How-To Guide: Fillet a Fish

After several hours and many miles downriver we had found ourselves at the base of a waterfall. The morning fog still hadn't cleared and the river ahead of us and the forest at its banks were silent. The next 12 -15 miles contain some of the most sought after fishing stocks in the world. This is Alaska’s Copper River. We came here for one reason - to fish.

In this journal, we will walk you though filleting and curing a Copper River Sockeye salmon that we caught. No stove, no cutting board, and on the bank of the river - just the way we like it.

Recommended Gear: Blind Bag - Signature Canvas/Signature Leather | Madison Fly Rod - 5WT Graphite | Abel x Ball and Buck Fly Fishing Reel | Abel x Ball and Buck Nippers | Handmade Fishing Net | Folding Hunter Knife - Heritage Walnut   

After cleaning, place the fish on its side, with its spine facing towards you. Behind the head, insert your knife into the back of the fish just above the spine. Keeping your knife at a slight downward tilt, with the spine as your guide, start slicing towards the tail, using a gentle sawing motion. As you slice, lift the fillet slightly – not too much, just enough to let the knife do its work. About halfway through the fish, reposition your hand to brace the fillet – keep your hand behind the knife, and continue slicing until you reach the tail. Place the fillet aside, flip the fish and repeat. Use the carcass for stock or bait.With salmon this fresh, you don’t even need to cook it. We like it cured in a simple salt/sugar mix - it keeps it fresh and lets the fish be the star of the show. As long as the salt and sugar ratio is constant, you can add whatever other spices and herbs you like. We're fond of adding a splash of gin and some caraway seeds. Once cured the following recipe should keep for several days - even if it is unlikely to actually last that long.

All you will need is the following:

  • 40g of kosher salt
  • 25g of sugar
  • 1 bunch of freshly chopped dill
  • The zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 pound fillet of salmon.

Mix the salt, sugar, dill, and zest together in a mixing bowl. Take your freshly filleted salmon and rub about half of the salt cure on the skin side. Place in a shallow bowl, skin side down, and top with the remaining half of the salt cure. Be sure to rub thoroughly. Cover with plastic wrap and place under something heavy - river stones and cast iron work equally well. Place in the refrigerator and let rest for 1 day.

On day 2, flip the salmon over so that the skin side is facing up. Rewrap, put what you were using as a weight back on top, and return to the refrigerator for 2 more days. After the 3 days, remove the salmon from the refrigerator, wipe off and discard the salt cure, and place onto a firm surface. Using your sharpest knife, slice thin as possible on a bias. The fresher the salmon, the better this will taste.

The salmon will be great as is, but we recommend it on an everything bagel, with cream cheese, and raw red onion. Serve cold and take it with you on your next adventure.

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