Super Bowl King Salmon

This article recently appeared in the Peninsula Clarion and is reprinted here with permission from Les Palmer.

“An Outdoor View,” Feb. 8, 2008

10-below king salmon
Les Palmer

On Sunday afternoon, I was in my easy chair watching the Super Bowl game when Pete Wedin called. He was on his way from Homer to Anchorage, he said, and wanted to give me a piece of king salmon he’d caught Saturday. We agreed to meet at Suzie’s Cafe, on the Sterling Highway.

Pete and his wife Debra live in Homer year-round and operate a fishing charter business, Captain Pete’s Alaska. Pete is a die-hard guy who fishes every chance he gets, whether he has customers or not. His 30-foot Chris Craft, the ‘Julia Lynn,’ is one of the few Homer boats that fishes during the winter months, when freezing spray and ice in the small-boat harbor sometimes present problems.

At Suzie’s, Pete grinned and handed me about two pounds of fresh feeder king. Getting out of the harbor to go fishing had been quite an adventure for him, his mate and a friend, he said. Recent cold temperatures had frozen the still water in the harbor. Backing away from the slip, he heard a loud ‘clunk,’ which caused some serious thought about not going. No fishing trip is worth damaging a boat. But with some careful pushing, he eventually moved enough ice aside to make it out of the harbor and into Kachemak Bay, which was ice-free.

The air was cold, but the fishing was hot. They hadn’t fished for ten minutes, when the first salmon bit. Two hours later, they were back in the harbor with limits of king salmon and a few small halibut.

‘When we weren’t reeling in fish, we were in the cabin, getting warm,’ Pete said.

I didn’t get around to cooking my fish until the next night, Monday. At 10 a.m. that morning, it had been 32 below at our place, but by 5 p.m., it had warmed up to a toasty 10 below. I decided to use my Weber charcoal grill, just as if it were summer and 70 above.

Actually, cooking at 10 below isn’t much different than 70 above. I used the same amount of charcoal – a two-pound coffee canful. One major difference was that there was no lollygagging around the grill with a spatula in one hand and a cold drink in the other.

Here’s my tried and true method of grilling salmon fillets, just in case you get an insane urge to dig your grill out of the snow. Cooking salmon this way doesn’t stink up the house, and there’s no mess to clean up afterward.

  • Put the fillet skin-side down on a piece of aluminum foil. Fold the foil’s edges inward until they are about 1/2 inch from the fish.
  • If it’s fresh salmon, season with a light sprinkle of Kosher salt and lemon pepper. If the fish has been in the freezer for six months, it will need whatever help you can give it.
  • When the charcoal is uniformly glowing, spread it out. Put some alder chips and chunks in a small pan and place the pan on the coals. Don’t soak the chips in water.
  • Put the salmon on the grill, and cook for about 20 minutes per inch of thickness. Check it often. As soon as it can be flaked with a fork, it’s done. Don’t overcook it, or it will be dry and chewy.
  • Slide a spatula between the flesh and skin, and place the fish on a serving platter. Leave the foil and skin on the grill. The fish will have a golden color and a slightly smoky flavor.

It took 40 minutes to cook my salmon at 10 below. In June it would take about 20 minutes.

I’d forgotten how good fresh salmon can taste, especially when it’s a fresh king salmon, caught in the saltwater, in its prime. I can see why those Homer people will do just about anything to get out on the water and catch one.

Les Palmer lives in Sterling.