Alaska in mid-summer has many attractions. But two of them are salmon and rhubarb.
The red salmon are hitting big this time of year. Whether you’re a commercial fisherman in Bristol Bay or a weekend combat fisherman on the Kenai River, this is the highlight of your summer. (Side note: some people are starting to use “fisher” as a non-gender specific way to refer to fishermen and fisherwomen, but some hate it, so I go for the usual word for tradition’s sake. It can mean either gender.) My writer friend Tiffinie Helmer (http://www.tiffiniehelmer.com) was just out in Bristol Bay, and she said it was insanely busy this year, to the point where she and her family crew members almost couldn’t handle the volume. I don’t often fish myself (long but not very interesting story), but I have three family members at the Copper River dipnetting for reds this week. I hope to have lots of filets and smoked chunks in the refrigerator by the time you read this.
Every Alaskan has his or her favorite way to preserve and cook salmon. For ease, nothing beats cleaning, filleting and throwing it in the freezer. We got a vacuum pack machine a few years ago, so our filets are preserved well for a year or more. We also smoke some if we have enough; it takes more time but it’s not hard once you get the hang of it. My husband loves to eat smoked salmon for lunch, which no doubt makes everyone in the faculty lounge green with envy. Smoked salmon is a prized gift or possession around here.
Cooking salmon is not difficult–just remember to give it a light hand and take it off before you overcook it. Our favorite way is to grill it with equal parts olive oil and lemon juice, with a little garlic, onion, and whatever herb or spice you have to throw into it. It can be baked the same way. Leftovers (or canned salmon) can be easily added to chowder, pasta, salad, made into salmon patties or salmon loaf. If you want to be a little fancy, throw the smoked salmon into those dishes, and it’ll taste like a gourmet meal.
I don’t fish, but I have a couple huge bushes of rhubarb nearby, so that’s my contribution to summer dishes. I started cooking rhubarb with my next-door neighbor’s recipe for rhubarb bread, a sweetbread heavy on brown sugar that works as a dessert. Now I’ve branched out to rhubarb pie, crisp, buckle. I like the sour taste myself, but often add berries to sweeten it up a bit. My daughter discovered that you can chop up a stalk or two and freeze it, so you can have a taste of summer anytime.