Sacred Salmon

Last night I found a huge chunk of frozen salmon in my hands, and I wondered what to do with it.  I sat it in a bowl of warm water to thaw, and decided I’d wait and see what came to me.

You’ll never guess who came to visit!  RememberSacred Grandmother?  She came back to thank me for helping her with her great-grandson.  He is safely and happily incorporated into heaven now, and she is so relieved.  She said,

“You help me save my grandson.  I show you the best way to cook salmon.”

I was to take fresh sea water.  I live by the harbour and that water is not so great to cook with, so I used tap water and added a bunch of non-iodionized salt.  Put it in a double boiler pot and bring it to a boil.

Set the chunk of salmon in the top part of the steamer.  Immeditely I understood – the steam would cook the salmon.  This was great because the salmon was literally a hunk of the middle piece of the fish, spine still in, so the width of the meat was uneven and would cook unevenly if I tried to bake it or fry it.  Steam!  Steam is the answer.

She showed me the traditional cooking baskets, made from cedar bark.  The baskets were as long as a whole fish.  “Better to cook whole fish, but here, you have only part of a fish.  Is okay, this still the best way.”

Over top of the water proof cedar basket was a loosely woven cedar strip basket which the fish was placed into, and held suspended over the first.  Then a cover.  In this way, the salmon was cooked with salty sea water with the fragrant aroma of cedar.

I didn’t have cedar, so I threw in a couple of cloves of garlic. 

Steam the fish in this way “until it is almost cooked.  Do not cook all the way – the idea is, you just heat it off the bones.  Then you remove the bones and do what you want with the meat.”

I removed the salmon from the steam and suspended the strainer over the sink so the salmon could drip and cool for 10 minutes or so, so that I could handle it comfortably.

“Next, lovingly handle the fish.  Recognize the fish as a sacred life, she is helping you feed your body and your family.  Ask her flesh to fall away from the bones so you may honour her and take her into your body.”

I did.

“Now, sing the salmon song.”

I did not know the salmon song.  So, I hummed a song I did know, and dedicated it to the fish.

“Is okay.  Now, peel away skins.  Save these, they are good for the dogs.  Now, place your fingertips at the top of the spine.  Now, gently, with your fingers, ask the flesh to leave the bone.”

And the flesh fell away. 

The bones, the hundreds of little needle salmon bones, remained attached to the spine.

Never have I boned a fish in such an effortless manner.  Never have I seen an intact spinal column of a salmon, ribs flaring off like a delicate fan.

In no time I had a bowl of fragrant, fatty pink salmon, still almost raw. 

“Now, you have the meat.  You can do anything you like with it.  Smoke, cook more, dry it for later, store in whale fat.  This salmon is the gold of my people.  She made us fat in the fall so we could live through the winter.  Every year we collect the salmon, we steam it off the bones.  Every year, it’s sacred.  Now you know.”

Thank you, Grandmother.  I will be grateful for this information for the rest of my life.

Maybe longer.

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