Chum, Yum Yum

After a wild, inspiring ride along the Yukon River Delta in southwestern Alaska last week, I am still digesting my experiences and knitting them together for a blog post later this week. As previously mentioned, I embarked on a last-minute expedition to Emmonak, Alaska, to witness the final days of Yukon River salmon season – fall chum, to be exact.

Yup'ik fisherman Humphrey Keyes and I wait for salmon on the mighty Yukon River. (Jon Rowley)

Back in Seattle just a few days, I still have wild salmon on the brain big time. Good thing I had a few fish come home with me (and if you’re keen to get an idea of what I'm talking about, contact your local Whole Foods Market, which is currently offering Yukon salmon at seafood counters in many cities around the country).

The weather here in Seattle has been very un-rainy, un-humid and un-hurricane-y, which means there’s a city-wide urgency to spend most of one’s time outdoors, in the Vitamin D-rich sunshine. Last night’s dinner menu came together in an unplanned, impromptu Sunday kind of way, but as the sun started to melt into the horizon around 7ish, Casa Appetite got cookin’. While Mister MA went to fetch some white wine down the hill, I pounded a thumb’s worth of fresh ginger and a clove or two of garlic in a mortar and pestle, and then added some of my favorite warming spices to create a paste for the salmon steaks.

Given Yukon chum's high oil content (14-19 percent), I used very little oil in the paste – just enough to moisten – and lightly brushed a spatula with oil to merely lubricate the first side of the fish.

After a quick turn onto the second side, I placed the fish into a very hot oven and let it cook until opaque in the middle, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, I got a pot of rice going and sliced into a Washington state cantaloupe that was crying to be slurped on. A handful of teardrop yellow tomatoes were cut into halves, and dinner was ready in about 35 minutes.

Although the Yukon and my new Yup’ik friends are about 2,000 miles away, I felt a little bit closer to the Delta last night, realizing with each bite that a piece of my heart had been left on the river.

Spice-Rubbed Wild Salmon

For approximately 1 pound wild salmon steaks (You can try this on Arctic char, and I’m thinking it might be fun to try it on rainbow trout, another oily, Omega-3-rich fish) make a rub of the following:
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed with a knife
1-inch piece fresh peeled ginger root, sliced into quarter-sized pieces
1 teaspoon coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne or paprika
Juice of 1/2 lime
2 teaspoons neutral vegetable oil (such as Canola), plus more for cooking, as needed
1 teaspoon salt

Optional add-ons:
1 teaspoon ground coffee
1 teaspoon brown sugar


Place fish in a nonreactive dish (ceramic, glass, enamel) and set aside. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Using a mortar and pestle, pound garlic and ginger until pulverized (alternatively, puree in a food processor). Add rest of rub ingredients and stir until combined. Using a rubber spatula, scoop out rub and spread evenly over fish on both sides and let marinate for about 30 minutes. If piece seems too large to handle in one piece in skillet, slice fish in half.

Heat a heavy skillet with an oven-resistant handle over high heat. Add enough oil to cover the surface and then add fish.

Reduce heat to medium and allow fish to sear, about three minutes. With tongs or spatula, turn fish onto other side and place skillet in the oven to finish cooking. Check for desired doneness after five minutes -- it's highly recommended that you cook until the flesh is no longer translucent.

By Kim ODonnel |  September 15, 2008; 11:15 AM ET Dinner Tonight , Seafood
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Harris Teeter had the Yukon salmon last year as well. Very tasty, indeed. It makes a great tartare or carpaccio as well.


Posted by: Fairlington Blade | September 15, 2008 2:32 PM

Hey BB: Here's an important aside:
Jon Rowley, a seafood expert and contributor to Gourmet recently wrote a piece on the health risks of eating raw salmon, due to tapeworms. You need to make sure fish has been frozen before you dig into that tartare or sushi. Here's the link to all the details:

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | September 15, 2008 4:06 PM

Arent you missing the "RIGHT COAST"? Glad to know you had a great trip Across America.

Posted by: East Coast | September 16, 2008 7:37 AM

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