Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 29, 2013

The challenge of salmon

BY NATHAN PAYNE npayne@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — So you've hooked and landed enough salmon on the lake and in local rivers to pack a six-foot-long chest freezer.

But what do you do with the slabs of orange fish once you tire of your tried-and-true grilled cedar plank salmon recipe?

Area fishermen have gotten pretty creative when it comes to trying new things with their catch, some going as far as canning their salmon, said Rick Lipinski, a fishing department salesman at MC Sports.

Most fishermen claim to have the best preparation for fresh-caught salmon, something Lipinski says he takes advantage of frequently when he hears them bragging at the store.

"I tell them to bring me some," he said Monday afternoon with a grin.

The 16-year-veteran of the sporting goods store said the catch has begun to heat up on Lake Michigan as well as on some area rivers. The quality of running salmon on rivers can vary, especially near the end of the season. But those who get there early can catch plenty of good fish, he said.

Karen ZanDusen, who owns Reel Fun Fishing Charters with her husband John, has had plenty of practice cooking salmon during the years.

"Of course it's all personal taste," ZanDusen said.

But, she's has as much experience as anybody at cooking the orange-fleshed game fish.

Everybody has a different technique for preparing salmon properly, so here are a few tips and tricks.

Poor man's lobster

A few years ago, ZanDusen began making a recipe her daughter passed along dubbed "poor man's lobster."

The dish involves boiling portions of salmon in a saltwater bath, then flaking it into a small amount of melted butter.

"It's not real attractive, but it tastes wonderful," she said. "Frankly, when I'm at home I'm going for flavor."

But ZanDusen begins preparation for the meal long before the day it hits the table. She and John make sure to cut the fresh salmon into portions when it comes through the door. They then freeze the meat submerged in water inside plastic bags. Pushing out all of the air in the bags with water ensures the fish stays fresh.

"We freeze it in water so there is water all around it," she said. "I can keep it for up to a year."

The prepared fish is easy to thaw and eat throughout the winter when it's frozen properly.

"We don't cook out on the grill during the winter and we have a lot of winter up here," ZanDusen said. "I was getting tired of just boiling it in water."

The thawed fish can be cooked in a saltwater bath in a shallow pan. ZanDusen uses two tablespoons of salt dissolved in enough water to just cover the fish. She then cooks it until it turns light pink and flakes easily.

She flakes the cooked fish into a bowl with a small amount of melted butter in it and it's ready to serve. The fish also can simply be dipped into melted butter like lobster, she said.

"It really tastes like lobster," ZanDusen said. "It's just so delicious."

Smoke 'em

When smoking salmon it helps to prep the fish for at least 12 hours by soaking it in a brine. But don't let it sit too long or the fish will become pretty salty.

"Everybody's got their own brine for that," Lipinski said.

Basic brines are salt, water and often brown sugar, but many smoking enthusiasts have found mixing half apple juice half water will help bring a slight flavor to the fish as it sits in the smoker.

But be careful not to overheat your fish.

When the salmon heats too quickly, the fibers of the muscle contract violently and push out albumen, a protein, which will appear on the surface of the fish as a white goop. The contraction will cause the smoked fish to turn out drier than when it's heated slowly, says Hank Shaw, a survivalist, blogger and author of "Hunt, Gather, Cook," a comprehensive guide to preparing and cooking fish and game.

Also, it is important to use Kosher or pure sea salt in brines for smoking. Normal table salt often contains iodine and other additives that can leave an undesired residual flavor in the fish.

Patties

Many salmon cake or patty recipes call for canned salmon, so what do you do if you've got fresh salmon?

One of the easiest ways to quickly cook the fish quickly is in covered in a microwave. A 30-second zap to an eight-ounce portion of fish often is enough to make it flake easily.

The cooked and flaky fish then can be substituted in your favorite cake recipe for canned salmon.

On the other hand, Lipinski has seen plenty of adventurous fishermen who can their catch at home.

"It comes out just like tuna fish," he said. "You can take that out and make patte or tuna fish-style sandwiches."