It's salmon season in Alaska, and many people will opt to can their catch rather then freeze it. While vacuum-sealing and freezing fish is a good option, not everyone has the freezer space. Advantages to canning your catch in glass jars is that your fish is already cooked, sterilized and ready to eat once it's processed. The jars of fish are good for camping and shipping to friends and family, and they make for quick easy meals.
Löki Gale Tobin grew up in Nome and has been fishing and canning her catch for much of her life. Using guidelines provided by University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension program, Tobin walks us through how best to can our fresh, wild Alaska sockeye salmon.
What you will need:
-Fresh or frozen fish
-Pressure canner – weighted or dial gauge
-Jars – pint or ½ pint wide-mouthed, straight-sided jars
-Lids including flats and rings
-Table knife for removing bubbles
-Spoon, if you need to remove scales from the skin
First you need to sterilize your jars, flats and rings. Boil water and add the jars for 5 minutes. You can do this in batches if you don't have a large pot. Heat water for flats but once the water boils turn it off and cover the pot and let the flats sit for five minutes. You want to heat up the flats without melting the seal around the edge. Once the jars are removed from heat and cooled, check the rim of the jar with your finger to make sure there are no scars or nicks that might prevent proper sealing.
Prepare your fish by cleaning, and removing bones if desired. You can leave bones in the fish, the processing will make the bones soft and edible straight out of the jar. If you want to keep the skin be sure to remove the scales. Take a spoon and with water scrap against the scales to remove them from the fish skin. Frozen fish needs to be defrosted in the refrigerator before processing. Cut your salmon into strips the size of your jars, and then pack the salmon in tightly leaving one inch of head space at the top of the jar. Add any extra ingredients you might like to add to your fish such as jalapeno, lemon pepper or garlic.
Seal the jars with the flats and rings and tighten to finger tight. Moisture will need to escape these jars so be mindful to not tighten the lids too tight. Add 2-3 inches or 3 quarts of room temperature water to your canner and then add your jars to the canner. Make sure the canner is properly closed and then turn on the heat. Once you see a steady, white stream of steam start the timer for ten minutes. After the ten minutes has elapsed you will add your weighted gauge on the 10 pounds setting.
Once the canner has built up enough pressure the weighted gauge will jiggle, and you then begin your processing time of 100 minutes, which equals an hour and forty minutes. Manage your heat to make sure the weight gauge only jiggles four times per minute. If the gauge jiggles more or less then four times per minute you need to adjust your heat. If you have a dial gauge you need to build the pressure to 11 pounds and then keep the pressure steady at 11 pounds for 100 minutes. If you pressure dips below the needed pressure for your type gauge, you will need to build the pressure back up and begin counting your hundred minutes again.
After 100 minutes has elapsed, let the canner cool down completely. Leave the weight gauge on the canner until the dial is at zero pounds pressure and the weight gauge is still and quiet. Open the canner and remove the jars with a jar lifter. Place jars on a cooling rack and leave to cool for 24 hours. After the 24 hours has passed you can check the seal on the jar by removing the ring and testing to see that the flat is firmly in place. If a jar has not seal you can either keep the fish in the refrigerator and eat it within a week or reprocess the jar all over again.
For a time lapse of salmon smoking and canning, watch this terrific video by Philip Tschersich of Kodiak.