I Know This Fish: Alaskan Sockeye Salmon, from Water to Table

Note: Today, a quick post that really evokes a sense of place. Food writer Cheryl Sternman Rule takes us on a fishing expedition in Alaska. Enjoy! AK


Photographs by Cheryl Sternman Rule

When the server set the salmon carpaccio in front of me, I felt like whispering in her ear. "Just so you know," I’d say, "this fish and I have met before."

And it was true. A day earlier, on Prince William Sound in southeastern Alaska, I’d bore witness as the commercial fisherman on whose boat I was riding netted three sockeye, pulled out their gills, and tossed them to the bottom of her bow-picker. There was blood, yes, but there was also something beautiful about the process—its simplicity. One boat, one net, one fisherman.

When we returned to shore, we brought the fish to Copper River Seafoods, one of the bustling processing plants in Cordova, a thriving fishing community where the sea is green, the sun sets late, and the mountaintops are dappled with snow. We toured the cannery, noting how the fish were washed, gutted, filleted, packed in plastic, and frozen for shipment. One worker, a thin man named Ireneo, expertly sliced through his pile of salmon at a shocking clip. He wore thick rubber gloves, but his movements, so fluid and boldly confident with the knife, made it obvious that he wasn’t going to get hurt. He filleted one salmon, then another, then another. Over and over and over again.

We left—a small group of writers and chefs—with the sockeye from our expedition, ready to be turned into dinner.

The next night, I sat at The Reluctant Fisherman Inn, awaiting my first course at the Copper River Highliner Dinner. Three chefs from The Oceanaire had pounded the beautiful salmon fillets thin, dressed them with pickled fennel and capers, and sprinkled them with olive oil. The resulting carpaccio tasted clean and elegant, fresh and bright.

"I know you," I thought, looking at the salmon.

Because, you see, I did.