Smoked-Salmon on a Plank
Sitka-Style Pickled Salmon
Drunk-Fisherman Smoked Salmon Cheese-Ball
Tsaina River Pan Fried Salmon-Cakes
Kenai River Smoked Salmon Cheesecake
Kachemak Bay Smoked Salmon/Potato Galette
Country-Club Salmon-Salad Spread
Drag-Queen Smoked Salmon and Sausage Baguettes
Princess Smoked Salmon Risotto
Teresa’s Salmon Pizza with Provolone Cheese
Smoked Salmon Pasta Salad w/ Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette
Fishermen’s Inn Smoked Salmon and Fussili Mornay
Three-Bears Salmon (Nut-Crusted Salmon w/ Blueberry Salsa &
Quartz Creek Grilled Salmon Smothered in Peach-Onion Jam
Yukon River Coho Salmon w/ Cucumber-Dill Cream
Salmon Wellington (or “Other Woman Salmon”)
River-Supper Salmon in Parchment
Growler Island Maple-Mustard Glazed Salmon Fillets
Steve-Teases-Me Salmon Lasagna
Asian Stuffed Party-Salmon
A Story-Teller’s Recipes
Anyone who’s been blessed enough to have worked passionately at something they truly love as long as I have is gonna have a wealth of tales to tell. That is why as you thumb through the pages of this book you’re gonna find that nearly every recipe is paired with a story. I was careful to try and assemble those that I thought were not only a good representation of the diverse types of cooking I’ve done throughout my career, and of my experience in kitchens across Alaska, but I set out also to hand-pick foods and dishes that had memories connected to them. So whether you’re reading this in a soft easy-chair under a crocheted afghan in your living room, or standing at the kitchen counter with a measuring cup in one hand and a wooden spoon in the other, hopefully there’ll be something on each page that you can read and somehow work with or otherwise enjoy!
*Use a recipe as a compass- not a map. By all means let it set your direction and recommend the way, but don’t let it dictate your every step. Make it yours by allowing it to serve you.
Salmon: Travels of a Lifetime
We should all aspire to live a life filled with as much romance and renowned celebrity as the regal salmon. Is there a creature with a more poetic presence swimming in our streams and seas, and gracing our dinner plates? The life-cycle events of the salmon are among the most amazing and mystical of all creation.
The tiny fingerlings are hatched in some remote, peaceful fresh-water stream surrounded by mountains and forest, then, instinct takes over, as the travels of a lifetime begin! The newborns travel from their homes through any number of down-stream creeks and rivers until they find themselves in expansive deep salt-water seas. Here the animal undergoes biochemical changes that enable them to live, thrive and mature in the salt water, over a period of what scientists believe to be about seven years.
Then one Spring, instinct kicks in again, and the full grown, fattened adult salmon with a lifetime behind it begins the long return journey of swimming back upstream, sometimes for thousands of miles, to the peaceful inland fresh-water place of their birth. The creatures complete this journey despite tremendous opposition in the form of floods, dams, raging rapids, and countless hungry predators, including the gluttonous grizzly bear!
Once back in their beginning life-waters, these survivors spawn, and then die of exhaustion from the long cruel journey. In a short while their new offspring are hatched and begin the cycle all over again. Talk about the circle of life!
Smoked Salmon on a Plank
“Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”
–Native American Saying
Though this recipe’s name is smoked salmon on a plank, it could just as easily go by the name funeral parlor fish, and I’ll tell you why. Years ago when I was young and first starting out in kitchens I worked at a private country club. I was fortunate to work there because in addition to cooking menu items from the grill, broiler and sauté stations we also prepared many extravagant catered affairs. Putting out lavish buffets and large spreads of food so that they look deliciously pleasing to the eye is probably my favorite part about being a chef, and at jobs like this one a young cook got to flex his creative muscle and learn many manners of making food look not only delicious, but pretty.
Amongst the beautiful buffets were always decadent dessert tables, fancy ice carvings and huge silver trays of cheeses, exotic fruit and berries, and sometimes too were iced trays of shucked oysters, clams and boiled shrimp. Always near the shellfish-bar was a mirror laid out flat like a tray which displayed a handsomely decorated salmon that had been poached whole, and chilled.
One afternoon as dozens of waitresses, busboys and kitchen staff were putting the finishing touches on the gorgeous buffet for a wedding reception feeding two hundred, a few anxious guests filtered thru the foyer to the ball-room, sneaking past dozens of linen-dressed tables covered in fresh flowers and crystal, to where we were readying chafing dishes and trays of appetizers. As a co-worker was arranging capers, chopped onion and edible flowers around a copper tray that held a beautifully displayed whole, poached salmon I was piping the last of the whipped cream cheese onto the fish’s back where the dorsal fin normally would be. As we admired our work a young lady, pale, slim and wrapped from head to toe in shiny fabric got near, leaned far over to get a closer look, then abruptly shot straight up as an “ick!” spewed from the lips beneath her wrinkled-up nose. My co-worker and I glanced at one another, then back at the girl with a questioning look and I asked, “you don’t like salmon?” Her response rambled forth with too much speed and confusion for me to pay attention for long, but what I did get from her was that not only was she a vegetarian, but that she also considered our salmon display to look more like a mortician’s corpse in a casket, than a chef’s lovingly prepared edible offering!
From that day forward I realized just how similar my work in a kitchen was to that of the staff of a funeral parlor! And today, I rarely prepare laid-out trays of whole poached anything. This preparation that follows is the resulting adaptation of that original whole poached salmon. Done right, this preparation is as elegant as it is simple.
For a hundred different reasons any cook might find themselves wishing to invite folks over for a bite to eat, and they might want to offer something elegant, but find themselves running short on time. This “recipe” is for just such a time. Similar to the crab plate you’ll find in the crab section of recipes, this dish can be assembled from any number of ingredients, either well in advance, or at the last minute as guests are coming in the door. Again, as with the crab-plate, this dish may also be served in any number of manners: on a plate, on a plank, on a slab of rock or even at a camp-site on the up-turned lid of a large Tupperware bowl.
3-4 oz. smoked salmon per person
any number or variation of the following selections: cream cheese, brie cheese cubes or cheddar cheese wedges, pickled boiled eggs, cornichons, gherkins or other pickles, shaved red onions or whole green onions, capers or olives, water-crackers, parmesan-croutons, pumpernickel toast-points, fresh berries, apple wedges or pear slices… use your imagination- or simply look inside your refrigerator!
Sitka-Style Pickled Salmon
“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.” -George Bernard Shaw
I first enjoyed this fresh-tasting appetizer at the boat-harbor in Sitka with my dear friend Henry. Sitka is an island community in south-east Alaska that was the original Russian capital of Aleyeska, and we went there to paint Henry’s boat and took several breaks throughout the sunny morning enjoying this dish with nothing more than a sleeve of saltine crackers. Henry is half Tlingit Native and half Norwegian, which to me perfectly explains this fish recipe, since it has Scandinavian roots linking it to traditional gavalox, as well as other north-country fish preparations.
Always keep a pair of needle-nosed pliers in the kitchen for use in the cleaning of salmon, halibut and most any fish. Using them is the best way to remove tiny stubborn pin bones from a fillet without disrupting the meat and tearing it.
2 lb. salmon, uncooked and cut into cubes
1 c. kosher salt
4 c. white distilled vinegar
4 c. water
½ c. olive oil
1 lg. onion
½ c. pickling spice
½ c. sugar
6 garlic cloves
2 sprigs rosemary
2 dill sprigs
2 jalapenos, spilt and seeded
In a medium bowl, toss the salmon in all of the salt and let sit for 45 minutes at room temperature, then rinse well with tap-water and drain.
Place the salmon in a large saucepan and add cold water to cover fish by 2 inches. Bring to a low simmer, then remove from heat allow to sit in the same water for five more minutes. Drain off the poaching liquid. Mix all remaining ingredients, add the cooked salmon and gently toss together. Transfer all to crock or earthenware bowl. Cover and chill overnight. Serve. Will keep one week.
First Impressions of Alaska
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness.”
There’s barely a soul on earth who doesn’t have their version of an image of Alaska tucked away in their mind. Most have impressions of a cold, dark place where Eskimos live in igloos. Those whose impressions go a bit deeper have allowed their interest to lead them to public television broadcasts and nature programming that depict deeper details like ‘round the clock summer sun, grizzlies wrestling for salmon swimming upstream to spawn, and cruise ships sailing through deep fjords surrounded by jagged glaciers.
On Mother’s-Day-Eve 1992, I flew to Alaska in a wide-bodied DC-9 with many ideas of what I would find. Under the impression I was hired to stay up north for one summer- I soon learned that idea would be as wrong as most of my preconceived notions about the Last Frontier. My time in the Land of the Mid-Night Sun turned out to last for thirteen years; thirteen chilly summers.
I had expected snow in Alaska- it was thrilling to catch falling flakes on one’s tongue in June! But I didn’t know I’d see summer days in the Interior that would surpass eighty degrees and reach toward ninety. Though not to completely go against my preconceived ideas- there were also summer days with cool breezes requiring fleeces and light sweaters be worn for comfort. I recall one July 4th wearing a flannel shirt and a leather bomber jacket and shuffling closer to a bonfire’s warm glow to ward off the shivers.
I had expected record-sized cabbages at the Alaska State Fair, but I didn’t realize that the same rich soil would also bring to life dozens of species of blossoming wildflowers that would carpet the tundra as far as the eye could see.
And I knew to expect “Eskimos” but I wasn’t aware that Alaska’s native population was intricately comprised of eleven distinct cultures including the Aleuts, Athabascans, Haidas, Inuit, Tlingit and Yupik.
I found Alaska to be a land of exaggerated geography, stimulating diversity and charming contrast. Some of the preconceived notions I took with me as I adventured north, turned out to be true- but there was so much more.
What I didn’t know before Alaska was that one could fall in love with a place. I didn’t know that my one summer in Alaska would turn into thirteen years- or that leaving would affect my heart. But these things happened- this and so much more.
(And for the record, folks in Alaska do not live in igloos!)
Drunk-Fisherman Smoked Salmon Cheese-Ball
Years ago when I was small my family would often visit the home of my Aunt Florence and Uncle Dean. Trips to their house were famous for several reasons- first, Uncle Dean had a strong hand and always insisted on a gentleman’s handshake with all the young nephews. His grip was so powerful and so tight that often Aunt Flo had to coax him to loosen his grip on our young hands!
The second thing that made visits to their home fun was that Uncle Dean had a billiards table! We cousins spent hours in their basement shooting pool and enjoying one another’s’ company over a friendly game.
But the most important reason why visiting Dean and Flo was so fun was because Aunt Flo was a wonderful cook and she always had something wonderful bubbling on her back burner filling her kitchen with heavenly aromas! She created yummy spaghetti sauce and chili. One evening at supper she brought to the table a molded cheese ball made with cream cheese, dried beef and covered in freeze-dried chives. After one taste, I was hooked. I kidnapped Aunt Flo’s recipe and made it my own, and over the years I’ve added various ingredients to make it an entirely different appetizer! I even have an Alaskan version made with smoked salmon and blueberries. This is one of those creations that has simple roots but can be varied and tweaked by any cook to make it their own completely unique adaptation. Here is my Alaskan rendition, as well as Aunt Flo’s original version, and a few other variations I’ve come up with over the years.
In most seaside Alaskan communities the “drunk fisherman” is a well-known character. This is not to say that all fishermen are drunks- but one popular past-time for fisher-folk after the hard work of their catch is behind them, is to belly-up to the bar and enjoy a frosty mug of suds, or a shot (or bottle!) of hard-liquor. This practice, of course often leads to a number of events that result in lots of craziness!
The whiskey called for in this recipe can be slightly increased if you prefer a stronger taste of booze, or it may be left out all together if you plan serving to minors, pregnant women, Baptists or others who prefer not to take part in the alcohol.
This simple recipe makes a delicious appetizer that can be quite impressive, and may be presented in any number of creative manners. You can pack it into a simple crock or dish, chill and serve as a spread, or it may be molded and shaped, then decorated with chopped parsley or herbs, toasted nuts, fancy edible flowers, or shaved-thin cucumbers. I’ve made this hundreds of times and I don’t think any two have ever looked exactly the same!
Two 8 oz. pkgs. cream cheese, softened at room-temperature
juice of 1 fresh lemon
3 T. whiskey
2 T. dill, chopped (fresh or dried)
2 green onions, chopped finely
1 c. hot-smoked salmon chunks
1 c. fresh blueberries
Whip the softened cream cheese with the paddle attachment of an electric mixer on medium speed. When it becomes light and fluffy, add the lemon juice and whiskey, incorporating thoroughly. Turn off electric mixer. With a rubber spatula scrape sides of bowl removing all cheese back to bottom of bowl, then gently fold-in dill, green onions and smoked salmon. Pack this mixture either into a mold that is lined with plastic wrap- which will offer ease for un-molding later, or present in a decorative crock, or serving dish as a spread. Use fresh blueberries as a garnish on top of the crock of spread, or patterned across the fancy mold. Chill at least two hours. Serve with saltines, water-crackers, parmesan croutons, pita bread, rye toast-points or fresh veggies.
Ingredients for Aunt Flo’s Original Version:
1 lb. cream cheese, softened
4 oz. packaged dried beef
1 T. minced onion
2 T. dill pickle juice
smoked ham & pineapple
cream cheese, green onions, mustard,
pepperoni & pine-nuts
cream cheese, red pepper flakes,
green onion, parsley
toasted walnuts & bleu cheese crumbles
cream cheese, black pepper, brown sugar,
1 T. armagnac
bay shrimp & red sauce
cream cheese, red pepper flakes, horseradish,
parsley, green onions, pimiento-stuffed green olives, lemon
shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
chopped crisp bacon
If you’re like me- you like serving cheese, but remember…that we get a better sense of the taste and a brighter, fuller flavor when it’s brought to room temperature before serving. Chilled cheeses taken right from the refrigerator and wedged then popped onto the tongue cold will for the most part taste the same as all others with less distinguishing nuances, than if you bring it to table beforehand and allow it to sit a bit before sampling. The Swiss and French are the world’s largest consumers of cheese and many varieties they just store away slightly cooled in the cupboard- without refrigerating it at all.
Varieties of Salmon:
Salmon is enjoyed the world over as one of the very finest delicacies to be enjoyed at the table. The tastes of this fish range from gentle and mild, to deeply robust and rich in flavor. There are many delectable preparations, which highlight and enhance the delightful meal experience that this fish provides. There are a variety of species that offer slight differences in taste and richness as well. Perhaps no other fish created for man, swimming in rivers and seas enjoys a reputation like the salmon for gifting us with a lush, rich dining experience. Here are bits about the two common farmed varieties as well as the many species of wild salmon.
Farm-Raised Salmon are a product that some might argue introduce a coveted delicacy to world tables year ‘round, yet they are highly controversial especially in areas close to the coast where much of the economy relies on harvest of wild salmon, like Alaska. Some would say that farmed salmon has a taste and texture and color very similar to the “real” wild salmon varieties, while other die-hards would dispute this and say that there is no resemblance at all. The fact remains that amidst the controversy, this species is offered and available for purchase. As a chef who opts for optimum quality of product whenever possible, I have been guilty of buying farm-raised product many times during parts of the year when my freezer is empty and I have a taste for my favorite fish, and I have found it to be a suitable substitute. Yet when summer months roll around I have a smile in my sprit when the first wild Kings arrive at my local market. Absolutely nothing beats a just-caught creature fresh from its chilly wild waters! My hope is that farmed salmon increases in popularity because I honestly feel that anyone who tastes it and enjoys it will naturally be introduced to what will develop into a craving. This craving will no doubt in turn, fuel a desire to try and eventually prefer the incredible taste of wild Alaskan salmon caught by hardworking fisher-folk who go to great lengths to bring this outstanding creature to our table!
To me the farmed salmon is to its wild distant cousin- what hard, orange, store-bought, hot-house tomatoes in December are to the red, juicy August real thing pulled from summer dirt, jiggly as water-balloons! But that said- I reluctantly do eat December hot-house tomatoes, when I have no other choice.
Atlantic Salmon is a black-speckled silver creature that lives in cold waters of the North-Eastern United States and Eastern Canada, as well as Northern Europe, particularly Ireland, Scotland, Sweden and Norway. A netted fish can weigh from two to thirty pounds and its flesh is usually a delicate carnation-pink, resulting from the fish’s diet, rich in shrimp. In Europe’s Baltic region, where shrimp are scarce, the salmon’s flesh is almost white. Nowadays, most Atlantic Salmon sold and eaten is farmed product. Its year-round availability makes it a popular and economic choice on the American East Coast and in Europe.
Pacific Chinook or King Salmon, (occasionally called “Spring Salmon”) are the very largest of all salmon. A mature adult will weigh an average of forty pounds and can easily reach a hundred. This species is found all along the West Coast of the U.S and Canada and they flourish in Alaskan waters. Prized for its rich oils, which result in a robust flavor, the King is the very favorite on many tables. Known for its firm, succulent red flesh, this was the very first salmon to be commercially canned. Now few are actually canned- most Kings enter the market either fresh or smoked. One can find this species in market in several forms: steaks, fillets, whole or smoked. Sometimes there is a product called “Winter Kings” or “Ivory Salmon” which have a much paler, almost white flesh. These fish are caught at times of the year in waters where there are no shrimp or crustaceans available for the King to dine on, which results in a much lighter meat color.
Sockeye or Red Salmon, (occasionally called “Blueback Salmon”) are much smaller than the King, and have a firm, deep-red, fatty flesh. The meat is succulent and full of flavor and most consider it the prime species for canning, today. Sockeye are popular fresh or frozen and are cut into steaks or fillets. The adult weighs-in at an average of six to eight pounds, and can reach as high as fifteen pounds in open water.
Coho or Silver Salmon are very popular because of their convenient, compact size. They typically weigh two to twelve pounds and have a relatively high fat content so they are ideal for smoking.
Pink or Humpback Salmon is a small species usually weighing two to four pounds. It is very popular due to the fact that they usually arrive in extra-large runs and is mostly used for canning. This species is also wonderful prepared on the barbecue grill.
Chum or Dog Salmon have a firm, pink flesh and they are normally smoked or canned. Usual weights for a whole fish are four to ten pounds.
Japanese Cherry Salmon (masu) are found only in Japan, and like other Pacific species lives its life divided between fresh and salt water. When this fish matures and nears reproductive readiness its back turns black and sides a deep red and it begins its return migration back to its birth waters.
Steelhead Salmon are mysterious creatures whose exact lineage has been somewhat difficult to determine. In many areas they used to be called Steelhead Trout but have since been re-classified as members of the salmon dynasty. Historically there have always existed two camps of anglers- those who termed the Steelhead a trout, and those who preferred it be thought of as a salmon, and for some groups the argument can be cause for some heated discussion!