewy. Perfect little breakfast breads. Why did I quit on you so quickly. my Darlings?

With success under my belt making sourdough bread, I found myself contemplating what other types of delicious baked goods I could make with my sourdough starter. A friend in the village lent me an old Alaskan recipe book with a huge collection of recipes that are truly Alaskan. Did you ever wonder how to cook up beaver meat? Or fireweed stalks? These are just a couple of the interesting recipes found in this volume. Of course, there was a substantial section on sourdough. I don’t know if many people realize this, but sourdough is a very Alaskan thing.  In fact, you can find starters that date back to the Klondike gold rush! It was an easy thing for people of that time to keep fresh starter going. They only had to regularly feed it. Delicious pancakes and breads could then be whipped up in a snap.

Now that I have a healthy starter going (I actually have two, thanks to another friend), I started playing around with recipe ideas that would showcase this unique ingredient. In short order, an idea came to me from a recipe that I’d failed at several years ago…

I got into serious baking when we first came out to the Alaska bush. At that time, we decided to make as much of our food as we could from scratch, knowing that our local store would have limited supplies. We shipped out ingredients in bulk, like 50-pound bags of flour and sugar and 25-pound bags of rice and beans. It was lovely to have a year’s worth of ingredients in our pantry. Lately, I’ve been contemplating how my baking skills and confidence have grown since the days of bread machine loaves and basic chocolate chip cookies to what I turn out in our kitchen now: lattice-topped pies with homemade crusts and my own “Twix” bars in which every layer of the candy is crafted from scratch.

I can’t remember what about my first English muffins was so bad, but I do remember being quite frustrated and promptly turning my back on these little breads. Until now. I’m glad I came around. These round beauties came out better than store bought. They had that lovely sour tang to them, the chewiness that is the hallmark of good English muffins with the expected crunch of cornmeal on the outside. Of course, we split them with forks before serving them toasted with butter and homemade jam. We also use these muffins for tasty breakfast sandwiches of fried egg, salmon, and melting cheddar cheese. As it turns out, these tasty baked breads are actually pretty easy to make. Who knows what wrong I did to this recipe so many years ago.

Sourdough English Muffins

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 2 cups warm water (about 110 degrees F)
  • 1 tbsp active dry yeast
  • 7 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sourdough starter
  • ½ cup nonfat dried milk
  • ¼ unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • cornmeal, for coating

Directions

  1. Combine all of the dough ingredients (except cornmeal) in a large bowl.
  2. Mix and knead. Dough should be elastic and not too sticky.
  3. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl. Cover with plastic and let rise for about 1 hour.
  4. Turn dough out on a lightly flour surface.
  5. Divide dough in half.
  6. Roll dough to about ½ inch thick. Cut into 3” rounds with cookie cutter. Or just cut dough into squares, using a knife.
  7. Re-roll and cut any remaining scraps.
  8. Repeat with remaining half of dough.
  9. Place rounds onto cornmeal-sprinkled baking sheets. Sprinkle with additional cornmeal.
  10. Cover with plastic wrap and let them rise for another hour.
  11. Preheat a large griddle over medium-low heat.
  12. Place as many muffins as you can (without crowding) on griddle.
  13. Cook muffins for 10 minutes on each side.
  14. Remove muffins from griddle and cool on a wire rack. Store tightly wrapped at room temperature for about 5 days. Freeze for longer storage.

Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour.

30 Minute Raspberry Jam!? Yes, Way!

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Fresh raspberry freezer jam. 30 minutes from ripe berries on a bush to yummy jam.

Chignik Lake is a magical place. Maybe I shouldn’t gleefully announce this. One of the things that make this place magical is the small population. 😉

Jack and I really enjoyed living in Mongolia. The stint there certainly scratched a life-long itch of living overseas. We enjoyed trips our to the countryside and we certainly miss our Mongolian friends. But while we were away from Alaska, we longed for the pristine forests, tundra, mountains and seascapes and outdoor activities that have forever become part of our desired reality. At the top of our list? Foraging for wild food.

Part of the magic of Chignik Bay is the blueberries, crowberries (also known as blackberries in Alaska), and cranberries that grow in wild abundance. Additionally, currants and raspberries have been planted here and are thriving. We may try to grow our own in the spring. We’ve found many mushrooms and still need to figure out which ones are edible. There will be fireweed shoots to harvest in the spring, too. Needless to say, our freezer is stocked with the Sockeye and Silver salmon we’ve caught.

After a few trips out to nearby muskeg areas (berries love this type of environment), our freezer was stocked for the coming winter. It was time to start processing some of the berries into jams, jellies, sauces and syrups. I grabbed my container of pectin and noticed a recipe for “jam in 30 minutes” – no cooking required. Freezer jam!

It turned out fantastic. Since I used perfectly ripe raspberries for my experiment, the jam looks and tastes exceptionally bright and flavorful, like the fresh fruit I used. I do like cooked jams, but this fresh jam is a quick and easy way to make something a little different than the usual. It is delicious spread on bread or spooned into yogurt or hot cereal. The jam will keep for about three weeks in the refrigerator and will keep in the freezer for about a year.

Raspberry Freezer Jam

Ingredients

  • 1 2/3 cups of cleaned, ripe raspberries
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp instant pectin

Directions

  1. Stir sugar and pectin into a bowl.
  2. Mix in berries.
  3. Stir for 3 minutes.
  4. Ladle mixture into freezer safe containers, jam jars work well.

Makes 2 cups of jam.

Where all the Raspberries are as Big as Your Thumb

“Pick me! Pick me!”

Anyone who knows Jack knows that he is a fisherman through and through. Moving to a village where the salmon are running so thick we can see them finning up the river and into the lake is beyond Jack’s wildest expectations. This is not his dream. This is our reality. He’s spent time every day walking the shore, sometimes with fishing rod in hand, other times just watching and listening to the music of river current and salmon jumping, splashing, sloshing their way upstream.

And so it’s understandable that it was left to me to spot the patch of raspberries Jack had walked right past on his way to the river. And such raspberries! The patch isn’t large, but this has been an exceptional year for berries and the vines are heavy with tart, sweet, jem-like fruit.

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And with green berries still growing in more shaded parts of the patch, we should be able to pick all we need. Jam, pies, syrups, fresh with morning cereal… How about a raspberry-chipotle sauce to go with fresh-caught salmon?

“Bigger than store-bought,” as Jack says. Tastier, too. I don’t know about them being as big as your thumb, but they’re the biggest we’ve ever seen. Can you believe he was so intent on the salmon that he walked right past the whole patch without even noticing?!

Nervous Water and Red Salmon

 

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Looked out the window this morning and saw nervous water on the lake. Skipped breakfast. Three hens and a buck. I’ll cure eggs for ikura later today. Shioyaki salmon for dinner tonight. Beginning of our second week in Chignik Lake, Alaska.