I put all 6 coho in the smoker that I caught on Sunday, except for the half a fish I gave my neighbor. I steaked all the fish, dredged them in 50:50 mix of salt and sugar to brine for 40 minutes, then rinsed the steaks off and into the smoker. I like to use the bones and all because you can eat them once they’ve been through the canner, so that’s why I don’t just use fillets. I’ve had a hard time with the fish flesh sticking to the rack, though, so tried to oil the rack first. It didn’t work so good. The fish on the bottom rack nearest the heat stuck, but the upper racks I was able to lift the fish and turn them over after they’d dried a bit but before they stuck. That’s the secret, I guess. Next time I’m going to try to fillet off one side and leave the back bone in on the other fillet side, then steak the fish so there’s a piece of skin that can go against the rack and that should fix it.
After a day in the smoker drying with the just the fan, I put the double burner hot plate in to further dry them for half a day. Then I put a couple chunks of alder wood on each burner and smoked the fish for a few hours. When I got home from work at 530, I took the fish out and started cleaning jars and getting ready to can. The fish was kind of mushy because I didn’t let it dry as much as usual in the canner, but I didn’t want to put the fish back in the smoker so just filled up the jars and moved forward. This was also my first time to try out the new used canner I bought in Kenai that is identical to the canner I have.
I cut the “wings” off the bigger steaks for strips. Then I used scissors and cut strips off either side of the backbone part of the steak, leaving the backbone with some meat still on it that went into a separate bowl. The strips I loaded into half pint jars. The backbone pieces and some of the small steaks I loaded into pink jars. I then took a wet paper towel and cleaned the rim off of each jar, put on a lid, and tightened it hand-tight with a ring. I put about 3 to 4 inches of water into each canner, and loaded the jars into each canner, stacking them all the way to the top. I’ve learned to start them on a crab cooker propane burner. This will quickly bring the canner water to a boil for the 10 minute venting process. After that, I put the pressure weight on and moved the canner to the kitchen stove and when it started to jiggle, set the time for 110 minutes. I did the same with the second canner, and it was on it’s 110 minute timer 20 minutes later.
I learned that the mushy fish firmed right up in the canning process, because the cooking draws out the moisture and oil and leaves that sweetness in the bottom of the jar. So it’s not that big an issue how dry the fish is when you put it in the canner. If you can get a good dry pellicle on the flesh surface, that’s all you need. The fish itself is firm and moist. I eat the pieces out of a half pint jar for lunch, then drink the oil on the bottom for dessert.