I start to feel like Bubba from “Forrest Gump” when I talk to people about all of the ways we prepare those fresh, Kenai River sockeye salmon stuffing the chest freezer in my little Spenard home.
There’s baked salmon, grilled salmon, sweet and spicy salmon, salty and sweet salmon, jalapeño and parmesan salmon, salmon sweet potato patties, salmon tacos, salmon and eggs, salmon chowder, salmon bisque, salmon pot pie, salmon salad, salmon spread — and well, you get it.
Although I very much enjoy all of the above-mentioned ways a raw fillet can be used, I actually enjoy working with smoked salmon more. Maybe this is an Alaskan thing, but I think it tastes better than candy. The mere thought of a toasted bagel, with a cream cheese spread, topped with shredded bits of smoked salmon actually makes my mouth water.
I use to joke that I could live off it. Then once — I almost did.
I covered my first Iditarod this year. For however long it takes the top mushers to reach Nome, reporters must move their gear from one remote checkpoint to another almost daily. For that reason, you don’t want to overpack but you also don’t want to leave the things you need behind — like food.
In an effort to save space while being prepared for the unexpected, I packed packages and packages of smoked Alaska salmon. Some of the larger stops, like McGrath, have restaurants and others, like Skwentna, have massive community meals. Others don’t have anything at all. You have to be able to feed yourself and be prepared to face the elements anywhere along the trail.
So, I packed my survival salmon. It was effortlessly preserved and full of the nutrition a body needs to operate with very little sleep in the unforgiving climate of the Last Frontier.
I found myself sharing it — like friendship currency — with my colleagues, local kids and even hungry mushers who’d been sitting near me and smelled the potent, smoky aroma. Share a piece of smoked salmon with someone and they’ll forever greet you with a smile and friendly conversation.
But, like I said, it’s versatile. I may have been eating the plain tender pieces of meat on the trail, but when I’m at home it gets used in just about everything.
For the smoking process, I stick to simpler recipes. I’ve chowed down on salmon that’s been smoked a variety of ways, but the simpler the smoking style, the easier you can work it into other recipes. More complex brines and techniques can leave overpowering flavors in salads or soups.
My salmon chowder is a personal point of pride. I learned from the most basic chowder recipe and created what I now call my aurora chowder — simply for the vibrant-colored ingredients that dance around the bowl. Serve it with warm, buttery rolls and you’re friends and family may actually never leave.
Harvesting Alaska is an ongoing series exploring all the ways Alaskans live off the land. KTVA welcomes you to share your recipes by sending them to firstname.lastname@example.org and by using #myharvestAK on social media. Your recipe may be featured in an upcoming Harvesting Alaska.