"In wildness is the preservation of the world." -H.D. Thoreau

Why eat from the wild? The answer is obvious to anyone who has felt the emotional uplift from the weight of a basket brimming with morel mushrooms, the earthy-sweet scent of digging Sassafras roots, or the heavy pulsing of a fish testing the limits of your fly rod.
There are a million reasons to eat wild, to get dirty, to taste fresh food. It is here where we connect to the Earth, our Ancestral past, immediate present and hope for a healthy future...

"Nothing else can build such awareness as surely and powerfully as practicing the ancient ecological art of humankind - foraging. It is not observation of, but rather participation in the phenomena of Nature that brings us to our greatest understanding of our place in the mosaic of life."
-Samuel Thayer The Forager's Harvest

Foraging in the Tip of the Mitten!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Canning Mullet at Home: A Pictorial Tutorial

Why can fish?
1. No need for electricity (freezers)
2. Keeps good for a LONG time
3. Dissolves bones to make it extra rich in calcium
4. Camp food!
5. Why not?

Many think that when backcountry camping the table fair is always going to be bland at best. Dehydrated soup, potato flakes, MRE's, ramen, you know the stuff. But it doesn't have to be that way! Foraging is one thing, but what if you are on the move, or its dark, or you're traveling in a protected area like a National Park? This is when canned fish is at its best: around the campfire after a long day's hike. But its good any old time too...

How to can fish at home:

Step 1: First, you need to find the fish. Pictured is a stream where the freshwater Mullet run. Also known as Longnose suckers (Catostomus catostomus) these fish have been part of the Native diet from northern North America to the rivers of Eastern Siberia for many many generations. They are often frowned upon by people because they feed off of insects and organic debris from the bottom, but in truth water contaminants are more prominent in predatory fish such as bass, pike and salmon because of biomagnification. Basically contaminants climb the food chain, and the Mullet are near the very bottom. So in reality, these fish are significantly cleaner than say trout or walleye, both commonly sought after fish. Plus they are delicious!

To find a good Mullet stream, its important to ask around. Talk to locals and old-timers. Generally they run up from large lakes just after spring thaw to spawn in the shallow cricks. Here they can be netted, speared or caught with hook and line, but check your local legislation before attempting to take fish.

Step 2: Catch Em! Here we have a nice haul of Mullet, all around 3lbs each. Thanks to Mr. Todd Brasseur for your help!

"When the Europeans came here they literally were starving... Food sprang from the earth but they starved. So we brought them the sucker. And they survived. And then their memories fade. And they forget. And when the [Western] water crisis of 2001  occurred, they called it 'trash fish' - not good for anything. But our memories are intact. And we remember how they survived on the sucker. And we remember how we continually survive on this sucker. And they are not trash fish. They are light and flaky, and some of the best white meat you'll eat in your entire life."   
- Perry Chocktoot Jr., director of Culture and Heritage for the Klamath Tribes 

Step 3: Scale and gut the fish. After scaling, rinse and remove the entrails. This one was a female full of roe. (May 2013. Update: While doing this I thought "if they say the bones dissolve when canned, wouldn't the scales too?" So I tried it and yup. Now, I only gut 'em and cut the head and fins off.)

The roe is very nutritious and useful. I really wanted to do something with the roe, but after spending all day cleaning fish, the last thing you want to keep doing is cleaning fish. So maybe if I have some extra help next year, we can get into some roe preservation and recipes. (Update: Bottarga! Just toss them in olive oil and put a bunch of salt on them and let dry. A wonderful seasoning popular in the Mediterranean.)

Step 4: Cut off head and clean out kidney (aka bloodline). Eeewww. But someones gotta do it. Rinse out with a hose after scraping this out until it looks like this:
Ahh, much better. Its starting to look somewhat edible now.

Step 5: Remove fins and belly. A high-carbon cleaver makes this job a lot easier.

Step 6: Steak out fish. Cut fish into sections about 1 inch thick. In this picture I had yet to remove the fins and belly, but found out later it was easier to do this before it was steaked. It is not necessary to remove any bones because they will dissolve in the canning process.

Step 7: Recruit some help. I'd say that Maria really got "suckered" into this one, but that would be too cheesy.

Step 8: Rinse the steaks one last time. Be sure to all debris off.

Step 9: Pack into Mason Jars. Pack the fish into canning jars (pints or half pints) leaving 1 inch of headspace. Add seasonings if desired. Seal jars tightly.

Step 10: Pressure Can! Place in pressure canner with 2-3" of water in the bottom being sure not to let jars touch. Close lid and vent all air from the canner for 10 minutes. Build up pressure for 11lbs (at my altitude) and start timing the canning procedure, adjusting the heat methodically to keep the pressure accurate.
Do not use this tutorial to learn how to use your canner. Refer to the instructions that come with the canner! Very Important.

Step 11: Cool Canner. Once the time is up (100 minutes at 11lbs pressure) remove from heat and allow canner to cool down before removing weight or lid. Once pressure is at zero, remove weight to vent for a minute or two, then remove the lid.

Step 12: Remove Jars. Easy enough, but remember they are HOT and still cooking in there. Once they are cool they are ready to be stored in a dark place, or eaten! The last step is almost as fun as catching the fish:

Step 13: Feast! The fish is now soft and the bones are mostly dissolved much like canned tuna. There are several vertebrae that weren't completely dissolved but these turned to calcium powder once pressed with a fork.
I served the fish over Rye bread and topped it with pickled Fiddlehead Ferns. Washed down with Mugwort Ale! The perfect spring meal.

Feel free to contact us if you are interested in catching Mullet and helping can them next spring! Fun for the whole family.

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