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Salmon Chanted Evening or A Fish Tale

August 16, 2009

The sturdy fishing boat, Maranatha, left Dockside Charters in Depoe Bay just before first light on this brisk August morning. (The name, Maranatha, puzzled us until we could google it, however we were relieved that we weren’t leaving dry land on any boat called the Minnow.) Victor, Ann Thompson and I were bundled in layers as advised by the pamphlet advertising their various fishing expeditions. (Ann is one of Vic’s colleagues who was recently set free from the daily grind at the Statesman Journal in Salem.) We were determined to line our freezers with a day’s limit of fresh Oregon coho salmon.

Depoe Bay has the distinction of being the world’s tiniest harbor at a mere six acres.  For those of you whose memory can stretch back to 1975, the fishing sequence in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” was filmed here.

This odyssey was on the calendar well before The Taste of Oregon was even conceived. Our recent crabbing adventure at Rockaway Beach left us with more than just crabs. We wanted to try our sea legs in deeper waters.

The Maranatha was piloted by Laird who had recently retired from employment with Salem Electric. One of the first bits of instruction Laird gave us before we took to sea was demonstrating how to turn the autopilot off and steer to safety should this be the day he was to meet his maker. (Concerned looks were exchanged and thoughts of the S.S. Minnow re-entered our minds.) He also pointed out the location of the life raft on the roof of the cabin.

Laird looked every bit the salty sea dog with well-weathered skin, snow white hair and outfitted with baggy, chest high waders held up with sturdy suspenders. He regularly peppered the morning with phrases like “If God wanted us to have that fish, it would’ve stayed on the hook.”  A “drive by” was a smart fish stealing your bait without getting hooked.

There were quiet lulls in the morning with no bites but we were often treated to schools of iridescent and brilliantly hued jellyfish. Some tiny and others had tentacles trailing several feet. It was an impressive show. An even more stunning show was the ever-changing and colorful dawn viewed from offshore.

The sun rises over the Oregon Coastal Range off Depoe Bay.
The sun rises over the Oregon Coastal Range off Depoe Bay.

We began this quest eager to return home with our three salmon per person limit. We had been assured that there were plenty of available fish as charters had been returning with full quotas and in less time than the scheduled 5-hour excursion. Apparently we didn’t do our salmon dance today because God was definitely giving us plenty of wild salmon instead of the legal hatchery fish. Aargh!

Before I go on, let me tell you that Oregon has very strict laws to protect our fish and wildlife and breaking them can be expensive. We could only keep hatchery fish that had reached a length of 16 inches and could not be wild. (The state hatcheries regularly release thousands of young coho’s with their adipose fins clipped so you can tell them from the wild ones.) Laird would’ve probably laid down the law thusly: “If God wanted us to keep that fish, He would’ve clipped that fin himself.”   Seems God had blessed the legal fish that day.

Although there were many bites and quite a few were landed in the boat, we returned home with only two fish, enough for Ann to satisfy the dinner guests her hubby, Dennis, had invited impromptu while our small but determined trio was braving the mighty Pacific Ocean. Our Saturday party was larger and we already planned to include Vic’s famous Thai Boxing Square Grilled Chicken so our humble amount could be adequately stretched. (Be patient and stay tuned for Vic’s elaboration on his dish.)

Let me tell you that upon seeing that taut rod and line begin it’s wild dance and then feeling the powerful and wildly determined resistance of your catch, thinking of anything else is near impossible. The adrenalin rush is contagious and even our on-looking mates became helpless to do anything else except help you land your fish. Amazingly, thinking of a camera at such a momentous time was beyond all mortals on board.

Being that two-thirds of our party had been God-gifted with journalistic inquiring minds, we learned that fresh wild salmon was fetching anywhere from about $10 – 27 per pound at the markets. Our guest should feel extra special that we splurged and spent more than $70 per pound not including mileage. Only the best!

Hot Alder Wood Smoked Salmon – adapted from a Cooks Illustrated recipe.

Please note that your grill rack must be scrumptiously clean & well oiled in order to easily remove your cooked fish in one whole piece.

For the brine:

  1. 1 cup kosher salt (½ cup if using table salt)
  2. 1 cup sugar

For the fish:

  1. About 2 – 2½ pounds fresh salmon fillet
  2. 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  3. 1½ teaspoons paprika (sweet)
  4. 1 teaspoon fresh ground white pepper
  1. Remove any pin bones from the salmon. These are the bones that line the center of the fillet lengthwise. It’s easy to find them if you can rest the fillet on a convex surface such as a larger mixing bowl.  Using very clean pliers, simple pull the bones straight up and out.
    Removing Pin Bones
    Removing Pin Bones
  2. Pour 2 cups of hot water over the salt and sugar. (I use a very large measuring cup and whisk it with an emersion blender until dissolved.) Add this and 5 cups of very cold water and the salmon to a large, sturdy zippered plastic bag. Seal the bag and refrigerate for about 3 hours.
  3. Meanwhile, soak a generous amount of wood chips (I use alder) in another sealable plastic bag.
  4. Remove the salmon from the brine and gently rinse and blot dry with paper towels. Place the fillet on a sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil large enough to hold it comfortably. Oil both sides if the fillet, especially the skin side and gently rub the flesh side with the paprika and white pepper mixture.
  5. Prepare your coals and when ready, pile over to one side of the grill. Drain the water from your soaked wood and seal in heavy duty aluminum foil. Punch a few holes in the top to allow the smoke to escape and place on top of the red hot coals.
  6. Place the grill rack on you grill, oil it generously and gently slide the salmon onto the clean rack opposite the coals. Open the bottom vents for good ventilation and cover with the top vent over the fish side to draw the smoke by it.
    After about 1½ hours the salmon should be thoroughly cooked and heavily flavored with the smoke. If you’re concerned about doneness, you can check the temperature with an instant read thermometer. My experience has yielded perfectly cooked and smoked salmon in the recommended 90 minutes.
  7. Carefully remove the salmon fillet to a serving platter. You can do this using 2 spatulas or more if you have a confident assistant. (I used to prepare whole boned stuffed flounder on the East Coast and had a wooden handled aluminum pizza peel bevel ground around the edge to facilitate removal of very large fish from the grill or baking pans.

The smoked salmon and the Thai Boxing Square Chicken would both be well accompanied with almost any Oregon Pinot Noir fitting in your budget. When my pockets are deep I would choose one from Carlo and Julian Winery in nearby Carlton, OR. Should you want a lighter taste I would recommend the slightly petulant Left Coast Cellars Pinot Gris which has a pleasant sweet finish. To quote the makers at Left Coast:

“Mouth-filling and opulent, the 2006 Pinot Gris simply waltzes on your tongue! Aromas of white truffle, honeydew melon and lychee greet before the wine finales in a caramelly smooth finish. With residual sugar of about 1%, this will please those looking for a sweeter wine, although its uncompromised balance and elegance will likely win over even the most traditional dry wine drinkers. Serve this wine over the holidays with a cheese, dried fruit and nut platter for a sophisticated take on desert, or, conversely, pair with spicy Indian or Thai dishes.”

Thai Boxing Square Chicken

In the old days when I was growing up in Bangkok, Thailand, the public field in front of the Royal Palace turned into a huge food market on weekends. There were boxing rings set up at night and also stages where Thai plays were staged. This is a recreation of the roast chicken that I remembered eating at the food market when I was growing up. NOTE: for folks who are sensitive to wheat gluten, omit Maggi

Thai Boxing Square Chicken

  1. 1 whole chicken
  2. 7 cloves garlic, chopped
  3. 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, chopped
  4. 1 cup chopped cilantro
  5. 2 tablespoons mirin (not salted)
  6. 4 tablespoons coconut milk
  7. 2 tablespoons Maggi Seasoning
  8. 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  9. 1 teaspoon fresh ground white pepper
  10. juice of 1 lime
  11. 1½ tablespoons vegetable oil
  1. Pound together in a mortar and pestle garlic, ginger and cilantro. Whisk together with remaining ingredients.
    Pounding ingredients with Thai mortar and pestle
    Pounding ingredients with Thai mortar and pestle
  2. Coat chicken and marinate for at least 15 minutes. (We marinate overnight)
  3. Truss chicken and cook on a spit over hot coals. You can also use chicken pieces, marinate and cook on the grill.

    Thai Boxing Square Grilled Chicken and Hot Smoked Coho Salmon

    Thai Boxing Square Grilled Chicken and Hot Smoked Coho Salmon

Bon appétit!

—Charles and Vic

10 Comments leave one →
  1. August 17, 2009 2:11 pm

    This was a really great read, I am very glad I came across your site.

  2. sherri dyer permalink
    August 18, 2009 4:48 pm

    Very interesting, I will try the Salmon.

  3. Robie & Sharon Furlong permalink
    August 20, 2009 5:25 am

    Hi Charles & Victor, nice job! I will definately try the Boxing Square Grilled Chicken…………. sounds like a lot of great spice and flavor!

  4. August 21, 2009 11:55 pm

    Well, all I can say it it’s about time, my dears! Charles, I’m going to send this to every trainer I know who has ever enjoyed your cooking, as well as folks who, like me, continue to salivate at just the thought of some of the meals you’ve prepared for me/us over the last 25 years.
    As for preparing the dishes, you know the limits of my abilities. However, my new hubby has untapped talent in the kitchen. Am I lucky or what?!

  5. Barbara Grove permalink
    August 22, 2009 12:18 am

    WOW, guys! Beautiful to look at and such fun to read! Can’t wait to do the Boxing Square Chicken! Happy late birthday to Vic!

    Love you,

  6. Kathy Whittam permalink
    August 22, 2009 3:43 am

    I loved the blog. Full of great information and humor! I may get brave enough to try the Boxing Square Chicken
    and I may even give parsnips another chance. Cooked with the pork and wine–sounds delicious!

  7. Shop Boy permalink
    August 24, 2009 7:15 pm

    Got any recipes for skate, guys?

    It’s all I ever seem to catch out east here when I’ve spent the money for a group fishing trip. An American Sportsman I ain’t.

    Great addition to the food blogging world!

    And the headline! Magic …

  8. Elinor permalink
    October 8, 2009 9:10 pm

    Hey, sounds like you had a great trip on the sea and I know your feast was as
    tasty as usual. Keep it up.

    • vpanichkul permalink*
      October 8, 2009 9:20 pm

      Thanks Elinor! We had Steve and Tina over last night for dinner. I got Tina to try mussels in black bean sauce! Plus a Thai chicken, lemongrass and galangal soup — Tom Kha Gai. Both Steve and Tina loved it! Can’t wait to you come up again next summer to cook for you guys.

      Love, Vic

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