Canned Salmon and Freezer Fish: What to do until the sockeyes come

Cases of canned fish and a full freezer are wonderful things in fall but spring, being the season of renewal, is a time to draw down the larder in anticipation of re-stocking with fresh salmon. We try to pace our supply to run out in early June. In years when spring kings were running strong the left-over fish languished in the freezer once the kings arrived because, even thinking of fresh kings after a long winter turns our crowd into Pavlov’s dogs, staring at the water with drool running all down the docks. But the ocean phase has been tough on spring kings’ class of 2017. Projected returns are low to dismal and, with a few exceptions, sport fishing for them has been closed or restricted from Yakutat to Ketchikan. Speculation, scientific and otherwise, about why the kings aren’t coming back has not coalesced into any certainties and so, this might be a good time to share recipes around for using up what’s left in the house as we hope for stronger runs of the other four far-flung oncorhynchus clans headed our way.

Lucy’s Salmon Soup

from Lucy Hudson, Juneau. This is in the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s Pamphlet: ‘Alaska Salmonburger And Other Great Canned Salmon Recipes’—salmon cooks should have this pamphlet in the recipe box. It has nine good dishes.


1 can (7 ½ or 7 ¾ oz) salmon*

1 chopped onion

1 cup diced potato

¼ cup chopped celery

¼ cup butter or margarine, divided

2 tablespoons flour

¼ teaspoon each of white pepper and dill weed

1 can (8 oz) stewed tomatoes**

3 cups milk, heated

1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese


2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Place salmon and liquid in bowl and flake. Sauté onion, potato and celery in 2 tablespoons of butter until tender. Blend in flour: add pepper, dill, tomatoes, milk and salmon. Heat until soup thickens and comes to a simmer; stir occasionally. Stir in remaining butter and cheese. Season to taste with salt: add parsley. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

*Our family cans salmon in 16 oz Mason jars, which hold about 15 oz of salmon. We throw in the whole thing when we make this soup. Or, we thaw out one of those can-size clumps of tasty scraps we saved last year when we filleted the fish, sauté it, and use that instead of canned.

**Where I grew up in New England the conviction was that tomatoes in fish chowders are only added in decadent places like Manhattan so, to this, day I leave out the tomatoes.

Black Bean Salmon

from Nancy Barr, Juneau

This is an excellent recipe for a dinner with friends. It’s straightforward to make and at the same time it is a nice presentation with complex flavors. With salad and a glass of wine you’re golden. The hard part is finding fermented soy beans. Nancy gave me some from her stash that she brought from Seattle. If I find a store here that has them I will name it in a future column.


1 to 2 pounds of salmon fillet, skinned, boned and cut into bite size pieces

teriyaki sauce (or soy sauce and sherry)

2-3 tablespoons salted (fermented), dried black soy beans (sold in Asian specialty food stores).

½ cup water

1 onion chopped fine

2 cloves garlic crushed

Sesame oil (or other cooking oil)

1½ inch of fresh ginger chopped fine or grated

a few tablespoons oyster sauce*

Marinade fish in teriyaki sauce for at least an hour. Rinse the beans well to remove salt, then soak them in the water until soft and mash them just before using. Sauté onions, garlic and ginger lightly in the oil. Drain the salmon. Add to the sauté mix with the black beans and continue to sauté until fish is cooked, (about 10 minutes). Add oyster sauce, stir, and serve over rice.

* some brands have MSG which we avoid.

Mayonnaise and Curry Baked Salmon

Friends made this for us one night and we like it very well. It’s easy, looks good, and tastes good. If you’re ready to balance the Omega 3’s in the fish with 10 mg of cholesterol and 100 calories per tablespoon of mayonnaise this one’s for you. It’s a lively change from the usual baked salmon with dill or herbed bread crumbs. In winter we make it once a month.

preheat oven to 350 F


salmon fillets skinned and cut into serving size pieces

about ¾ cup mayonnaise

red curry paste to taste. (one or two tablespoons, generally, the longer the fish has been in the freezer the more curry)


variations: add lemon, lime, garlic, paprika etc.

Butter a baking dish. Place fillets in the dish. mix mayo and curry. Spread on fish. Bake about 20 minutes depending on thickness.

Barbecue Salmon

Just before the fish come in, if you’ve still got a bunch in the freezer, this is a good time to barbecue.

salmon fillets, skin on, cut into serving size chunks.

½ stick butter

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Don’t overload the coals. When coals are hot, place fish, skin side down, the skin helps hold it together if you flip it (which you only need to do with thick fillets like king salmon). Some cooks pull the skin off after it’s turned.  As the fish is cooking baste fillets with a pastry brush.  Some people use the grill cover some don’t. If you’ve never grilled salmon and are insecure it may be worth cooking a piece or two to see how it goes. The biggest thing with cooking fish is to not overcook it.

Smoked Salmon

Smoke those fillets you’ve got left and it opens up a whole new sub-division of appetizers, bagels, fettuccine, calzones, omelets, and quiche. About quiche crusts: if you don’t want to, don’t know how, or don’t have time make pie crust, don’t worry. Just butter a pie pan and bake quiche like a custard. Crust is redundant.

Don’t throw old fish away

All the old Native mythologies hold that salmon won’t come back if people are disrespectful and waste them. In these strange modern days maybe we’d do well to not dismiss that idea. If you’ve got fish you’re never going to eat because it’s freezer burned or you think the cans are too old, put it to use. Put it on Juneau Craigslist to see if someone wants fish to feed dogs. Or, you can work it gradually into an animal proof compost heap or into the garden beds next fall just before the ground freezes (but after the bears den up). Or, you can return it to the ocean and let the animals out there know you’re thinking about them.