As usual, finding the corresponding Japanese name for arctic char is not easy. It belongs to the salmon family (Salmonidae) and lives in cold lakes in the Canadian arctic and other places. They have to breed in pure water like any salmon; some are land locked some go back to ocean. The Japanese name appears to be “Hokkyoku Iwana” 北極イワナ.
The meat is pink in color and milder than regular salmon but more flavorful than trout. The closest I can compare it to is “Nijimasu” 虹鱒 meaning “rainbow trout” or “chippu or chip” チップ, the name which was derived from how the native Inuit used to call it. The “Shikotsu” lake 支笏湖 near Sapporo is famous for it. the arctic char we find here is larger than what I remember of “Nijimatsu” and probably stronger tasting.
In any case, among the fresh fish displayed in the ice filled container at the local grocery store, the arctic char looked best. Other choices included, black bass, flounder, and red snapper.
The arctic char we got was about 4 lb. I salted it a bit heavily inside. This was large enough that I need to use indirect heat. Although I should have used direct heat to make the skin crispy, the stifling heat and mosquitos made me just leave the fish in the Weber until it was done rather than frequently tending it. Again I used apple wood chips soaked in water. Using indirect heat in Weber grill with lid on, I cooked the fish for about 30 minutes. As you can see in the first picture, this fish is nicely hot smoked. The skin however, was too leathery to eat.
My wife was in charge of “dissecting” the fish. The belly parts are the best part, since it is fattiest, nicely salted and heavily smoked as you can see the picture below. The meat is somewhere between trout and salmon with pale pink color and the taste matching the color.
The first night, we enjoyed the belly part with freshly cooked rice—it was really good! The next day, I used the remaining meat in a salad similar to what I make with cooked salmon. (The fish mixed with chopped celery, scallion, grated lemon rind, chopped parsley, lemon juice, mayonnaise and Dijon mustard). I used the salad to make an open faced sandwich on ciabata bread for lunch.
The 3rd day, I served the fish as part of a cold plate appetizer. I put a cold chunk of the Char meat (carefully deboned by my wife) on a plate with some smoked salmon and sliced cucumber. I included mayonnaise, whole grain mustard and lemon wedge for condiment and dipping. This was consumed on crackers.
For this, we switched to cold sake, the new batch of Momokawa Diamond sake. Compared to a few years ago, this sake has improved a lot but, to us, it is still slightly too sweet and lacking in the crisp fruity flavors we like. The overly yeasty flavor, which we encounter often with this class of sake was not present and it was quite drinkable with this arctic char/cold smoked salmon appetizer.