Dipnetting on the Kenai

This is me standing on a beach on the Kenai River in Alaska in freezing rain, holding a puppy named Cleo, and surrounded by dead sockeye salmon entrails.  Summer in Alaska has never been so sweet or so full of carnage.

I did not realize it, but fishing in Alaska is akin to…well…nothing comes to mind.  In my neck of the woods, fishing is something people do for pleasure.  You come home at the end of the day with a fresh sunburn and some sand in your hair, and if you catch a few fish to eat all the better.  Not so in the great North.

In Alaska fishing for salmon is both sport and necessity.  When word gets out that the salmon are running, people hightail it to the nearest fish hotspot as fast as their Subaru and pickups can carry them.  The closest thing I’ve seen to the frenzy to get into the Kenai was the crowd of cars I saw outside of Bonnaroo.  People are damn serious about their fish out here.

Families come as one, both to enjoy some quality time together and exploit their children to bonk the s&%* out of some sockeye salmons.

Yes, bonk.  Let me back up.  Instead of fishing for the salmon with a traditional fishing rod, which wouldn’t work because salmon are no longer eating as they swim upstream to have their babies and die, people in Alaska do something called dipnetting.  Dipnetting is when you basically stand in the water with a 5 foot diameter net, wait for a salmon to swim into it, and then drag it back onto shore and kill it by bonking it in the head.  I’m pretty sure that’s a technical term, and it’s usually the kid’s job.

After the salmon is bonked it’s gutted, de-headed and rinsed of slime and sand.

People throw the entrails and heads of their salmon back in the ocean, which of course washes up on the shore during high tide.  Hence the giant piles of rotting fish carcasses

Which is a very strong contrast to the crazy beautiful mountains and ocean all around.

And a few crazy people, including David Hansen, opt to float instead of dipnet.  This is basically dipnetting but instead of standing up to your chest in the freezing cold ocean water, you swim around in it like a crazy person, all while holding a net.  Yeah, you get a few more salmon, and probably lose the use of a few extremeties due to hypothermia.

If you look closely, you can see a little black dot that’s David’s head.

Despite the fish blood and rain, this weekend of sockeye salmon-ing was definitely a true AK experience.  And now we have 120 red salmon fillets to eat all summer long!  Tom and Suzers, some day I will get you to eat this delicious red flesh and love it.  Mark my words.

A good way to start is with Dave’s signature brown sugar salmon rub!

Dave’s Brown Sugar Salmon Rub

makes enough for 2 large salmon fillets

1/2 c brown sugar

1 tbsp. fresh thyme

1 tsp. cayenne pepper

pinch of salt

1/4 c olive oil

Mix dry ingredients, add olive oil bit by bit until it becomes a paste and is spreadable with a fork.

Rub into salmon and then grill on a moist cedar plank.

I’m Baaaack! Oh yeah, and I’m also in Alaska.

So!  For those of you who don’t know, I am spending the summer in Anchorage, Alaska.  I don’t even have to change the theme of the blog, because being in Alaska almost makes me feel like I’m still abroad.  Seriously, it’s borderline a foreign country here.  It is sunny around 20 hours a day (or at least the sun doesn’t set til 2 am, sometimes it’s actually rainy. Actually more than just sometimes.)

But those sunny days are totally worth it!

Anchorage is on the coast, so the sun lights up the ocean to the west and the mountains to the east, and there are flowers growing everywhere!  Speaking of things growing, I made the exciting discovery the other day of some rhubarb growing in the yard of the house the bf and I are housesitting.  Everyone in Anchorage loves to grow things, just like they love to bike everywhere and have an excessive amount of outdoor festivals.  I must say, these Alaskan folk really know how to make the most out of summertime.

So, back to rhubarb.  Or have I even mentioned rhubarb yet?  Here is another picture.

Weirdly, I had never eaten rhubarb before this past weekend.

I had, however, heard of its legendary power to pair with sweet delicious dough and cinnamon-flavored streusel topping to make something of beauty.

A crumb cake.  Can anything be more magical?  So simple, yet so satisfying. Pairs perfectly with a hot cup of milky coffee (hence the name, duh) on a Sunday morning, or as an after-dinner treat. I could wax on for hours, but I won’t, because no one would find that interesting.

Recipe adapted from Smittenkitchen.com


Butter for greasing pan

For the rhubarb filling:
1/2 pound rhubarb, trimmed
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

For the crumbs:
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick or 4 ounces) butter, melted
1 3/4 cups cake flour (I was out and used all-purpose and it worked great)

For the cake:
1/3 cup sour cream
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup cake flour (ditto on the all-purpose flour–worked just fine)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons softened butter, cut into 8 pieces.

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease an 8-inch-square baking pan. For filling, slice rhubarb 1/2 inch thick and toss with sugar, cornstarch and ginger. Set aside.

2. To make crumbs [this step now updated, see comment #150] in a large bowl, whisk sugars, spices and salt into melted butter until smooth. Then, add flour with a spatula or wooden spoon. It will look and feel like a solid dough. Leave it pressed together in the bottom of the bowl and set aside.

3. To prepare cake, in a small bowl, stir together the sour cream, egg, egg yolk and vanilla. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add butter and a spoonful of sour cream mixture and mix on medium speed until flour is moistened. Increase speed and beat for 30 seconds. Add remaining sour cream mixture in two batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition, and scraping down the sides of bowl with a spatula. Scoop out about 1/2 cup batter and set aside.

4. Scrape remaining batter into prepared pan. Spoon rhubarb over batter. Dollop set-aside batter over rhubarb; it does not have to be even.

5. Using your fingers, break topping mixture into big crumbs, about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch in size. They do not have to be uniform, but make sure most are around that size. Sprinkle over cake. Bake cake until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean of batter (it might be moist from rhubarb), 45 to 55 minutes. Cool completely before serving.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings.