Cooking Kokanee Salmon


I received quite a few comments on the barbecue sauce this past week, so I need to clarify a few things.

First, it is a thick sauce. At the end of the article, I used maple syrup to thin it to a more traditional consistency. Also, the extra syrup helps the barbecue sauce stick to the meat and caramelize more evenly. If you would like a thinner sauce without more syrup, add half tomato puree or sauce and half tomato paste.

READ MORE: Chef Smitty’s tips on grilling trout

While chatting with Carol about the sauce, she mentioned the Fall Fish Fest at Taylor Creek (formerly the Kokanee Salmon Festival) coming up on Oct. 1 and 2. Because she spent time up in Alaska, she had a freezer full of salmon and was asking about different ways to cook it.

Kokanee, although just a land-locked sockeye, is much smaller than its ocean-going relative. A big kokanee will reach 12 to15 inches, considerably smaller than our local rainbow and brown trout.

Like the sockeye, Kokanee live approximately four years and their bodies turn a bright red when they spawn. They also get that big, hooked jaw that turns an olive color. Some people will still eat them, usually smoked, but I have to say, “Yuck.”

When in peak form, however, kokanee makes for a phenomenal meal. Its skin is silvery and often has small black spots. The meat is a nice orange and looks like a small store-bought salmon. Because so much smaller than a salmon filet, I will cook it as I would a trout, cleaned whole.

READ MORE: Barbecue Sauce

Once cooked, the meat is easily pulled from the bones with a fork. It also can be filleted and completely boned if you don’t mind the extra work or are planning to stuff it.

Here are some different preparations to try. Keep in mind is that salmon is best cooked medium rare. The meat will start to flake apart when lightly pushed on, but still be held together at the center.

Grilled & Baked Salmon

Whether grilling or baking, a simple seasoning of rosemary, salt and black pepper with a squirt of lemon is easy and allows the salmon flavor to come out. Mix and match the herbs and spices to your own tastes. Try not to add so many ingredients that they hide the flavor of the fish.

Blackened Salmon

For blackened salmon use a blend of paprika, thyme, rosemary, cayenne, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, sugar, salt and pepper. Get the pan hot. Add a little oil and put the filet in with the skin side up. Let the sugar and spices caramelize, turning the fish black, but not burnt.

Flip and finish in the oven at 350 degrees F until medium rare. Blackened doesn’t mean well done.

Seafood Stuffing

Make a seafood stuffing by sautéing: scallops, fish pieces, shrimp, red onion and garlic in butter, a little white wine, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco and lemon.

Add parsley, rosemary, dill or other herbs, and thicken and bind it with crumbled Ritz crackers. Bone the kokanee for this. If using a filet of salmon, simply make a pocket in the top of the fillet and stuff it.

Place the stuffed salmon it in a pan, drizzle a little clarified or melted butter over the top, pour a little wine (2 oz. or so) into the pan and put a sprig of rosemary in there with the wine next to the fish.

Bake at 350 degrees F or cook on the grill. You can also give a little squeeze of lemon over the fish if you so desire.

Poached Salmon

Poach the salmon in a water/white-wine mixture with onions, carrots, celery and a few bay leaves.

Grill or cook the salmon, skin side up. After flipping it over, rub herb butter over the top and let it melt in. Colbert butter or Snail Butter is great on grilled or poached salmon.

Colbert Butter
1 lb. butter, softened
1 T Worcestershire sauce
2 T parsley, chopped
1 T lemon juice
2 T English mustard
1 T tarragon
1½ T demi-glaze or meat glaze (if available)

Snail Butter
1 lb. butter, softened
5 shallots, diced finely
5 cloves garlic, diced finely
2 T walnuts, crushed finely
2 T parsley, chopped finely
½ T Pernod absinthe
1 T tarragon
½ T Worcestershire sauce 

Smitty is a personal chef specializing in dinner parties, cooking classes and special events. Trained under Master Chef Anton Flory at Top Notch Resort in Stowe, Vt., Smitty is known for his creative use of fresh ingredients. To read archived copies of Smitty’s column, visit or Contact him at [email protected] or (530) 412-3598.

READ MORE: Bruce Ajari shares his tips for catching Kokanee Salmon:
Kokanee Salmon make for excellent sport