Last month, I purchased five fresh sockeye salmon in Port Alberni, and brought them home and canned them up. This weekend, coming back from Port Alberni, I saw a sign on the side of the road for fresh fish for sale – so scored another three sockeye as well as a huge spring salmon.
I was planning to can these ones too, but in the morning I ran into my dear friend Carl Martin, who said he’d show me how to smoke them. Carl is Nuu-chah-nulth, and he knows more about gathering and preserving wild food than anyone I know – especially seafood. So we borrowed my friend’s van and bought a little home-smoker, and there was our program for the day (yup, writing deadlines set aside for fresh fish…)
We’re so lucky out here on the west coast to have access to this amazing food source – which has been the staple food of Carl’s ancestors for millenia. The salmon runs up and down the coast are threatened. Fortunately returns up the Alberni Inlet have been good this year – but this is not the case in other areas. For example, in the Fraser River returns this year are only 7% of what was predicted – and so the commercial fishery there has been closed for the third year in a row. (Find out how fish farms damage wild salmon).
As I talked about in my last post, I really value living this way – getting my food directly, rather than sitting on my butt all day long so I can earn enough money to buy it. I’ve now got a great veggie garden in Port Alberni (as well as a plum tree, cherry trees, and blueberry bushes) – and I’ve just been eating so much great, fresh, local food. The gardening, the getting, the butchering, the preserving – it’s all physical work – but it’s just so good for you: the work, and the food.
Canning is done in jars, putting in the raw salmon and a dash of salt, nothing else, then placing on the sealing lids and cooking the jars up in a pressure cooker for an hour and a half. The salmon keeps for years – just like a store-bought tin of salmon (but it tastes way better than store-bought).
Smoking can be done in a big smokehouse, or in a little smoker like the one Carl and I bought yesterday. We set it up outside (the photos were taken after, when we carried it inside to package up the fish). It has a little electrical burner on the bottom, and you just put a little pan of woodchips on the burner and it smoulders away and fills the whole thing with a smoke. We left the fillets and fish-heads in for a couple of hours – then used the heads for the most tasty soup! (In traditional Nuu-chah-nulth culture you don’t waste any part of the fish – and, once you get over the mental thing that our culture imposes on us, you’ll find out that the heads actually make the most delicious soup).