My dad was a great outdoorsman and he shared with me all his skills from hunting, snow skiing, swimming, horseback riding, backpacking and camping, but the one outdoor skill my dad loved most was fishing.
Wherever he was in this world, he would always find a moment to throw a line in the water. And whatever came back on that line my dad would cook and eat. Good or bad, he would not waste what the good Lord decided to entice to his hook. I think one of his biggest frustrations was when my brother-in-law, Dave (another avid fisherman) would tell Dad about the fish he caught and then threw back, as Dave was not a fish eater.
Some of my favorite memories of fishing with my dad were in 1973 in Alaska. I was 18, fresh out of high school, employed and was told I had to go to Alaska in a motor home with my family.
As you can imagine, that did not set well with this highly independent girl who thought she knew everything. I'm still not sure how I was convinced that I had to be a part of this trip, but I did go and I do thank the good Lord every time I think of my dad that I was forced to go on this summer adventure.
Dad had heard of a salmon run happening on the Kenai Peninsula, so off we went. We drove to where the “fish were being pulled in.” We baited our hooks and spent the day watching everyone else on the river pulling in fish after fish, when we did not even get a bite.
Well, as you can imagine, this did not set well with Dad. He would walk along the banks, watching the other fishers bringing in their catches so he could see what they were using for bait.
Finally, an old man with about 10 three-foot salmons explained to Dad that we need LuJohns. This is a big weight with about four triple hooks on it. We were instructed to put that on our line, throw it out into the current, wait about three minutes so the weight could sink then start jerking back until you snagged yourself a big one.
What fun we had for the next two days on that sandy beach on the Kenai River. When you “snag” a big fish (none under three feet) only about 10 miles from the ocean, they put up quite a fight. We have some great home movies of us reeling in these beautiful salmon. We had fun in the Alaska sun, and I remember my dad's face filled in pure joy as he watched his children enjoy his love of fishing.
Two days later, we were parked along another river. We had a fire pit of hot coals, and Dad took one of the whole salmons, filled it with onions and lemons, salt and peppered it, wrapped it up in foil and threw it onto the coals and off we went fishing again, only this time for graylings.
The rest of my siblings and mom had stayed at the campground, so it was just Dad, me, our fishing poles and the prospect of more fish to catch. It was a beautiful night, though still light with the sun that does not set, and we fished together in great companionship.
I am not sure what we talked about but my memory is filled with his deep love for me, my plans for my future and both our dreams to come. At one point in the night, he asked me what time it was. I looked at my watch and we both giggled as I said, “Dad, we forgot to go to bed. It is 3 o'clock in the morning.”
We pulled in our lines and headed back to the motor home. The salmon was still in the fire pit. Pulling it out and unwrapping the foil, we shared the almost-best meal of the whole trip (the best meal is a whole other story). A wonderful end to a beautiful day and a treasured memory of my dad.
The Lenten Season is upon us and to many, that means eating fish on Fridays. One comment I always heard from clients is “I am afraid to cook, or I don't know how to cook, fish.” My mom and dad were the fish chefs in our family, so I was not really comfortable in the art of fish cooking either, but when you take on my profession, you need to know you can cook just about anything.
I studied up on the task, asked my chef friends their suggestions and in the last seven years of cheffing have made some fantastic fish meals with no smell, no fishy tastes, just delicious light food that is good for you.
Some fish facts (fish and meat are very different):
In many fish, you can see a connective tissue that looks like a pearly webbing. This is collagen and it holds together the short muscle fibers. These muscle fibers are much shorter than in beef, and the collagen dissolves easily during cooking. Because of this, fish cook very quickly and do not need to be tenderized.
Fish meat becomes opaque when cooked, the collagen softens and turns to gelatin, which causes the fish to separate into flakes. This cooking process happens at much lower temperatures than beef. This is why it is so easy to overcook fish.
To keep your fish from drying out or overcooking, use higher temperatures and shorter cooking times. It is good to use the 10-minute-per-inch-of-thickness rule. But even that can vary with fish size and cooking method. Fish is done at 140 degrees F.
The time from almost done to done happens within minutes. When fish is almost done, insert a small knife in the center of the fish to see if the translucency is almost gone. Also remember that residual heat once you remove the fish from cooking source will continue to cook fish for a few minutes.
If you find you fish tough, it has more than likely been overcooked. Cooking takes the moisture out of the flesh and when overcooked, the fish is dry and chewy.
Here are two recipes that you might enjoy during Lent.
A chef friend in Texas, Cathy Garosinno, shared this recipe from Canadian Living Magazine. It can be done with almost any fish fillet. I chose cod for my recipe.
Because of my need to photograph the fish once cooked, I was being very picky to get just the right fillet. Ramon at Albertsons meat counter was very helpful in assisting me. He does know his fish so if ever you need some fish advice, ask for Ramon at the Big Curve Albertsons.
Fish Fillet Papillote
Papillote is a French term for cooking in paper. The fish is poached in the packet absorbing juices and flavors that you have while preparing. Place your paper packet on your plate and tear open and eat. Just be careful of the steam that builds up during the cooking process.
4 fish fillets 6-oz. each
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 cup each thinly sliced leeks, red peppers and carrots
8 teaspoons butter
8 teaspoons lemon juice
4 sprigs of fresh dill
Cut a 24x15-inch (60x38 cm) rectangle of parchment paper. Fold in half crosswise. Trim off corners to cut out folded half-heart shape. Repeat 3 times. Unfold each to make 4 large paper hearts.
Place salmon fillet on center of 1 side of each half. Sprinkle each with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pinch of pepper.
Top each with 1/4 cup each of the leeks, red pepper and carrots. Divide butter and lemon juice over each. Top with dill sprig.
Fold paper over. Starting at rounded end, fold over edge, overlapping and pleating to enclose. Twist pointed end to secure.
Bake packets on large rimmed baking sheet in 400°F (200°C) oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven; let stand for 5 minutes. To serve, cut or tear open packet, being careful to avoid escaping steam.
Source: Canadian Living Magazine, April 2011
Pecan Crusted Salmon
Every time I make this recipe, I think of my dad and our salmon-catching adventure. I was never able to share this with my dad but I know he would love sitting down with me and sharing the meal talking about life and our dreams.
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons melted butter
4 teaspoons honey
½ cup panko
½ cup pecans finely chopped
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh parsley
4 salmon fillets 6- to 8-oz. each
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix mustard, honey and butter together. Mix panko, pecans and parsley together
Season each fillet with salt and pepper. Place on broiling pan and brush with mustard mixture. Pat top with pecan mixture. Bake at 450 for 10 minutes per inch of thickness or until salmon flakes with a fork. Garnish with lemon wedge.
Karla Billdt owns Karla's Kreations: A Personal Chef and Catering Service in Yuma. She can be reached at www.ChefKarla.net or firstname.lastname@example.org.