Asheville Citizen Times - Alaskaville Salmon

Alaskaville Salmon: With Fish from the Wild Salmon Co., you can make fresh gravalax at home

For most people, the summertime is filled with relaxing beach vacations and sips of lemonade in the shade. But for Heidi Dunlap and Steve Maher of Asheville’s Wild Salmon Co., it’s the busiest time of year, when millions of wild sockeye salmon return to Bristol Bay, Alaska, to spawn.

Bristol Bay has been a biologist-monitored fishery since 1940. There, a fixed number of fishing licenses are allotted to secure the health of future salmon populations and prevent over-fishing. Dunlap began fishing there at age 6, receiving one of the limited licenses as a gift from her fisherman father at 16. She’s been traveling from her home in Asheville to fish Bristol Bay waters ever since. She and her partner Steve have not missed a season in 19 years. Though it would be tempting to fantasize about life as a professional fisher, this career is nothing short of burly. The hours are long, and conditions are often dangerous and far from glamorous.

Catching the fish is not the end of the journey either. Preserving the catch is a tedious, time-sensitive task. Despite this, I have never run across such beautifully packaged sockeye--deep red fillets nestled in pairs, expertly sealed and ready for the table, Taking well to marinades or applewood smoke, or unseasoned on its own, each bite of their wild sockeye is sheer pleasure. My Uncle John, a geologist and global climate-change expert (and also an avid fly fisherman), has spent generous time all over the world catching and eating fresh fish. We served sockeye from the Wild Salmon Co. during his stay and received his educated approval.

In contrast, farm-raised salmon, with its artificially colored flesh and unnatural marbling, is a decoy for the gastronomic experience salmon was intended to be. Wild salmon has the benefit of tasting of wild: firm fleshed from a life lived with vigor, deeply hued and kissed by the cold, briny water it was pulled from. Salmon aquaculture pales greatly in comparison, while putting wild populations at risk, introducing disease and chemicals to fragile ecosystems. Whether it’s eating responsibly or simply a matter of taste, Heidi and Steve keep their clientele from choosing between the two. With their help, those on dry land receive the opportunity to partake in a tradition as old as time, and to fully understand why it’s worth going wild.

Heidi’s Gravalax Recipe:

  • 1 lb. center cut sockeye filet
  • 1.5 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 heaping tablespoon sugar
  • Fresh-ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon or dry gin or tequila (optional)
  • Fresh dill sprigs

Place thawed salmon filet fresh side up, in the center of a large piece of plastic wrap.

Mix salt, sugar, black pepper and tequila together in a small bowl. Rub evenly into salmon. Top with dill.

Wrap the salmon tightly in plastic wrap.

Place wrapped and seasoned fillet on a plate, then place another plate on top and weight with two cans. Place in refrigerator. Flip every 12 hours and cure for 2-3 days.

Remove fillet from wrapping, discard dill and rinse entire fillet. Pat dry with paper towels.

Slice the gravalax thinly with very sharp knife with the grain of the belly. Serve with crostini (toasted french bread), cream cheese and fresh dill.