I was thirteen and we were taking our first real family vacation. As I sat in the car driving through northern Michigan the roads became surrounded by water on both sides. I had never seen such a thing and it freaked me out a little. We arrived at our cabin skirting Lake Lelanau and the breeze from the water made the hot summer somewhat bearable as I steadied my jello-like legs from the long ride.
Settling in, my sister and I made quick friends with a couple of older boys a few cabins down. Their dad owned a speed boat and they invited us out on a ride. Having never been on a boat before, it was exhilarating. The sun was shining, the radio was blaring “Straight Up” by Paula Abdul, and the wind whipped through my long pony tail.
That week Dad went out on a charter fishing trip and returned with several King Salmon. He took me to the fish cleaning station at the back of the cabin and taught me how to fillet fish. Mom prepped the grill and cucumber dill sauce and soon we sat at the porch table and took in the sunset over dinner.
We returned to that cabin the next year. I begged Dad to take me on the charter with him. He promised once I turned sixteen he would make it happen. Time passed by too quickly and even though we talked about it and dreamed about it, that trip never happened for us.
In 2009, ten years to the day after Dad died, I found myself on a small fishing boat in Michigan. Vintage Thread took me up for a weekend – John, a close family friend of hers was an avid fisherman and we made our way out to deeper waters.
Not one hour into our trolling I saw a line pull, yelled ‘FISH ON’ and grabbed the pole from its holder. I immediately felt the weight of something big and heavy. John stood alongside me and coached me with the line. “Ok, pull. Ok, now reel. Stop. Pull, reel. Step forward. Back up. Reel more.” He barked a few directions to Vintage Thread who was at the wheel, but they did not compute with me. I had the pole anchored into my hip, painfully digging into my muscles and was struggling to hold the line. I turned to John, “It’s too heavy. You need to help me!”
“No way, you’ve got this. Just do what I tell you.”
A few minutes later a thirty pound King Salmon flopped into the boat.
We continued to fish for the rest of the day, pulling in nine more salmon, but none the size of the King. With the afternoon behind us and our bellies grumbling for dinner we pulled the lines and sped toward our slip. The wind was in my hair and the sun on my face, and I was transported back to those Michiagn family vacations and wished Dad had seen me reel in the big one.
Salmon with Cucumber Dill Sauce
1.5 lbs fresh salmon, cut into 4-5 ounce fillets
1 medium cucumber, or 1/2 English cucumber
2 tablespoons fresh dill, minced
1/2 cup mayo
1/2 cup sour cream
salt and pepper to taste
Vegetable cooking spray
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and set the rack on the lower third position.
Lightly spray a 9×13 inch glass baking dish with vegetable oil and set aside.
Using a vegetable peeler, peel the skin off of the cucumber. Trim cucumber as needed, then slice down the middle and remove the large seeds with a spoon. If you are using an English cucumber you can skip removing the seeds.
Using a box greater on the largest holes, grate the cucumber into a colander and nest the colander in a bowl. Lightly salt the shredded cucumber and let stand for five to ten minutes. Press the cucumber into the colander with a rubber spatula or the back of a spoon to release as mush liquid as you can. Transfer to a clean, dry bowl.
Add dill, mayo and sour cream and a little black pepper to the cucumber and combine. Taste the sauce and adjust with salt and pepper.
Place the fish fillets, skin side down, in the baking dish leaving one inch between each. Dollop a spoon of cucumber dill sauce on top of each fillet and using a separate utensil (as to not contaminate the sauce) spread evenly over the top. Place remaining sauce in refrigerator.
Bake the salmon for approximately 20-35 minutes (depending on the thickness of the fillets) until the internal temperature reaches 130 to 135 degrees or until the fish is translucent and flakes easily.
Serve with reserved sauce and sides of your choice. Our family favorite is pasta, polenta or risotto with asparagus.