SEASIDE, Ore. — We head indoors this week to share some dining delights and an Oregon specialty: fresh smoked salmon.
Last August – and lasting for about 8 weeks – the big, broad Columbia River was center stage for a silvery rush of salmon that migrated upriver past a sports fishing mecca called Buoy 10 near Astoria.
“There’s a fish,” I yelled as my fishing rod throbbed down, then back up and down once more, and then it stayed down.
I quickly wrestled it from the rod hold and held on for dear life as the line screamed out of the bait casting reel.
“What have you got there Mr. McOmie” asked a grinning John Krauthoefer, a longtime Oregon fishing guide, knowing full well that my fish was a huge Chinook salmon.
“Oh, something really big with fins on it, John,” was all I could muster in reply.
After a moment, we saw the chrome-sided fish gleam under the surface, just ten yards from the boat.
“Oh, isn’t that a beauty?" he said. "That’s a fin clipped hatchery king – and it’s big.”
The fish ran and I reeled at each break in the heart pounding action.
I tried to keep the fish close by the boat, never allowing slack line to develop from the fish’s erratic and hard charging bursts, first toward and then away from the boat.
After fifteen minutes, John dipped the large net under the salmon.
“That is a beautiful fish,” said our guide. “Isn’t that that something special; just look at the way the hits the sides of that salmon.”
It was a gorgeous upriver bright Chinook – bound for the Columbia River’s upper stretches – hundreds of miles from the estuary.
A gorgeous catch for sure – but what to do with thirty pounds of salmon?
Some folks say, “head for the smoker!” Bell Buoy Seafood in Seaside, Oregon has a dandy smokehouse and it has been a local fixture since 1946.
During the salmon season, Bell Buoy’s smoker will deliver up to 300 pounds – twice each week – of freshly smoked salmon.
During a recent visit, Bell Buoy owner Terry Hartill offered me – fresh out of the giant smoker – smoked salmon strips, collars and fins plus smoked oysters, and new to me, smoked razor clams.
Oh yes, I found myself in seafood heaven!
The varied smoked salmon products were so good I just had to learn more.
So, I invited Hartill and his friend, longtime fisherman and seafood chef, Steve Fick, to team up in the kitchen. The team prepared new recipes centered on fresh and abundant Oregon coho salmon.
“This year, we had a forecast of 1.3 to 1.5 million coho to the mouth of the Columbia,” said Hartill. “That’s largely due to in-river survival as well as good early life history survival once they hit the ocean.”
Recipe #1 – Salmon Stuffed Manicotti
Hartill’s recipe number one was Salmon Stuffed Manicotti Pasta. He mixed 2 cups of smoked coho salmon, 1 cup of ricotta cheese, with lemon zest, garlic salt and pepper to taste. He also made a cream sauce to top the salmon filled pasta. The dish was placed in 350-degree oven for 30 minutes.
While the dish cooked, Trent browned a cup of panko and noted, “That crunch provides a nice contrast to the soft pasta.” He then topped the dish with a cup of fresh Dungeness crab.
Recipe #2 – Smoked Salmon Stuffed Mushrooms
Meanwhile, Fick had his hands filled with a delicious dish of Salmon Stuffed Mushrooms. First, he mixed 1 cup each of sour cream and low-cal yogurt. He added two cups of smoked salmon and mixed thoroughly. He cut the stems from about 15 Cremini mushrooms, pressed in a tablespoon of the salmon mix. He topped each mushroom with grated cheddar cheese and placed the tray onto a Traeger BBQ that was set at 200 degrees and heated the mushrooms through for about 20-30 minutes.
Recipe #3 - Salmon Tacos
While the mushrooms were cooking, Fick chopped a dish of varied veggies that included peppers, tomatoes and onions – about one cup each. He also mixed a half cup each of sour cream and low-cal yogurt with two cups of smoked salmon. He then filled pre-folded corn tortillas with the mixture and plated about a dozen of the tacos. “This dish is a good complimentary way of using the rest of your smoked fish,” added the longtime chef.
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Finally, Trent surprised us with a bonus: a fourth salmon recipe! He spread a half cup of Dijon-style mustard mixed with the same amount of mayo and spread that across a fresh coho salmon filet. He added a coating of panko and then fresh dill topping across the filet. Then it went into a 325-degree oven for 10-15 minutes.
“The Dijon adds a pungent flavor, and the salmon has some fattiness to it," he said. "That oil and pungent just play well together. The coating also helps the filet hold its moisture.”
The dining table was filled with the varied salmon recipes, but they didn’t last long as the guest diners lined up to sample each dish.
“Oh, all are so delicious," said guest diner Leslee Sipp. “We have the best chefs ever. I liked the smoked salmon and really enjoyed the Dijon salmon with the panko.”
Dining guest Kim Beck, added, “Oh, I loved the stuffed mushroom and the taco recipe. I have never had a taco quite like this ever and it’s quite amazing.”
Diner Sean Dotson said with a broad smile, “My favorite is probably whatever’s on my fork and going in my mouth. It is all so good!”
“That’s the great thing about cooking,” noted Fick. “You can do all sorts of fun things with salmon…especially smoked salmon. We’re trying to do some different things other than just eating a piece of smoked salmon.”
Be sure to follow my Oregon adventures via the new Grant’s Getaways Podcast: Each segment is a story-telling session where I relate behind the scenes stories from four decades of travel and television reporting.
You can also learn more about many of my favorite Oregon travels and adventures in the Grant’s Getaways book series, including:
"Grants Getaways I," Photography by Steve Terrill
"Grant's Getaways II," Photography by Steve Terrill
“Grant’s Getaways: 101 Oregon Adventures,” Photography by Jeff Kastner
“Grant’s Getaways: Guide to Wildlife Watching in Oregon,” Photography by Jeff Kastner
“Grant’s Getaways: Oregon Adventures with the Kids,” Photography by Jeff Kastner
The collection offers hundreds of outdoor activities across Oregon and promises to engage a kid of any age.
My next book, “Grant’s Getaways: Another 101 Oregon Adventures” will be published in November, ‘22.