Baranof Blog & Fishing News
Nobody would ever describe me as passionate about cooking. Whether it’s due to my being colorblind and having a tendency to overcook things – “It LOOKS done, but better give these burgers another 20 minutes, because E.coli…”, my lack of planning – “Cordon Bleu sounds good, I bet I have everything at home, just need these breadcrumbs…”, or my predisposition towards complete laziness, I don’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Since my kids started growing teeth, however, necessity has truly been the mother of invention, and my forays to the grocery store have widened in scope to include more than just the freezer aisle. Mine is a culinary story of many defeats, some draws, and the occasional act of God. When I pull things out of the fridge, develop grudges against innocent ingredients, but somehow put something on the table that the kids don’t “accidentally” drop on the floor or leave my wife with a look on her face usually reserved for a Lifetime Original movie, I know my acceptance in our home is secured for at least one more day. This is the story of last night - when the light of providence bathed me and my halibut tacos in its radiant glow.
Last winter my brother took his wife and two kids camping out on some island he doesn’t remember. Before setting up on the beach for the night, they dropped a longline out in the bay. The next morning, they headed home after pulling up a couple hundred pounds of halibut from their set. (There’s a lot more to this story, but I wasn’t there and Jack (my aforementioned brother) is at work, so that’s all you get). As any good son would do, he gave our mother and her husband all the fish that wouldn’t fit in his freezer. Jump ahead a few months, and my momma is visiting me and the kids here in Missouri. For this trip, Mom and Dan (my aforementioned step-father) bought a van, loaded in a chest freezer, and ferried it to the mainland for a month of visiting grandkids. Luckily, they stopped in Missouri before heading to see Michael (my not aforementioned step-brother) and his new little girl in Colorado. Out of the chest freezer and into mine were some spot shrimp our friend Aussie Rob caught, some salmon Mom and Dan pulled out of the water, and a bunch of halibut slabs my brother and his family took from the bay of an unnamed island in Southeast Alaska. The food grown in Missouri is amazing compared to what I grew up within Ketchikan, but there is no replacement for excellent fish and the taste of home, which I’m eternally grateful my family is willing to provide. Long story short, my brother killed some fish in Alaska, my mom drove it to me in Missouri, and I fried it in a cheap pan on a dirty stovetop.
Halibut tacos are actually easier than regular tacos. When you make tacos with ground beef there is a ton of work that goes into the prep; finding a cow and turning it into ground beef, chopping onions, and finding a cooking spoon that doesn’t have holes in it can take an eternity. With halibut, you just pull it out of the freezer the morning of, slice it into portable-phone-charger sized portions, season and fry for five minutes (flipping once). Heat up some corn tortillas, layer sliced cabbage for texture (and to prevent the halibut from breaking out and escaping through the bottom of the food frisbee), grated cheese, cilantro, and lime juice, and *BOOM*, your progeny are eating food they can’t come close to appreciating. While loading up with tomatoes, onions, and other common taco complements/ingredients can be tempting and aren’t discouraged, I prefer to keep things simple when I’m dealing with my scarce supply of fish.
Yesterday, everything went according to plan. In the morning I pulled a vacuum-sealed 2 lb. filet of halibut out of the freezer and tossed it in the sink. After picking the kids up from school we headed to the local grocer for “taco stuff”. Once at the store, and with the children sent on missions of obscure product procurement, I was able to swiftly and efficiently locate pre-shredded green cabbage, paprika (I didn’t end up using it for the tacos because I forgot, but I bet it would have been awesome), chili powder, salt, little corn tortillas, peanut oil, lime juice, salsa and a brick of mozzarella. A lot of this stuff you may already have in your home, but that’s a level of adulting I haven’t reached yet. I also grabbed a sweet potato for sweet potato fries as a side. Once the kids came back from their respective missions empty-handed (“Real Mayo” is a thing, but they never find the jar of “Fake Mayo”, and 3% milk doesn’t exist) we headed home for some anxiety fueled cheffing. Everything went better than expected; I didn’t have any flour, which should have been included with the seasoning to prevent the halibut from breaking up, but the size of the fish was good enough that it didn’t segment when I fried it. The fries weren’t cooked nearly long enough, but the children probably wouldn’t have eaten them even if they had been, picky as I allow them to be… All in all, though, it was a good meal. The kids were full, the wife wasn’t fiddling idly with her ring, and I had enjoyed a dinner that reminded me of why growing up in Southeast Alaska was such a privilege.
The adventurer’s spirit is different in all of us, but at its core, it means doing something that no one, or few, have ever done before. Pulling as many strange fish out of as many different waters as possible certainly fits the bill. This article includes a bit on catching ratfish out of Ketchikan; not the main draw of the area.
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