Monday, June 20, 2011

A Wild Salmon, Kokanee

Kokanee are the land-locked form of sockeye salmon. Because they never migrate out to the ocean to feed, kokanee are often much smaller than sockeye. However, other than their size, kokanee have very similar identifying characteristics as sockeye. Most kokanee live in a lake for most of their lives, so you can usually see them spawning near the edge of a lake or in a small tributary that feeds into a lake.

Males have back and sides that are bright red to dirty red-gray, head is bright to olive green, and tail is green to black. In females, colors are not as bright, but red above lateral line. Possible spots on back or tail fin. Males have a large dorsal hump. Sizes range in length from 10-18 inches. Spawn time is early August through late December.

Kokanee are an important commercial and sport fish. They are commercially important from the Columbia River to Bristol Bay, Alaska and are the most valuable commercial fishery in both Alaska and British Columbia. They are important as a subsistence and ceremonial fish to indigenous peoples of Alaska, British Columbia, and Washington.

In the Flathead Valley of Montana kokanee are a great sport fish. I fish in open steams with a fly rig and corn kernels for smaller fish with more sport. They are an attack fish and strike hard and unless you keep your hooks sharp you will miss them. I do end up with a lot of trout which I release.

Cooked, the kokanee has a light pink flesh and a very mild salmon flavor high in oil.

First of course I sit out front and catch them which is the most enjoyable part and does work up an appetite.

Then the task that is singularly important, cleaning and filleting. Here a sharp fillet or boning knife is helpful. The fish is split and the bones removed leaving the tail.

Fish is marinated in a milk mixture of lemon pepper, thyme, red salt and Cajun spice for at least half and hour.  Dredged in a mixture of 1/3 red corn meal and 2/3 flour seasoned with red salt, paprika, parsley and basil.

Fried golden crisp on both sides in one cup vegetable oil and then served hot with lemon wedges. If there are any left we serve them cold the next day for lunch with a good home made tarter sauce.

Montana is a land of wild food that still stocks the larders of homes and sees its way into the kitchens of local chefs. Lurking out there are fresh water fish as seven types of trout, arctic grayling, mountain whitefish, northern pikeminnow, burbot, bass, northern pike, pallid sturgeon, shovelnose sturgeon, paddlefish, channel catfish, sauger, walleye, yellow perch. Black crappie, black bullhead, white sturgeon, white fish, lake trout and of course my kokanee.


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