THE PHONE RANG around 6 p.m. last Saturday.
The guy on the phone was a fisherman and he had a halibut for us.
He would be at the marina for another hour and we could pick up our 45 pounds of fresh-off-the-hook wild ocean creature right now.
We had weekend plans, but if you are going to eat another animal, the least you can do is honor its aliveness and get in it in your mouth or the freezer as fast as you can.
In the morning, we gained courage by watching a couple of youtube videos on how to fillet a halibut (they make it look so easy), draped the picnic table in plastic (it was barely big enough) and then sharpened the knives.
Everything was going well until the vacuum sealer died, so we were off to the store for a replacement.
Finally, by late afternoon we were nearly finished with dozens of one-pound fillets in the freezer.
It might have been time to clean up and call it a day, but I saved the last 5 pounds to brine; I am the pickle lady after all.
Growing up near the Chesapeake Bay, my family’s seafood preferences included blue crabs steamed in Old Bay and oysters on the half shell.
It wasn’t until marrying into my mother-in-law’s Ashkenazi kitchen that I encountered the notion of pickling fish.
I have to admit I wasn’t an instant fan and I still don’t enjoy the sweet, sour skin and bones of the classic pickled herring.
Throughout the course of many experiments I have learned to trust my palate.
The necessary components of a good pickling brine include a mild acid such as vinegar or lemon juice, salt, and whatever herbs and spices you enjoy. Sugar is entirely optional.
You can be as creative as you want.
One of our family’s favorites this year was a curried lemon brine made with turmeric, coriander and ginger.
Or for a super easy hack, save the pickle juice from your favorite jar of dills and simmer the fish in the brine.
Consider this a starter recipe and if you have enough fish to experiment and feel free to get creative with the seasonings to suit your palate.
1 pound halibut, thawed if necessary
1 cup water
½ cup white vinegar
¼ cup sugar (optional)
2 tablespoons white wine (optional)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pickling spice
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
½ lemon, thinly sliced
Remove bones (and skin if you prefer) from halibut and then cut into 1-inch pieces.
In a large saucepan, combine water, vinegar, wine, oil and seasonings.
If you like a sweeter flavor add sugar to the mix.
Bring to a boil and then simmer, covered, for 5 minutes.
Return to a full boil and then add halibut.
Simmer gently 3 to 5 minutes or until halibut barely flakes when tested with a fork.
Strain out the halibut pieces and reserve the brine.
Chill the fish quickly to prevent overcooking.
Layer halibut pieces, onion and thinly sliced lemon into quart jars and top off with brine to fill the jars.
Pickled fish will last in the refrigerator for one to two weeks if you can keep from eating it.
Serve as an appetizer with crackers, use as you would tuna salad, or serve with a green salad and crust of bread for a quick dinner.
Betsy Wharton is the proprietor of the Clallam Canning Co., a local purveyor of artisan pickles and other farm to jar goods. You can find her and her products at the Sprouting Hope Greenhouse at 826 E. First St. in Port Angeles. Or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.