Gathering season on the North Coast of B.C. is here, as people pick berries and fish sockeye for food.
“It’s one of the most important times of the year for people in Prince Rupert and in the north because this is how we get our winter supply of food,” Arnie Nagy said. “When we grow up, we’re always taught you share the fish, you share the knowledge.”
Nagy has taught many people how to can salmon and jams, and always gives some to elders in the community. Every year, he spends hours in his kitchen in Prince Rupert, preparing a fresh catch to last months or even years.
How to jar salmon:
First, the salmon is cut into two fillets with one clean slice. Each fillet will get cut into smaller pieces, depending on the size of the jars being used.
Nagy measures the size of the cut that can fit in each jar by counting the spaces between the vertebrae. He cuts through the hollow, clear spots, and the piece fits perfectly. This trick can speed up the process, since you don’t have to stop and measure every piece. Of the two fillets, one side is just meat, while the other still has the spine. The piece with the bone gets put in the jar first, the skin facing out (for presentation, Nagy said). The rest of the space is filled in by the boneless materials.
“I’m a believer the bone should be in the fish,” Nagy said. “I think it makes it taste better and it’s actually healthier for you because of the calcium.”
Next, the glass rim of the jars need to be wiped down to ensure a good seal. Before the lid goes on, Nagy adds a tiny bit of salt. Sometimes he skips that step, though.
“I don’t like to use very much, but I know the salt does help to soften the bones and add a little bit of flavour to the meat,” he said.
When Nagy does put the lids on, he doesn’t turn them too tight because the heat and the steam needs to be able to escape.
Now, it’s time to cook the salmon. Nagy prefers to use pressure cookers with 10-pound pressure. At 242 degrees, anything that’s inside the jar of raw fish is killed.
He sets an alarm for 95 minutes. Usually 90 minutes is enough, but Nagy likes to set a window for error, giving more time to ensure anything that could make someone sick is dead.
Wait for the pressure cooker to be cool, Nagy warns. Many people lose fish if the pressure cooker is opened too soon, because it creates a vacuum and pulls the product out of the jars. As he opens the lid, steam rises out and liquids in the jars are still bubbling. The middle of the metal lids will make a popping sound as they seal.
“That’s the music you want to hear all night when the cans are cooling,” he said.
Now, the salmon is ready to be stored. Nagy likes to save it for a cold, rainy day.