The third largest river in Alaska, the Copper, is currently the most famous worldwide for its salmon. Bristol Bay, famous for the world’s largest run of Sockeye salmon, hosts salmon from several rivers, as they mill around, waiting for the right time to enter any of dozens of streams to their spawning grounds.
The Copper River Sockeye is the most highly sought fresh salmon in the United States. The Copper River King is said to rival that of the Yukon King in flavor. Less well-known than the Copper’s Reds, the Kings are noted for their extremely high oil content.
The Copper is fished all summer long, from mid-May into September. Many of its tributaries’ runs come in at different time, making the commercial fishery, at its delta in the north Gulf of Alaska, durable. Upstream, there are Native, subsistence, personal use and sports users. Princess Lines passengers can opt out for a King fishing trip on one of the Copper’s tributaries. Natives and subsistence users have fish wheels along the bank above the confluence of the Copper with the Chitina. Urban and rural subsistence and personal use fishers also dip nets into the waters, bringing out their annual harvest.
The Copper is under increasing pressure from every direction, but the number of fish caught annually there over the past 40 years has stayed remarkably close to the same from decade to decade. The first year I caught a salmon at the Copper River, was as a commercial gillnetter, in 1974. The most recent ones were on Thursday, as a personal use dipnetter.
I brought home my biggest King since the last century, 38 pounds. One of the fillets will be eaten at my mom’s 93rd birthday party later this summer.
The other one got subdivided for a few meals.
No matter how cleanly one fillets a salmon that size, there is scrap fish left on the carcass. For years, after I fillet several salmon, I’ve scraped away the rest of the flesh and turned it into ceviche.
If you don’t know what ceviche is, you’re not alone. It is a pickle dish that uses citric acid as its catalyst. It should only be made with the highest quality fresh seafood ingredients. Not just for quality, but for safety.
The history of how people made what we now call ceviche before the late 16th century is sketchy. Even though its invention is often credited with having been the meeting of Peruvian natives’ pickling methods and the conquistadors’ citrus products, I can’t imagine coastal people anywhere with citrus cultivation not having discovered the dish earlier.
I make a lot of different ceviches, but fresh lime juice and fish are the basics of all of them. A few get garlic. A very few don’t get onion. Some are hot, especially if I have fresh, home-grown peppers. Some have citrus chunks thrown in. Some have mango or papaya. Recently, I’ve started adding an ounce of tequila.
Here’s the recipe for my Copper River King Salmon Scrap Ceviche:
2 cups salmon scraps (cut to a maximum 1/8 x 1/2 x 1 inch size)
1 mediumish Bermuda onion
1 cup chopped plum cherry tomatoes
juice and pulp of 6 to 8 limes
1 cup chopped lemon basil tops
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
150 arugula flowers
1 oz. tequila
2 tbs wildflower honey
Ingredients before cutting:
Ingredients after cutting:
Place in a glass bowl. Stir with a non-reactive spoon until thoroughly mixed:
Cover and refrigerate. Stir every 4 hours. Ready in 14 to 24 hours. Keep refrigerated for up to a week.
Serve on any kind of cracker, dried or toasted bread. It goes well as an appetizer. At parties, ours sometimes disappears before we have a chance to get any.