Once we reached port in Valdez, I made a deal with the farm boy. If he’d fix the stove so that it worked consistently, I’d pan-sear the salmon, cook up some rice, roast some veggies and whip up a lemon-butter sauce. This would be a crew meal to top all crew meals.
It was an idle boast, because frankly I hadn’t the faintest idea how to scale and gut our chinook bycatch. Yes, I knew you could gently run a knife across the skin and that, in doing so, the scales would slide off as brittle crystals. But just like (almost) everyone else in America, I got my salmon at the fishmonger, where a middleman handled the nasty bits.
Using a knife to scale a whole salmon
“Hello, K. You know how to do that… Don’t you?”
Yes, of course. That and more. She dragged me down to the public fish cleaning station in Valdez and proceeded to give me the short course in how to prep a salmon. There would not be any hands-on-training. K. would perform every action by herself. She, um, didn’t trust me with this one.
She started by scaling the fish, thoroughly rinsing it with fresh water each step of the way. Then, starting at the anus, she made a long cut along the belly and removed the guts. A quick whack at the neck separated the head from the body.
Valdez public fish cleaning station (Tim Wolter)
And then came the inevitable question. The question that, sooner or later, every cook must answer, crew meal or not. This one was all about the application of heat, the essential, transformative heat.
“How are you planning to cook this?”
“Pan-seared,” I answered.
“With that stove? We’ll be eating raw fish.”
“Well, we’ll always have the grill as backup. So I’d like some fillets. Just the two whole fillets. If he gets the stove working, I’ll cut them into smaller portions. If he doesn’t… I’ll cook ’em on the grill. Fair?”
Pan-seared salmon (courtesy Serious Eats)
Copyright Leland E. Hale (2018). All rights reserved.