On a classic rainy day in Prince Rupert, smoke billows out of vents at the top of the smokehouse behind Prince Rupert Lawn and Garden. Inside, Sabrina Clifton shows three teens from the Gitmaxmak’ay Nisga’s Society’s youth program how to smoke black cod.
The 80 fish were donated to the society, and two elders got to work immediately, filleting and brining the gift before transporting it to the public smokehouse to hang.
“We’ll probably be smoking for two and a half days,” Clifton said outside the smokehouse. “After they’re done smoking, we bring them back to the Nisga’a Hall and bag them, and then distribute them to the elders.”
At her side are Jordan Barton, Warren Barton and Ethan Adams, who helped string the black cod onto pieces of wood, then hang them in rows between the beams. They joke around about smelling like fish as Clifton gives them tips: Make sure the string is long enough to fit on the wood, keep your mouth closed when you hang the fish above your head.
“Whenever we have any harvesting to do or smoking, we usually get our youth involved with our elders so they can work together,” Clifton said. “It’s a great cultural experience, because we’ve all learned from our grandparents and our elders are teaching our youth as well how to preserve our harvest.”
Once all the black cod is hung, Clifton gets to work building the fire. The embers are still hot from the last time someone used the smokehouse, and light easily. She uses pieces of cedar, which have been stripped too thin to use for weaving, as kindling instead of throwing them out. Alder or cottonwood is used for the rest of the fire.
It’ll be two days before the fish is done, but the wait is well worth it. The bottom fish is known for its rich, fatty flavour, highlighted by the brine.
“I think everybody likes smoked black cod,” Clifton said with a laugh. “I, myself, come from a fishing family and a lot of our elders don’t. They hardly ever get to have any taste of the black cod or halibut or anything like that, so when they get it, it’s a real treat.”