Salmon Bahn Mi, Just for You

20 01 2012

A framed photo sits above my writing space. Three fishermen in their late-20’s crouch on deck, wearing hoodies, rainpants, and matching end-of-a-long-day grins. Team ’77:  friends born within several months of each other, together on a troller that shared our birth year.

My gaze drifts up to this photo often. One of my treasures, proof of the enduring nature of friendships forged on the docks. At an early age, boat kids understand the impermanence of seasonal living, the ease with which people can be washed into memories. We grabbed onto each other more than 25 years ago and refused to give in to life’s opposing tides. We still haven’t let go.

One of my beloveds is celebrating his birthday today. Always a trailblazer, he’s the first of us to hit 35. I’m trying to recall two awkward, competitive nine year olds meeting for the first time, but am caught in images from more recent years. Like when I had an ugly break-up, he tucked me into his couch and resisted saying I told you so. Or the full day he spent with a rented rototiller, churning up my yard for a garden I briefly fantasized about but never planted. I don’t call him unless I’ve got a full hour to spare – he’s a chatty one – and no one else’s emails can make me laugh so hard. Time with him and his partner constitutes one of my winter’s highlights.

I’ve been snowbound all week, and didn’t get to the post office to ship off the usual birthday box of mint brownies. But he’s been asking for this recipe for the past month, and today seems like a good day to share it here.  What better way to celebrate a lifelong friendship than with a delicious sandwich? So, for you, sweetie, and for you, sweet readers: the Salmon Bahn Mi.

Making Salmon Bahn Mi

Precision-minded chefs will cringe at my throw-it-all-together approach, and bahn mi purists will have their own criticisms.  Nope, this isn’t especially authentic, but it’s tasty and works with the limitations of boat life, as inspired by the Vietnamese Shrimp Sandwiches in the fabulous Fishes and Dishes. (If you’re a seafood fan, the Marsh sisters’ fantastic recipes, photos and storytelling make this cookbook a must-have.)

Gather together: wild salmon, soy sauce, sesame oil, olive oil, lemongrass, garlic, a lime, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, ginger root, white sugar, rice vinegar, a carrot, a daikon, mayonnaise, chili paste, red onion, cucumber, jalapeno, cilantro, hoagie rolls.

At least a few hours before dinner, marinate the fish and pickle the veggies.

How much salmon? Oh, enough to fit the rolls. A tail piece of frozen-at-sea coho is perfect for 2. Fool around with skinning it if you must; I’m happy to cook it skin side down and peel the finished product off.

For the marinade, mix 2-3 tablespoons each of soy sauce, sesame oil, and olive oil, with a little squeeze of lime. Chop a couple stalks of lemongrass; add these in along with a spoonful of minced garlic. Grate in some fresh ginger and lime zest, and throw in a few shakes of salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper. Pour it all over the defrosted fish and stick it in the fridge for a few hours.

To pickle the veggies, mix ¼ cup of water, ¼ cup of white sugar, and ¼ cup of rice vinegar. Peel the daikon and carrot, slice them into thin matchsticks, and soak them in the vinegar mix in the fridge.

At dinnertime, place the rolls in the oven, wrapped in tin foil, to warm.  Put a cast iron pan on medium heat, with a teaspoon of sesame oil. When the pan is hot, the salmon goes in, skin side down, with a little marinade spooned in and a lid on top. These are pretty thin pieces of fish, and won’t require much more than 5 minutes.

As the fish cooks, make a plate full of toppings: sliced red onion and jalapeno, peeled/matchsticked cucumber, fresh cilantro leaves. The spread is simple: mix a few dollops of mayonnaise with some chili garlic paste, amount dependent on your spice preference.

The salmon’s done when there’s only a slight bit of translucence left in the middle. Place the fish in your dressed rolls (see how easily the skin peeled off?) and layer with the pickled veggies and all those fresh toppings. Enjoy with a good friend, and afterwards, take a moment to tell me what you did differently to make this even more delicious.

Happy birthday, AB – I love you.





“Is There Whale in My Teeth?” Vegetarian on Cultural Vacation

5 09 2011

Year-round, Sitka’s bulletin boards are thick with flyers of talks, classes, performances. My Hokey-Pokey presence – one foot in the community, one foot out – has often meant that if it sounds like something I’d like to experience, it’ll happen while we’re out fishing. The timing of this sign was a welcome exception:

“Tomorrow night… We’ll actually be in town!”

Built in 1914, the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall is a green shingled hulk of a building. It squats on the creosote-coated shoulders of tired pilings, between street and shore, and hosts the farmer’s market, community meetings, fundraisers, and memorials. Locals refer to it with a gently slurred “Ayne bee,” letters exiting larynx with the soft spring of walking on muskeg.

I entered ANB with deja vu. A lifetime earlier, I ran a dinner program for homeless youth. Teen Feed was hosted by generous neighborhood churches, basements that followed exactly this layout: industrial kitchen, heavily-laden buffets with volunteer servers at the ready, carefully spaced folding tables for guests. But instead of asking us to sign in and check any weapons, the bird-like woman at the door opened her cash box.

“It’s $12 for the king salmon dinner. The gorging table is here, and the tasting table is over there.” Clearly stated and segregated for a reason: harvested under subsistence regulations, traditional foods are illegal to sell.

Carefully handwritten labels identified each dish and its harvester. Herring Eggs, Sitka Tribe. Seal Fat, Virginia Phillips. Gum Boots (Chitons), Isabella Brady. I exchanged a grin with the man next to me in line, fellow travelers sharing the wondrous displacement of stepping into another culture, without leaving Baranof Island.

Sea Asparagus with Seal Oil, Aguduk (Eskimo Ice Cream), & Cockles

At the gorging table, I did just that. Baked king salmon heads, halibut, purple potatoes, venison stew, moose sliced like roast beef, herring eggs on hemlock branches; I said yes, please to everything.

From the gorging table.

A friend raised an eyebrow. “You’re really goin’ for it, huh?”

I’d crewed for him years earlier. With a freezer full of venison and elk, his wife struggled to accommodate their vegetarian deckhand. His unasked question echoed between us: You wouldn’t eat the meat I provided, but you’ll eat this?

A fish-slaying vegetarian… I became this oxymoron 7 years ago while crewing for my brother, when we didn’t take any red meat aboard. A day on Mom’s farm, forever after known as the Great Turkey Massacre of ’06, took poultry off my plate. Seafood stayed. If I could embrace the responsibility of taking a creature from its living self to my table, I reasoned, then I could eat it. I don’t enjoy killing fish, but with 24 seasons of blood behind me, I can do it quickly, with gratitude.

Our table was quiet, usually boisterous friends shy with the unfamiliar setting and food. The other woman, a farmer turned first-time deckhand, shared my enthusiasm. We waded through heaping plates, reflecting on our own harvesting experiences of berry picking and mushroom hunting in the Pacific Northwest, and evaluating each bite.

“Ooh – that was a really tart berry!”

“I liked the seal; it was like liver, but milder.”

Eulachon, Tlingit Delight, Cockles, Chiton, & yes, Muktuk (Whale Meat)

Then the morsel of truth: I studied the cube of whale meat and questioned my double standard. Why didn’t I feel conflicted over consuming a creature I hold such reverence for? Knowing that my white self will never be part of an indigenous whale or seal hunt, why did this feel okay? More than okay – why did it seem a privileged opportunity, an invitation to participate in something sacred?

Contemplating Muktuk

Questions that aren’t easily answered. So I popped that glistening morsel into my mouth, a perfect division of white and dark, and chewed. And chewed. The fatty white – blubber – surrendered, while the ridged black skin resisted each bite. Focused on the unyielding texture, I couldn’t articulate the taste. My language – spoken language, ancestral language – doesn’t include those words.

Community matriarch and Alaska Native Sisterhood president Isabella Brady called for attention. Steadied by a walker, her small frame was incongruous to the powerful energy she radiated.

“Let’s have a little prayer.” Head bowed, her voice was firm. “Heavenly Father, thank you for this fellowship, as we share traditional Native foods and regular foods. Thank you for this great country and this life we live.”

Next she gestured to a smiling woman seated nearby, balloons streaming from the arms of her wheelchair. “It’s Evelyn’s birthday today, so let’s all sing Happy Birthday to her.”  The packed hall gave an enthusiastic rendition, with applause breaking out after the final “to yoouuuu!”  But Isabella raised her hands to silence us. Softer, with fewer voices to carry the song, another melody rose to the rafters. The Tlingit tones shivered across my spine.

Approaching to give thanks, I interrupted Isabella mid-birthday cake bite. She was tolerant of my questions, explaining that the dinner was a fundraiser for Celebration 2012, ANB’s 100 year anniversary. The civil rights organization was founded by Peter Simpson, a Canadian-born Tsimshian man.

“Do you know who that is?” She peered at me sharply, and gave a curt nod at my shaking head. “He was my grandfather.” She gestured at the photos on the walls, framed black-and-white portraits of elders whose grandchildren were now wizened and wise.

I thought again of Teen Feed, recalling quiet kids who found excuses to loiter after dinner, craving a moment of undiluted attention. Belly full, spirit hungry. Distracted by their louder, more overtly-demanding peers, too often I swept them into the night with preoccupied goodbyes. Be well, sweeties.

And now, lingering at the borderland of the gorging table, I was that quiet kid. I wanted to sit at Isabella’s feet and listen – to her translation of devil’s club and skunk cabbage rustling in the Tongass, of salmonberries swelling in the spring and pink salmon spawning in the fall, of rainfall’s many songs and raven’s waterfall laughter. To anything she’d share.

Alaska Native Sisterhood President, Activist, & Fry Bread Magician Isabella Brady

But presidents are people in demand. She was surrounded by a crowd of friends, while I was an outsider in every way. Cap’n J and I slipped out the door, sharing a final piece of fry bread slathered with spruce tip jelly as we reflected on the evening.

Joel had struggled with his decision not to try the muktuk. “I thought about it. But it didn’t sound like something I’d like, and in the end, I just didn’t want to eat whale.”  How individual our hearts’ voices are, I thought. The unapologetic carnivore shunned the meat of a being he feels connected to, while the peskatarian who apologizes to the fish she kills chowed on down.

I grinned for his inspection. “Do I have whale meat caught in my teeth?”

“Uh… Actually, you do.”

My tongue toyed with the single fiber of black skin wedged against an upper incisor. I felt otherworldly. A little high. Was it the richness of the food, the radical onset of so much protein? This 33-year old digestive system reeling from so many never-before-encountered substances?

Probably all of the above. But I’d rather interpret that out-of-body sensation as the physical embodiment of belief. Faith that we become, on some small level, that which we consume.

[Want  to contribute to Celebration 2012? Tax deductible donations, made out to ANS Camp 4, can be sent to Alaska Native Sisterhood Camp #4, 235 Katlian Street, Sitka, AK 99835.]





From the Galley: Black Cod, Sitka-Style

7 04 2011

(This is Part 2 of a series on black cod, also known as sablefish.  For more about the fish itself and how it’s harvested, please visit Part 1, Seeking the Sustainable: Alaskan Black Cod.)

Our friend Jerry Dzugan is the director of the fantastic Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA), a tireless advocate/teacher working to keep fishermen and other mariners safe. Fortunately for us, he’s equally enthusiastic about inviting friends over for dinner, and is a pro at cooking up Sitka’s natural bounty into healthy, delicious meals. I’ll be forever grateful to Jerry for introducing me to the joys of black cod and sharing this quintessential Sitka recipe.

Black Cod Marinade, Sitka-Style

1/2 c Yoshida’s teriyaki sauce

1/4 c apple cider vinegar

1/4 c orange juice (I prefer an orange, so we have fresh zest with the juice)

1 pound of black cod.  We use tips because that’s what we have; a fillet would produce equally delicious results.

My favorite kind of recipe - simple!

With the fish spread out in a shallow baking pan, we start by grating orange zest over the meat.  After that, we squeeze the juice into a bowl and mix in the Yoshida’s and vinegar. Pour the marinade over the fish and let it refrigerate for a while – “a while” meaning a couple hours to overnight, depending on your time frame.

When you’re ready to cook, prepare a skillet over medium-heat with a teaspoon or so of sesame oil and a little minced garlic.  We let the pan get fairly hot, so there’s a satisfying sizzle when you add the fish.  We pour a couple tablespoons of marinade in and put a lid on.  You should be able to flip it over at about 4 minutes in, and may want to add a bit more liquid.  After another 4 minutes or so, you’ll know it’s done when the meat flakes apart under a fork. Much of the marinade will have cooked off, leaving a heavier glaze behind.

Sizzlin' away...

Such a very simple recipe for something so delicious.  My favorite ways to serve these are equally simple: fish as above, rice, and some veggies, or tossing the fish in with stir-fried veggies and yakisoba noodles.  (Baby bok choy seems especially happy to be partnered with black cod.)  You’ll feel your body thank you for such a good meal!

As beautiful as it is delicious.

Black cod is a tremendously versatile fish that Americans have been missing out on.  Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series – black cod with miso soup.  If you’re still struggling with a cold, reluctant spring, as I am, that one goes out to you, sweet reader.





From the Galley: Conflict of the Feminist Fisherman

30 03 2011

There’s a treacherous voice in my head. It maintains a mosquito-like buzz in the back of my brain, an oppressive equation: “You are X, so you need to do/dress/behave Y.”

You know the one. Maybe you’ve struggled with your own version. Maybe someone explicitly stated these rules, building a box around your self-image one rigid, restrictive word at a time. Maybe we absorb a cultural narrative, sucker-punched by the messages saturating daily life. The box goes up higher still, stronger, until we can’t distinguish where the walls end and our true selves begin.

Rock with Driftwood – trapped & constrained, or securely embraced?

I was 27 when, burned out and broken from my 7 years as a social worker, I fled back to fishing. It seemed a good omen, exchanging a social service life for a boat named Sadaqa, the Arabic word for charity. Full of good juju, we were Team ‘77: vessel, captain, and crew, all born in the same year.

April 28th was a glorious day to throw off the dock lines. Seattle’s Fisherman’s Terminal is unusual in that it is a fresh-water home to ocean-going vessels. Lake Washington’s water table is higher than Puget Sound, and requires passage through the Ballard Locks to access the sea. Marlin manned the helm as I supervised our lines on deck, ignoring the crowds of spectators.  The water table slowly fell, a mariner’s elevator down to the exit floor.  One of the workers, a man around my age, smirked down at me.  “Are you the cook?”

I pointed at Marlin: Nope, he is. Six years later, Marlin’s still chuckling about this. “He didn’t say anything after that; I think you imploded his mind. ‘What? But you’re the girl!’”

The captain crisping our tofu, blowtorch-style.

Joel and I were a couple for almost 2 years before I agreed to crew for him.  After earning a reputation as a skilled deckhand, I was afraid of going backwards in the fleet’s eyes, being relegated to “the girlfriend” on a boat. When I hopped aboard the Nerka, the chip on my shoulder was a 4×4 beam, ready to bludgeon anyone who’d box me into a stereotypical role.

As is so often the case, I ended up clobbering the person I loved most. Turned out Cap’n J had never done the cooking on board, and, consumed by the full-time task of keeping the Nerka functional and fishing, wasn’t eager to start. Of the 7 boats I’d crewed on, all of my previous captains had handled the meals. The realization that I’d be the woman in the galley, taking direction from my male partner, sent me into a total tailspin. We had some ugly scenes those first few years.

The ridiculous, complicating truth?  I love food, and believe anyone who enjoys eating yummy goodness should know how to prepare said yummy goodness.  I’m the conflicted feminist who carries still-steaming pies down the dock to share with friends and cooks big pots of soup to keep on the stove in case anyone stops by – and who resents the hell out of anyone assuming I’d do these things.

It’s been a long road to realize my struggle has more to do with my own internalized sexism, insecurities stashed in my psyche, than the actual perceptions of my fishing friends.  The fishermen who thought I was a good deckhand before I joined forces with my sweetheart, they still think so.  Cap’n J and I navigated this storm, creating a pretty awesome partnership along the way.  Peace generally reigns, on deck and in the galley. Me cooking is the most efficient use of our respective skills (and appeals to my controlling nature), and he does the cooking at home, enjoying the big kitchen.  Everyone wins.

I was reluctant to post recipes on Hooked. Had a whole big back-and-forth in my head about it. That nasty voice sneered that I’d be boxed as “that fisherwoman who blogs about fish recipes.”  But your time is valuable, sweet reader, and I want you to gain something from your visits to Hooked. Beyond these stories, the tangible offering I can share is a deep love for wild seafood, and some of our favorite ways to enjoy it. Delicious, heart-healthy, beautiful fish… If not from our boat to your table, at least from this page to your recipe box.

(I wonder – are there places where you struggle with the shoulds and supposed to’s, and the path that makes you happy to be you? How do you make peace with this tension in your own life?  Hey – I’ve got a berry pie coming out of the oven. Pour some tea and join me, and we can peek past those false walls and sit with our authentic selves, at least for a moment.)

Pie and tea? Yes, please.








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