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The joy of skewering

Posted: August 30, 2012 - 4:28pm

This time of year, the harvest season, is my favorite. There’s something about putting away food for the winter that makes me feel happy, secure and satisfied.

We Alaskans are fortunate to have the opportunity to harvest many wild foods. Thanks to a friend who likes to hunt caribou and dipnet sockeyes, the Palmer house has plenty of red meat and sockeye salmon this year.

One of the favorites hereabouts is salmon shish-kebabs. You can cook them under a broiler, but they taste better with that smoky flavor that comes only from a grill. I use charcoal and a Weber that’s old enough to qualify for a free Alaska fishing license. Just before starting to cook, I place a pan of alder chips on the coals to add still more flavor.

Either steel or wooden skewers will do for kebabs. If you use steel, applying a little oil to them before use will make it easier to skewer and remove the food. The wooden kind should be soaked in water for an hour or so before use, or they’ll burn.

Traditionally, shish-kebobs were meat that had been marinated for a few hours. I’ve seen recipes for fish shish-kebobs that include marinades. A pox on that bilge, I say (by way of warming up for International Pirate Day, Sept. 19). Marinades are for meat that has flavors that need to be covered up by stronger flavors. If your fish is fresh, or was fresh when you froze it, it should need no marinade. Besides, any marinade you use is likely to burn on the grill.

Preparing shish-kebabs is simple. Cut a skinned, bone-free part of a salmon fillet into bite-size cubes, then spear the cubes alternately between pieces of vegetables. Sweet onion and red bell pepper, for example. To prevent the kebabs from sticking to the grill, brush them and the hot grill lightly with olive oil. A metal rack that suspends the skewers above the grille will also avoid the sticking problem. Grill the kebabs just long enough for the fish to become opaque on the inside. Fish cooked this way cooks quickly, so it’s a good idea not to turn your back on it.

Fish kebabs benefit from a light coating of sauce, providing it’s applied after the fish is off the grill. For salmon shish-kabobs, it’s tough to beat a pesto made with basil, garlic, grated parmesan cheese, extra-virgin olive oil, walnuts, kosher salt and pepper. Another excellent sauce is chopped fresh tarragon leaves and fresh lime juice in melted butter.

Kebabs cool down quickly, so they should be removed from the grill and immediately served on warm plates. The object is to serve warm food. It helps to have drinks, side dishes and people at the table, ready to eat, when you put the fish on the grill.

When you plate the kebabs, the fish and vegetables can be removed from the skewers or left on them. Apply warmed sauce after plating, either drizzling or brushing it on.

Salmon kebabs are easy and fun to prepare. They cook quickly, and get raves of approval. For a simple feast, they’re hard to beat.

Les Palmer can be reached at les.palmer@rocketmail.com.

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