Fishwheels have long been used on rivers in the North Country to extract a wealth of fish–mostly salmon. Generally built of spruce, plus a little wire to make a basket, the wheel is floated on logs which are sparred out to allow basket and paddles to turn freely, powered by the water current.
“In all the world where men fish, whether for fin or for money, they fix upon a favorite fish, a fish of substance, such as herring that has started wars and changed kingdoms, or a courageous fish like all of the trouts with their honored history of valiant resistance to the artifices of the fisherman. Such as fish of the Northeastern Pacific can be none but the Pacific salmon, several sleek fishes that combine the merits of the herring and the trout and all their kind. The salmons have created great wealth, as has the herring; they resist the rod and lure as stoutly as any trout ever has…”
Robert J. Browning Fisheries of the North Pacific
Salmon are without rival among the fishes people like to see waiting on their dinner plates. However, all salmons are not created exactly equal. These five species, important to sport, commercial and subsistence fisheries, spawn in more than 2,000 Alaska streams:
- King Salmon–also called Chinook and spring–matches its name in many respects. Largest of all salmon, commercially caught kings average between 10 and 30 pounds (4.5 to 13.5 kg), with 80 pounds (36 kg) not an unusual weight, and 125 pounds (56 kg) about the outside limit. It is the king of sport fish in Alaska, too, because of its size, its fighting ability and its delectable taste. Because they are so large commercially caught kings are generally marketed as fillets or steaks and are best poached or broiled. Their high oil content makes them ideal for smoking. Smaller kings are excellent for charcoaling or barbecuing whole.
- Sockeye–also called red or blueback salmon–average about 6 pounds (2.7 kg). Though not as abundant as some other varieties, sockeye are prime commercial fish because of their taste. Much of the catch is marketed in cans or frozen for export. Sockeye, too, are rich in oil. The kokanee, the landlocked form of the sockeye, is also excellent food fish, caught mainly by sport fishermen.
- Silver–also called coho and medium red–salmon average 4 to 12 pounds (1.8 to 5.4 kg) and are excellent fish for baking, broiling, poaching–whole–dressed as steaks–and are also good candidates for mild cure or smoking. Very important as a commercial fish, silver salmon are highly regarded sport fish, too.
- Pink–also called humpback or humpy–salmon are the smallest of the five varieties, averaging 2 to 5 pounds (1 to 2.25 kg). They are also the most abundant of the commercially caught salmon, and most of the catch is canned. Pinks contain very little oil and are not as good as other varieties for smoking.
- Chum–called silver brite and dog salmon–are important subsistence fish, partly because their range is farther north than other Pacific salmon. The catch is often smoked or dried for winter use. The commercial catch in Alaska is very large, but because the chum seldom strikes at a lure–and then in annoyance–sport fishing for them is usually futile. Commercially caught chum average about 9 pounds (4 kg).
Despite the variations of taste–king to chum–no salmon can fail to be a distinguished meal–baked, broiled, poached, sauteed, grilled, barbecued or smoked. That Alaskans agree on this point is indicated by the abundance of recipes for the delectable fish.
Smoked, kippered, cooked leftover and canned salmon can be used in many ways. Smoked and kippered salmon may also be substituted in recipes for canned or cooked salmon to provide a welcome flavor change, though seasonings should be adjusted downward to accommodate the saltier taste of the fish. If you need a substitute for the can liquor called for in a recipe, use fish or chicken stock or bouillon.
Depending on the heaviness of the cure, some smoked salmon may need prior soaking or steaming to remove excess salt. You can tell by rubbing your fingers over the fish and then tasting them for saltiness.
Raw fish–lightly marinated in soy and other sauces–is becoming an increasingly popular dish in the United States, with the emergence of whole restaurants–sushi bars–sporting a complete menu of raw fish preparations in the Japanese style. Raw salmon is a favorite.
Properly prepared raw fish is tasty and good for you. But the Japanese take special precautions with salmon and other fish that spend any or all of their time in fresh water. The precautions are simple enough, but they are very important…if you plan to serve raw salmon, please read about how to pretreat it.
Serving Raw Fish
Raw fish–used as it is in several recipes is very healthful: low in calories, low in fat, high in protein and many essential vitamins and minerals which cooking sometimes destroys or diminishes. In recent years, raw fish has become much more widely used among Americans swept up by the increasing popularity of sushi. Even whole restaurants are devoted to this Japanese method of preparing raw fish delicacies. Nevertheless, there are some cautions for the tyro:
CAUTION: Fish that live in fresh water, or those–like salmon–that spend part of their lives in fresh water (anadromous fishes) may carry tapeworm larvae which can lead to infection in humans. Cooking fish at a temperature of at least 135 degrees Fahrenheit (57 degrees Celsius) for five minutes will destroy the larvae, but that’s not ‘raw’ fish. To eat salmon and other freshwater or anadromous fish raw and still be safe, first FREEZE the fish for at least 24 hours at a temperature of 0 degrees Fahrenheit, (–18 degrees Celsius) or, if you must use a higher temperature, freeze longer–14 degrees Fahrenheit (–10 degrees Celsius) for 72 hours.
Herring, too, sometimes carry roundworm larvae which an cause a different kind of infection in humans if they eat the fish raw. To avoid it, either freeze herring or brine them first.