Summer is officially prime time for many of the country's top fishing destinations. What does that mean, exactly? Don't dare to even think about bringing bananas on your weekend charter boat, for one. There are some pretty nice catches out there, for another. We recently caught up with Executive Chef Meagan Kilgore of Steamboat Bay Fishing Club – a luxury fishing getaway experience located on the north coast of Noyes Island, Alaska – to talk about the thrill of reeling in the big one. The chef covered some of the basics behind fishing for the state's coveted King Salmon species, along with tips for cleaning, prepping and cooking. She was also kind enough to provide a killer recipe for an aioli coating.
What's the process of catching a salmon in that part of the world?
I caught my first wild Alaska King Salmon just the other day, under a blue sky filled with dozens of circling bald eagles. While I’m completely familiar with the processing stages of salmon preparation, it was an enormous surprise to learn how much fight and vigor they have on the end of a line. Thankfully I had a Steamboat Bay guide with me every step of the way. After 10 minutes of balancing the fight with letting him run, it took my breath away to see all 24 pounds of him in the net. Incredible; it was definitely the highlight of one of the best days I can recall.
What's an ideal size for the fish?
It depends on the species of salmon, of course. King salmon is the largest species and is widely considered the most flavorful. Smaller fish tend to be a bit on the sweeter side and have fewer pin bones, which is nice, but nothing beats the primal satisfaction of pulling and preparing a colossal catch.
Once you've caught it, how do you store it, clean it and prep it?
It’s important to keep the fish on ice right away. Here at Steamboat Bay Fishing Club, we professionally process our guests’ catch by cutting from the bottom of the belly to the top of the gills; the guts are pulled out and then we cut on the back side of the collar to the top of the fish, before we filet back to the tail by placing the knife between the spine and the meat. From the filet, we trim out bellies and collars (which are incredible to smoke!), and clean up the filet by cutting excess fat from the edges of the filet. We then lightly wash them (it’s important not to blast them with a hard stream of water because the meat is tender and fragile). Then the meat goes straight to processing, where we vacuum seal it and put it on freezer trays until properly frozen.
And how do you cook it?
My favorite way to cook any kind of salmon is on cedar planks. Be sure to soak your planks so they don’t catch on fire (that’s probably the most important part!); then, be sure all pin bones are removed. A helpful trick is to gently fold the filet in half, causing the pin bones to fan out and reveal themselves. Place the filet skin-side down on the soaked cedar plank. Then, I rub mine with caramelized onion and orange aioli with fresh dill, parsley, garlic and shallots. Place foil over the grill grates of an outdoor grill and heat to around 450 degrees before placing your cedar plank on the foil. (The foil prevents the plank from scorching.) Depending on the thickness of the fish, you’ll want to leave it until the meat is cooked to about a medium temperature, which can be anywhere from 12 to 20 minutes. Serve it with crispy red potatoes and garlic green beans.
Caramelized Onion & Orange Aioli Recipe
3 egg yolks
juice of one orange
zest of one orange
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 cloves garlic
1 small shallot
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 tablespoons chopped dill
1 tablespoon of chopped Italian parsley
1/2 cup caramelized onions (put 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a pan over high heat until oil smokes and add one large julienned onion, sauté until you see deep color, lower heat to low-medium and cook until water has evaporated from the onion and a dark caramel color starts to appear. Deglaze pan with 2 tablespoons of white wine and cook until dry.)
- Using a food processor, add egg yolks, garlic, shallots, orange juice, orange zest and vinegar. Process until everything is finely chopped and mixed together.
- Leaving the blade running, slowly pour in olive and vegetable oil until the mixture thickens. It should have the consistency of a thin mayonnaise.
- Add all remaining ingredients. Coat salmon filets with aioli, and proceed with cedar plank grilling described above.
Try out these salmon recipes on Food Republic: