Roast Salmon Recipe

My favorite writer on early Washington State is James G. Swan. In 1857, he published a book about  life on Willapa Bay where he was an oyster-man and one of the first white settlers. He shipped oysters by sailing ship from Willapa to San Francisco. Later he moved to Port Townsend where he collected scientific artifacts and wrote a monographs on the Makah and Kawkiutil Indians for the Smithsonian Institution.

Swan’s description of roasting salmon on open fire on Willapa Bay is the best recipe found anywhere for cooking salmon.

The choice part of a salmon with the Indians is the head, which is stuck on a stick, and slowly roasted by the fire. The other part is cut into large, flat slices, with skewers stuck through to keep them spread; then, placed in a split stick, as a palm-leaf fan is placed in its handle, with the ends of this stick or handle projecting far enough beyond the fish to be tied with a wisp of beach grass to secure the whole, this stick is thrust in so that the fish can roast without scorching. Clamshells are placed underneath to catch the oil, which will run from these rich, fat salmon almost in a stream. Neither pepper, salt, nor butter were allowed during this culinary operation, nor did I find they were needed; the delicate and delicious flavor would have been spoiled by the addition of either.

I was so pleased with this style of cooking salmon that I never wish to have it cooked in any other form, either boiled and served with melted butter, or fried with salt pork, or baked with spices. The simpler a fat salmon can be cooked, the better; it retains its flavor with perfection and is more easily digested; the only style is to roast it before an open fire.

James G. Swan, The Northwest Coast; or Three Years Residence in Washington Territory. New York, 1857. p 108-109.