Sitka Conservation Society
Aug 14 2012

A Guide to Canning Salmon

Have you ever wanted to can salmon but haven’t been able to find good instructions?

Brian Hamilton, a local fisherman and connoisseur of wild foods, is here to help.  He has put together a very detailed explanation of the process he goes through when catching, cleaning, brining, smoking, and canning salmon.

My hope is that these instructions help others in their quest to preserve some of our local delicacies.

Here are Brian’s instructions:

“A Brief Outline of Catching, Cleaning, Brining, Smoking, and Canning Salmon.

Fishing:

  1. Once fish is caught (and killed), cut or remove gills to allow blood to drain from fish.
  2. Keep fish cold. ( I run a stringer through their gill flap and tie them to a rock making sure their bodies stay submerged in water).
  3. Once fish are caught, clean them as soon as possible.

* Try not to let fish get discolored which usually results from letting them sit to warm and too long before cleaning.

Cleaning:  (this is done easily in a double sink with a large counter space next to it)

  1. Rinse each fish in cold water removing any large external debris.
  2. Place fish on counter.  Hold tail with non-dominant hand and use a sharp fillet knife to cut a shallow incision from the anus to the fish’s bottom lip.
  3. Gently remove all organs from stomach cavity, being careful not to rupture the intestines or rectum (they contain green waste that spreads quickly and could damage the quality of the fish meat).
  4. Use the tip of the fillet knife to cut open the thin membrane that covers the spinal fluid. (Spinal fluid resembles thick, coagulated blood).
  5.  Rinse out spine and stomach cavities thoroughly with cold water.
  6. Cut two spine deep slits on each side of fish: 1 behind the gills and the other just in front of the tail
  7. Cut fillets off each side (I hold the tail with my non-dominant hand and run the fillet knife from tail slit to gill slit, keeping knife lightly pressed against the spine.  Try to remove as much meat as possible.  Bones are ok.)
  8. Cut fillets in half and rinse thoroughly.  Dry scale side down with a paper towel, removing as much slime as possible.
  9. Place fillet halves into brine (see recipe) and discard fish carcasses. *

*For bear safety it is strongly recommended that the fish carcasses and organs are bagged and frozen then dumped in your street garbage the morning it is picked up.

Brining- water, sugar, salt

  1. In 2 quarts cold water, add just enough salt to float and uncooked egg and then thoroughly mix.
  2. Then add 2 cups brown sugar and thoroughly mix again.
  3. Add fish and let fish sit in fridge for 12 hours.

Smoking- (plug in smoker 30 minutes before smoking)

  1. After fish has set in brine for 12 hours, remove from brine and thoroughly rinse.  Set rinsed fillets, scales down, on clean smoker racks (leaving about 1 inch between fillets helps smoke rise).
  2. Pat fillets with paper towels and then let them sit for 30 min in a cold, dry, clean place.
  3. Load fillets into smoker, starting with the top rack.
  4. Fill the wood chip pan with wood chips.
  5. After about 2.5 hours, check wood chip pan.  DO NOT REMOVE THE ENTIRE FRONT COVER.  If chips are exhausted, discard and refill wood chip pan.
  6. After another 2.5 hours, unplug smoker.

Canning-

Supplies- Mason jars w/ lids and rings, pressure cooker.

  1. Thoroughly wash and rinse mason jars, rings, and lids and set them out to dry.  (It takes about 1 jar per 2 fillet halves, but have extras just in case).
  2. Remove lowest tray of smoked salmon fillets from smoker and set on counter.
  3. Remove as much skin as possible from each fillet, then pack fish into jars.  Bones are okay!
  4. Fish can be lightly stuffed into jars but make sure there is at least 1 inch of empty space between top lip of jar and the highest point of fish in jar.
  5. Place seal lid and ring onto each jar and lightly tighten each ring.  Rings should just barely “catch” before you stop tightening.  This will allow heat to escape jars during pressure cooking.
  6. Place jars into pressure cooker and stack if your pressure cooker is large enough.  Make sure a rack is in place (included with pressure cooker) so jars aren’t sitting directly on the bottom of the cooker.
  7. Fit as many jars as possible in the pressure cooker.
  8. Follow instruction manual for pressure cooker for amount of water and vinegar to add.
  9. Run a paper towel along the top rim of the jar to thoroughly clean off any debris.
  10. Place lid on pressure cooker and latch close, heat escape vent should be open and/or uncovered.
  11. Put pressure cooker on a stove and heat on highest setting.
  12. Once water boils, steam will emit from the heat vent.  Once steam is emitted in a strong, steady stream place cover on heat vent.  Once pressure builds up, the pressure stop will rattle around and eventually pop up.
  13. Pressure will slowly build on the pressure gauge.  Once 11 psi is reached, turn down heat setting and try not to allow pressure to exceed 11 PSI.
  14. Start a timer for 100 minutes and constantly adjust stove heat up and down to keep pressure at 11PSI.
  15. After 100 minutes, turn off stove heat and move pressure cooker to a non-heated stove surface.  Pressure will slowly decrease.
  16. After about 30 minutes, pressure will reach zero and the pressure stop will drop, carefully remove lid from canner making sure to keep the steam away from your face and arms.
  17. Jars are extremely hot.  Using hot gloves or a folded towel, remove each jar slowly and place on a towel or heat resistant surface.  The fat from the fish will be built up in the jars and still boiling.  Some jars may be broken, so carefully remove those jars from the bottom with a metal spatula or similar tool.  (As long as shards of glass are not present and jar breakage looks clean, the fish should be safe to consume.)  Leave jars to cool for a couple of hours at room temperature.
  18. As jars cool, the lids will compress and seal with popping sounds, which completes the sealing of the jar.  If any jar is cooled and not sealed, they are not safe for storage and should be refrigerated and consumed soon.  Sealed jars are usually safe at room temperature for at least a year or two.
  19. Store jars in a cool, dry place.
  20. Eat often.
Matt

About Matt

Matt Dolkas fell in love with the Tongass during a fishing trip with his grandfather at the age of 14. Determined to experience Alaska to its fullest, Matt left his hometown of Palo Alto, CA at the age of 17 to attend Sheldon Jackson College (SJC) in Sitka, AK. After four years at SJC Matt went to work for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) based out of Lander, WY. He has spent the past two years learning to become a conservation photographer and has earned a M.S. in Natural Resources. He is committed to the protection of the natural world and believes that one of the best ways to do so is with the medium of photography.

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