“Boiled” Salmon

We are going to cut a whole salmon into chunks and cook them in a pot of sea-water salty water to make “boiled fish” as the Ballard Norwegians call it, keeping in mind the secret to good “boiled” fish is not to let the water boil. It’s a different way to work with a whole salmon.

Back in my commercial fishing days in Southeast Alaska, I “boiled” salmon and other fish  on the galley stove to have fish ready ahead of time for sandwiches, salads, scrambled eggs and such.

On  “harbor days” when it was too snotty to fish, a few boats might raft together in a protected bay for a gam. This post is for those who still ask for the “recipe” after so many years for the salmon cooked in a pot of seawater and served warm on the bone right out of the pot on the hatch.

I don’t have my boat any longer but I often do salmon as described below for potlucks and various gatherings.  One 8 lb or so salmon will yield approximately 16 skinless and boneless 4-5 oz portions.

Your local fish market should have a nice selection of whole salmon this time of year if you aren’t lucky enough to catch your own. The salmon pictured here is sockeye with it’s glorious red flesh.

If a salmon has all of it’s scales it hasn’t flopped around on deck or been otherwise mishandled. The presence of bright aspic-like slime tells you the fish is as fresh as can be.(A fish in rigor mortis manufactures this protective slime). The inside of belly should be clean, bright and free of blood. Starting with a five to ten pound headed and gutted king, coho, sockeye or chum salmon with the fins removed, cut the salmon crossways into “roasts”, three to four inches long.

Lacking sea water, add sea salt or kosher salt until the cooking water tastes “sea-water salty”.  Add two onion slices, one bay leaf, six peppercorns and two whole allspice to the water. Heat the water in a large pot until the surface trembles. Add the chunks of salmon. (The salmon pictured here is sockeye.)

Simmer for 20 minutes or until the backbone just pulls away from the flesh when nudged with a table knife or spatula.

Carefully remove from the water to cool.

The fish should still be warm but not too warm for the next step: lifting the backbone from the meat. After the backbone is pulled away, there will likely be a few clearly visible belly bones to remove as well. Just lift from the exposed end of the bone. Now we remove the skin as shown by grabbing the edge along the back and carefully pulling toward the belly. If the fish is too warm or too cool the skin will not  peel off so easily and chunks of fish may come off with the skin. For smaller portions,  gently bend and break in two along lateral line. Working with the skeletal  and muscular features of the fish, we now have skinless and boneless fillet-like portions without having done any filleting. Pretty nifty.

One way I like to serve “boiled salmon” like this is with “green sauce”, an uncooked puree of various greens fresh from the garden with olive oil, yogurt, lemon juice and sea salt to taste. Often I will add anchovies and capers. The flavor will depend on the mix of greens which varies depending  on what’s in the garden or farmer’s market on a particular week. Use a combination of any of the following: parsley, green onions, chives, watercress, dandelion greens, sorrel, spinach and such. (I tried but wasn’t keen on lamb’s quarter.)
Puree four to six cups of chopped greens in a food processor with one cup quality olive oil, 1/4-1/2 cup yogurt, the juice of 1/4 to 1/2 lemon, 2 tablespoons capers, a few anchovies and sea salt to taste. If you have a good percentage of sorrel in the mix, you might want to cut back on lemon juice. (Though I list ingredient quantities here, I usually put this together by eye and feel.) The sauce can be made a day ahead of time. Serve salmon and sauce at ambient temperature. Perfect for summer. Serve with a light, refreshing Pinot Gris.


Salmon this way is also good with pesto, relishes and salsa and, broken into pieces, is an excellent salad ingredient.

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9 Responses to “Boiled” Salmon

  1. One 8 lb or so salmon will yield approximately 16 skinless and boneless 4-5 oz portions.

  2. Please tell me the skin could still be broiled up for crispy snacking?

    • jonrowley says:

      I’m remiss in not having tried broiling the skin although I often do this with “raw” skin. I suspect, having been cooked in water, the oils have departed. I’ll try boiling the skin next time I “boil’ salmon.

  3. Julie Whitehorn says:

    Lovely and informative post, Jon.

  4. Mari-Ann Jackson says:

    This is how we have done “kald laks” forever in Norway… Love it!

  5. Tomi Kent-Smith says:

    Thanks for sharing – such great knowledge for us Irish folk.

  6. janis33 says:

    I have visions of running down to the waters edge and collecting sea water, turning around and yelling “HEY! Anyone have an extra salmon?”

  7. Hi you all,
    That’s a really nice update. Have you considered Salmon fishining in the Comox area of Vancouver Island?

  8. Aryeh says:

    Tried it and it’s delicious. Thank you kindly for sharing it!
    Though personally I much prefer the leftovers cold the next day!

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