Alaskan Silver Salmon: The Bellies of the Feast

A repurposed pandemic repast (say that three times fast).

SALMON QUEST: The Florette C. out of Seward Harbor, Alaska.

These days of home quarantine, I suspect I’m not alone in my new favorite pastime: freezer diving. I’m digging down deep past all BW’s frozen pastry crusts in search of protein goodies to thaw for dinner. The time for home cooking is now.

Last week, I found some special treats I nearly forgot were in there. In fact, the two packages of flash-frozen silver-salmon bellies that I re-discovered, were originally earmarked for my smoker. Bucktailin’ Billy Black brought them to me from his fishing trip last summer out of Seward Harbor, on the Kenai Penninsula of Alaska. Fish bellies of all sorts usually get relegated to the compost heap in deference to the choice filet or loin parts we mostly favor. But smoking these salmon bellies was a tip Billy picked up at J-Dock Seafood Company, the processor that packaged the fish for his return trip.  And so he thought of me.

SILVER SALMON: A haul from the deep cold waters of Resurrection Bay.

Billy and his wife caught a mess of these 10 to 15 pound beauties trolling for them in deep water. The fishing technique aboard the Florette C. that he described is plainly counterintuitive compared to the type of surfcasting or boat trolling we typically do here in the Northeast. But it’s typical for deep water salmon fishing in Alaska’s Resurrection Bay, and apparently works like a charm.  

Lines went out from the boat weighted down with cannon size lead balls.  The lines had flasher plates attached to attract the fish, “and the lures resembled spiders,” recalled Billy.  The “downrigged” rod stays bent constantly from the weight. When the fish strikes, the rod straightens as the main line pulls free from the clip holding it to the weighted line.  Once that happens “you reel like hell,” says Billy. “These fish fight very well.”

DOWNRIGGER: Counterintuitive trolling.

The crew of the Florette C., is all female, but the fishing party Billy was part of comprised three men and three women who rotated on the rods at predetermined times.  Billy’s wife caught the first fish and they had action for nearly the entire charter.  

Since I haven’t been spending a lot of time with my smoker of late—the bluefish haven’t shown up as yet—the salmon bellies needed to be repurposed.  I found an Asian inspired, pan-roasting recipe that turned out to be easy and delicious. Once thawed, rinsed and dried, I dusted the bellies with some seasoned almond flour, and cooked them skin side down for about 8 minutes in a stainless skillet coated with sesame oil. When the filets got a golden brown crust on the skin side, I flipped them to cook for just one or two minutes more, depending upon the size. 

FLASH FROZEN: When the processors at J-Dock tipped Billy salmon bellies were as worthwhile as filets, he had a bunch packed up and brought them home to me.
FIRST FISH: Mrs. Billy gets things going in Alaska.

I served up the salmon bellies over steamed brown rice, accompanied by a spicy soy-based dipping sauce, with char-roasted broccoli on the side. The sauce had fresh ginger, minced garlic and onion, rice vinegar and dried hot red pepper flakes. Once the fish was plated, I hit it with a squeeze of lemon, a sprinkle of Thai basil, and called it dinner. Yum. Can striped bass bellies be far behind?

Thanks, Billy (and Mrs. Billy).  Now; how about catching up some of those springtime bluefish so the smoker can come out of storage?  My freezer is just about empty.


Wash, rinse and pat the fish dry. Trim off any remaining fins. Dust the fish with corn, almond or any other flour you choose. I seasoned mine with salt, pepper and some five spice powder. Shake off the excess.

In a hot pan or skillet primed with oil — I used sesame oil, but any vegetable, coconut or olive oil will do nicely–sear the fish on the skin side to attain a golden brown crust. Takes about 8 minutes, depending upon the size. Don’t overcook. Flip the fish and cook another two minutes, then remove from the pan.

For the Asian-style dipping sauce, I minced up garlic, onion, ginger and crumbled a hot red pepper. Mix these with soy sauce with a teaspoon or so of rice wine vinegar. You can use any type of vinegar or even lemon or lime instead.

Voila! Dinner is served, garnished with basil, lemon, steamed rice and charred broccoli on the side. And don’t forget the ceramic salmon chopstick rests as well as a favorite cocktail.

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