Alutiiq Elder Julie Knagin shared her knowledge of fish preparation in an Alutiiq Wild Foods presentation Tuesday. Around a dozen people attended the Alutiiq Museum’s event to watch her fillet and debone a red salmon, hoping to pick up some tips to take home.
Knagin quickly cut the salmon’s head off and filleted the fish with a natural ease developed with years of practice.
“I did a lot of filleting of fish in my day,” Knagin said. “I was born in Karluk and lived there my younger years. Karluk at one time was the largest red salmon stream in the world.”
Knagin’s parents and family used to process fish for a cannery in Karluk. She helped her mother prepare smoked salmon.
“That’s where I first learned to fillet fish,” Knagin said.
In her years of experience, she has learned a few tricks that make the filleting and deboning process quick and easy.
One of her tricks is to leave the fish out a few hours to let it soften, so it’s easier to cut through with a sharp knife.
“The fresher it is, the firmer it is,” Knagin said. “Let the fish sit for a few hours until it softens up.”
To make deboning the fillets easier, Knagin recommends using small, rounded pliers. The rounded pliers don’t destroy the rest of the fillet.
Once the salmon has been filleted the next step is to choose how to prepare it.
Red salmon can be baked, fried, smoked, boiled, grilled, poached or steamed. To preserve it for winter, it can be smoked, dried, salted or canned.
“Salmon is good because you can fix it so many different ways,” Knagin said.
The Alutiiq frequently made soup with salmon because it stretched further to feed a family. The soup primarily consisted of fish, onions and potatoes.
They also ate as much of the fish as possible.
“Most Natives eat the eggs,” Knagin said. “They also eat the head.”
The fish head can be used to make soup or can be boiled and eaten whole. To eat salmon eggs, boil them for five to 10 minutes, making sure they don’t harden too much.
Leslie Stella has lived in Kodiak for a year. She moved to the island specifically for the fishing, and she frequently fillets different types of fish. During the presentation, Stella made a few mental notes of tips to try the next time she prepares a fish.
“I like the suggestion to leave the fish overnight for several hours to soften up,” Stella said. “We typically fillet it right when we get in.”
Contact Mirror writer Nicole Klauss at nklauss@kodiak