Whether sifting through sand, or scrambling over a rocky shore, it's about finding treasures in every day. 

Smurf Cod!

We went out for a nice day in the runabout last summer. It was one of those misty, occasional rain showers, Southeast Alaska days, and the fishing was unusually slow. Slo-ow. Which gave us time to look around at the mellow day.

We were glad to see that the eagle was on station to watch over things.

A humpback whale worked the edge of a kelp bed, but didn’t seem to put much heart into the activity.  The cormorants just hung out on a kelpy rock.

A pod of killer whales cruised over to check things out, but they kept on going. That’s a good sign that there just isn’t much going on.

They did stop out at the edge of the kelp patch and toss around some ideas about where to go next.

It was a kelpy kind of day.

Suddenly my fishing pole dipped hard and I thought that I had caught bottom (again). Then it reeled hard and I thought that I had caught kelp. It finally bounced and I had a fish on! We brought in a lingcod, which is delightful because they are yummy. I stunned it, cut it’s gills, and then started to put it onto a stringer to let it bleed out. The blue-green mouth caught my attention.

 Hmm, interesting. Pretty…but weird.

Nice teeth, huh? Very effective, too. Lingcod also have very sharp gill rakers, so mind your fingers if you pick one up by the gills.

When I cleaned the fish its cavity also had that strange color. I started thinking about, well, you know, Martians and all. Now stop laughing at me! Nobody knows for sure that Martians have to show up as little green men. After all there’s all that talk about Mars having water way back when. If I was a smart fish and my planet was drying up then I would surely put intensive effort into the space program.

Back on shore (here on Earth) that evening I set a cutting board on some rocks and filleted the lingcod. I started to actually get a little bit concerned. Blue-green flesh? Ling cod meat is usually white.

A trip to the internet eased my mind and slowed my imagination. Lingcod meat can be white, green, blue-green, and even turquoise blue! The blue ones are lovingly called Smurf cod. The reason for this remarkable color is not entirely clear, but it has to do with a bile pigment called biliverdin being responsible for turning the blood serum such a lovely color. Beyond that there appears to be a lot of speculation about diet and habitat. The good news is that Smurf cod are delicious and healthy to eat, just like the standard white-fleshed lingcod.

Another name for Smurf cod around here is 'green ling' (pronounced with a pause between the two words), which is interesting because lingcod are not actually a cod. They are in the greenling family. Greenlings, such as the kelp greenling and rock greenling, are also known to occasionally have blue-green meat. 

Ling cod is one of those fish that you can cook a hundred different ways and all of them are delicious. Here’s some more good news: the green goes away when the meat is cooked. On the plate Smurf cod is tender, bright white, and scrumptious. Maybe it is even tastier than regular lingcod - just because it is special.

Wishing you interesting colors in your day,

Alaska Beachcomber

Got Out Crick Fishin'

Today I got my priorities straight. Never have I heard of anyone on their death bed lamenting, “I should have balanced the checkbook every month,” or “The failure of my life is that I didn’t keep the cupboards organized.” So I crawled out from under my winter rock to go fishing, and it was good.

In an effort to not be overly organized I threw a little gear together and made sure not to check if the knife was sharp. This was intended as a shakedown outing, so I picked an easy spot on the Thorne River. Easy meaning that it was a one minute walk from the truck to the river, and there didn’t appear to be too many obstacles in the water. Fish may love being near logs and rocks, but I needed to practice a little in fairly open water.

 After five or so years of not seriously crick fishin’ it took a few casts for my hands to remember the moves, and then to sort out the difference between the feel of bumping through weeds and the tugging of a trout. As the rhythm seeped into my arms I relaxed into the environment.  The river swept concerns away, and an hour of sunshine turned up the color. Wind shushed through the trees, breaking free and scattering cat’s paws across the water. Two Canada geese flew over, honking to each other with every wingbeat.

I had hoped that steelhead would be on the dinner menu. It wasn’t to be, though, and I was happy with a few of the abundant Dolly Varden. Nothing big, just fourteen-inch-long silvery char with light pink spots speckled down their sides. I clean them quickly, cook them the same day, and they make a good meal. Put a light smoke on them before cooking and they make a great meal.

A fly fisherman in the Thorne River on Prince of Wales Island.

A fly fisherman in the Thorne River on Prince of Wales Island.

I use spincasting gear, but occasionally watch fly fishermen to see if that is something that I want to learn. Some of it looks okay, but I don’t think that I would ever reach the pinnacle of competency; when fly fishing becomes so natural and effortless that you can smoke a cigar while fly fishing in the rain.

Yes, a little rain shower came through.

This fisherman nodded approval when I hand signaled a request to photograph him. Thank you, Fly Fisherman!

Pixee spoons are pretty popular around here.

I just don’t know if I could take up smoking cigars. Plus standing thigh high in cold water would dampen my mood.

There is a grace to flyfishing, though. It is process driven; an artform, from the delicate, meditative work of tying flies, to perfecting the sweeping cast, to dancing with a fish connected by the barest thread of a line.

Fishing itself has always been product driven for me: catch the fish, bring it in quickly to minimize suffering, clean it right away to maintain table quality. Happily all of that happens in the surroundings that I love.

Luckily I didn't hang any gear in trees. It has happened in the past, though!

There was time to go for a little walk. Some lovely ornaments adorned the trees; a celebration of summer!

The one below is my favorite.

I'll get out fishing again, and get some pictures of the rivers and the fish to share with you. I need to go find the knife sharpener first, though.

Alaska Beachcomber



Putting Up Sidestripe Shrimp

This is where our shrimp comes from.

The water part. Under that boat that is trawling shrimp.

“There comes the ‘Miss Susan’! Do you think they have any extra shrimp today?” I asked my husband. He knows. Such a patient guy - he put his jacket on and went to buy twenty pounds of sidestripe shrimp. There was just enough for him and another man who came rushing down the dock, thinking that he beat everyone to the "Miss Susan".

Living on a boat can have it’s advantages. Like shrimp so fresh that they were caught an hour ago.

The “Miss Susan” takes orders in advance and they are often sold out when they get to the dock. They use a beam trawl and fish near Wrangell. Shrimp season isn’t open all year around, so we put some up in the freezer.

The following is how I take care of the shrimp that we buy, plus a quickie way to cook some up.

Shrimp can spoil quickly, so they need to be kept cold and taken care of right away. I freeze or cook shrimp the same day that I buy it.

Halibut inspecting a cooler of shrimp. More about Halibut HERE.

Sidestripe shrimp  (Pandalopsis dispar)   with a quarter to show size. The top shrimp is eggy and the bottom shrimp is not. I buy 'mediums', so sidestripes can be bigger than this. Sidestripes are a mid-sized shrimp for Alaska. The spot prawn is much bigger and several other species are smaller.

Sidestripe shrimp have antennae that are longer than their bodies. Their striped legs are pretty stylin', no?

The carapace is the hard covering over the front half of the shrimp. Out of the top front of the carapace is the rostrum. A unicorn horn with barbs. This little sucker is armed.

I know that some people cook and eat the whole shrimp. That's not a part of the culture that I grew up in. We eat the tail meats and the eggs (and some people don't eat the eggs), so the first thing that I do is 'pop heads.' Most people simply twist or pull the heads off and discard them. I also pull the vein while beheading the shrimp.

You don't have to devein this type of shrimp if you don't want to, and most people here don't.  If you are not familiar with deveining shrimp, it is cutting into the peeled tail meat and removing the vein. Even though it is safe to eat cooked sidestripe shrimp meat with the vein in, I pull the vein while popping heads.

Don't be squeamish now...

Place your thumbnail or the tip of your thumb behind the carapace. Mind the barbs on the rostrom. Owie!

Pull on the carapace and you will see the vein pulling out of the tail. Did I mention that there are sharp spots on the shrimp?  I haven't tried wearing gloves for this, but you might.

With your fingertips, not fingernails, gently and smoothly pull the vein out of the tail.

Heads or tails?

I fill quart freezer bags with the uncooked tails and mark them with the date. Shrimp will last in the freezer for up to two months. If you think that you are going to hold them longer than that then you need to glaze them a day or so after freezing them.

To glaze shrimp turn the freezer down as cold as it will go and freeze the shrimp tails solid. Get some water as cold as you can get it without freezing it.  Pull a bag of shrimp out of the freezer, open it, pour the cold water into it, then pour the water out of the bag right away, close the bag of shrimp and quickly refreeze it. That little coating of ice on the shrimp should help protect them from freezer burn for an extra month or two. A glazing solution with one tablespoon salt and two tablespoons sugar per gallon of water is said to improve the flavor of the shrimp.

Bags of sidestripe shrimp tails ready to go into the freezer.

That twenty pounds of shrimp that my husband bought yielded six bags for the freezer plus a generous shrimp feed for the two of us....with some leftovers.

Cooked shrimp tails.

Cooking shrimp? You know I am a very simple cook.  Explore some of those great foodie recipes online! Coconut shrimp, BBQ shrimp, shrimp fettuccine, shrimp cocktail....these sweet little gems are perfect for special recipes. I'm not going there, though.

Okay, I will share how I cook the first shrimp of the season when my sweetie and I want speed and volume.

Bring a big pot of water to a hard boil. Put in several handfuls of shrimp tails so that they will come back to a boil quickly. When the shrimp float, time them for one minute, then dip them out. Peel the shells off of the shrimp, dip in melted butter, eat.

You might not even make it to the dinner table first. And yes, I scoop the little eggs out and eat them. They are very rich. Try them!

Shrimp that have been frozen peel easier, so I often saute those in garlic butter. Thaw and peel one quart bag of shrimp. Dice or grate one garlic clove. Saute the garlic in a tablespoon of butter for 1 to 2 minutes, then add 1 more tablespoon of butter and the shrimp to the pan, saute the shrimp for one minute, turn, cook one more minute. The shrimp meats should have turned from translucent to opaque.

IF you are able to keep a few for leftovers then chop them up and put them into scrambled eggs the next morning. Yum.

I have to go call Linnea now, and order another twenty pounds of shrimp.

May each and every one of you enjoy fresh Alaskan seafood sometime or many times in your life!

Alaska Beachcomber

Just a little note: I have no connection to the 'Miss Susan' other than as a customer. A happy customer.

More on Alaskan seafood
Cleaning Dungeness Crab

Bullwhip Kelp Pickles

Harvesting Bullwhip Kelp