Friday, July 23, 2010

NW Barbecue: It's Salmon Bake Time

We went to the Seafair Pow Wow last weekend at Discovery Park in Seattle. I've been wanting to go to this Pow Wow for years to see the traditional dancing, and because they do a salmon bake. To those of you on the east coast, this is our answer to the clambake.

I have a particular interest in traditional salmon cooking, as you may have read in my book. I go into detail on how to create your own stakes and pit for a traditional Coast Salish preparation. We have a touristy, but authentic enough place called Tillicum Village that prepares salmon on stakes as you can see in the photo here. The salmon cooks indirectly around an alder fire.

Making stakes like these is quite easy, and a great way to cook fish at the beach or camping.

The Browns Point Salmon Bake is August 7 & 8, and if you are in the area I encourage you to go. They only host it every other year and it's the largest one in the area. It has a rich history, and one that I have a personal connection to. My uncle slow-cooked salmon in a large pit each year, along with potatoes and corn. He wrapped the salmon in seaweed the kids gathered before the bake. Turns out he learned the technique from the same Native American that started the Browns Point bake. At Browns Point, they cook the salmon on cedar stakes over a pit almost identical to the pit we saw at the Pow Wow this weekend.

The Seafair Pow Wow pit was made of cinderblocks, but instead of cedar stakes, they used modern technology and cooked the fish in mesh cages. They cooked the fish on one rack, then put another on top to turn. This made it easy to flip, with minimal lost of fish in the fire. The Pow Wow itself struck me as a joyful celebration that embraced modernity easily alongside tradition. The MC cracked jokes throughout, saying things like,

            "OK, folks, we just have to wait a second while some duct tape is applied. Duct tape being one of the necessities of traditional Navajo dancing."

It was a fun, albiet hot day (for a Northwesterner). For those of you interested in learning to cook salmon this way, or on stakes, here are a few tips.

1) Cook fish meat side to the fire first.
2) If you are cooking it on stakes, leaning toward the fire, then have the head end, the fleshier end, down, closest to the fire. This way the tail end, or tip, won't get overcooked.
3) Flip it when it is almost done. Leave it skin side to the fire for only a few minutes. Too long and the meat may fall off the skin.

Tips 1 & 2 apply if you are grilling a fish directly, too. Fish baskets are great for the more delicate varieties. I find salmon is a pretty grill-hearty fish, but if you are nervous about it, don't hesitate to use the tools available.

For much greater detail, turn to Chapter 10 in my book, or e-mail me with questions!


  1. Julie, I'm smoking salmon today! I'll BLOG it, check me later, Jill

  2. I'll check it for sure, Jill! Can't wait to hear how it turns out.