If you are canning fish, it likely means you've had a pretty successful day or two on the water.
That's the way Vern Breazeal looks at it. The Lewiston, Idaho, man likes to fish, and canning is one of his favorite ways to preserve his catch.
"You don't have to worry about locker burn or anything else like that," he says. "I like to eat it right out of the jars on crackers."
He frequently cans salmon and whitefish. But the home art of canning, at least when it applies to fish, may be on the decline. Preserving fish or just about anything else in jars is almost second nature to Breazeal.
"I was raised on a little farm without electricity, and we canned everything," he says while drawing out the word everything. "It was something we had to do. You butcher a beef and you have to start canning."
His best advice to new fish canners is to seek out and follow instructions provided by county extension agents. Improper canning can cause toxins and lead to food poisoning.
He starts by sterilizing jars and lids and then chopping fish into small pieces. He scoops the raw fish into pint-sized jars, leaving about an inch of air at the top. Then he carefully wipes the lips of the jars.
He adds a teaspoon of vinegar and a half teaspoon of salt to each jar and once again wipes the lip of each jar clean. He puts the lids on the jars and then tightens the rings.
"You just want them firm like that," he says.
He places the jars in a pressure cooker partially filled with water, tightens the lid, turns on the heat and waits for steam to start coming out of a valve on the lid. Once the steam starts, he waits 10 minutes and then places a regulator on the valve and watches the pressure cooker gauge climb to 10 pounds.
The regulator is designed to rattle when there is 10 pounds of pressure in the cooker. Breazeal does his canning outdoors on a camp-style propane burner. He adjusts the heat up and down until the regulator jiggles one to four times a minute. He also keeps an eye on the gauge to make sure it hovers around 10 pounds, but stays below 15.
"See, I'm not jiggling enough," he says as the regulator goes quiet. "I'll turn it up just a hair."
After 100 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure, the fish is done. He cuts the heat and waits for the pressure to subside.
When he removes the jars, the fish will be cooked. He breaks open a jar from last year, and air inside can be heard sucking in as he does.
"You want to hear that seal break when you open 'em," he says. "I love that smell, the smell of canned fish."
The salmon is a rich orange color. He uses a fork to pile some on a cracker.
"Those bones in there, they get so soft you don't even know they are there," he says.
Fish-canning tips and protocols can be found online at the following sites:
Eric Barker is a reporter for the Lewiston (Idaho) Tribune.