As I look out at the sea blanketed in fog and close my eyes, what do I hear? There’s a raven’s guttural yalp, the waves caressing the shore, and the sedge grass beneath my feet squishing from the freshly melted snow. Above the cacophony of nature I hear a colony of gulls going absolutely nuts because they know something I don’t. They know where to find the eulachon. Spring comes late in Alaska, but when it does arrive, it brings a mighty bounty. Eulachon, also known as candlefish or hooligan, arrive to the west side of Cook Inlet in early May and are the perfect fatty snack for a colony of gulls after a long, hungry winter. They also make a great snack for you and me.
Looking toward the commotion, I can see the birds dive bombing into the creek only 200 yards from the sea. They had given up their secret. Now I too knew where to find the eulachon. Eulachon are small schooling fish so the best way to catch them is with a dip net and sometimes one net is all you need. After about 50 or so were rounded up in a bucket, back to the lodge to clean them. Cleaning is fairly straightforward. Remove the head by cutting behind the gills. Then cut the belly open to remove entrails and rinse clean.
We will be preparing an overnight brine for the fish which will help season and purify the flavor of the fish. Once brined, dry the fish for 24 hours in a dehydrator. You could also dehydrate over a cool smoke. The eulachon can be eaten by themselves, crumbled into a stew or chowder to add umami like no other, or put in a Caesar salad for a new take on a classic. I’m going to prepare a simple zesty dip and serve my dried eulachon on a charcuterie board alongside some Irish cheddar and fresh cherries.
Dried Eulachon with Zesty Dipping Sauce
For the brine
- Gallon of water
- 3T kosher salt
- 2T sugar
- 2T red chili flake
Cover cleaned fish in brine and let set overnight or for 12-15 hours. Pat dry and place in dehydrator at 155 degrees for 18 to 24 hours, lightly salting halfway through. I like to leave a little body on them and not completely dry them out, but they are great either way.
For the Zesty Dipping Sauce
Mix equal parts:
- Sour cream
- Fermented pickle brine
Add salt, pepper and paprika to taste.