|Photos by Serine Halverson|
|Salmonberries may be tart to eat raw, but they’re delicious in Patrick Hoogerhyde’s Wild Salmonberry Mousse.|
Rhonda Hubbard decided to throw tradition out with the compost. It was 1987 and she was about to cook Thanksgiving dinner for her fiancé and his parents. ¶ “Stuffed turkey is kind of boring to me, sort of ho-hum,” Hubbard said. “So I thought ‘Why not stuff a king salmon?’”
Wild Salmonberry Mousse
She remembers her future father-in-law, visiting her Seward home from Petersburg, grumbling about the lack of turkey. But Hubbard stuck to her fins. She removed the backbone of a white king salmon and smeared the inside with a mayonnaise, sour cream and dill-butter mixture. Then she stuffed the fish with herbed and wild rice, mushrooms and diced green and red peppers. She tossed in some Alaska crab to make it really special.
After 45 minutes at 375 degrees, grumbling ceased. Rich king salmon paired with savory rice and mushrooms dashed any longings for poultry. The red and green peppers gave the dish some seasonal color. Hubbard’s future father-in-law returned for a second helping, and a holiday tradition was born.
|Photos by Serine Halverson|
|Sweet potato mashers, sourdough apple-pear stuffing and blueberry demi-glazed salmon are all great recipes that incorporate Alaska foods in holiday meals.|
Add bread to mix and stir. If mixture seems dry, add chicken stock to moisten. Bread cubes should retain
a slight crunch. Use as you would any stuffing.
Putting a little Alaska into holiday meals can turn tired traditions into piquant adventures. Why not chuck the duck from your tur-duck-en for one of Alaska’s game birds and roast tur-ptarmig-en or tur-grous-en; trade a traditional roast of beef for a roast of caribou or moose; serve halibut instead of ham? Those skeptical about tossing the turkey altogether might consider adding alder-smoked reindeer sausage to the stuffing, or serving an Alaska low-bush cranberry relish.
“Sides are perfect for switching things up,” said Eric DuBey, chef and co-owner of Thirty Six Bistro in Anchorage. “Even if you have your main course, you can try something new.”
DuBey grew up in Alaska and, as a teenager, worked at the Golden International Chinese restaurant in Soldotna. The owner, he said, “was really talented and taught me how to butcher meats and then how to make the soups, the egg rolls and other things.” Cooking felt comfortable, and DuBey attended culinary school in Washington before returning to create dishes at restaurants in Alaska. He tries to put a little bit of the Last Frontier into most of his dishes, be it stuffing made with day-old sourdough bread, or salmon with an Alaska blueberry demi-glace.
“I’ve lived up here most of my life,” he said. “I’m proud to be an Alaskan. That’s part of the creative nature of being a chef, trying to use things that are readily available.”
Alaska Low-bush Cranberry and Birch Syrup Relish
Holidays at the DuBey home are a mix of old and new traditions. His wife is from Louisiana, so that means turkey with bourbon-butter glaze and the green bean casserole made with cream of mushroom soup and French-fried onions that’s a holiday staple in many Midwestern homes. But DuBey brings on the Alaska with his king crab omelets served Christmas morning and sweet potato and roasted Alaska root vegetable pie.
“If you eat the garbage you get from California and then you eat an Alaska carrot, the difference is like night and day,” he said.
DuBey’s assessment of the high quality of Alaska carrots is based on their greater accumulation of sugars, according to University of Alaska’s Cooperative Extension. Plus Aster yellows, a viral disease that affects carrots in other areas, isn’t found here. Most of Alaska’s root crops share this sweet flavor profile, making them ideal ingredients in holiday meals that relish the sweet-savory combination.
As with root crops, Alaska berries pack a flavor punch. Because of Alaska’s harsh climate, blueberries here grow thicker skins than their Lower-48 counterparts. They’re also packed with antioxidants. Yet, unlike so many “good for you” foods, Alaska blueberries taste great.
Stuffed King Salmon Roast
This recipe works best with an 8- to 12-inch roast cut from the mid- to upper-body of a 10- to 15-pound headed and gutted king salmon (white or red). Prepare fish by splitting and removing the bulk of the backbone and its attached belly bones where possible. Place in a foil-lined baking dish.
45 minutes. Cooking time may vary so check center of fish at 35 minutes. Fish will continue cooking even after being removed from the oven.
“You could do a pork loin with a blueberry sauce, that would be so nice,” said Jennifer Jolis, who owned A Moveable Feast and Jennifer’s in Fairbanks, and now teaches in the University of Alaska Fairbanks Culinary Arts program. For the sauce, she said, make simple syrup by adding equal parts sugar and water and heating until the sugar dissolves.
“Flavor it with the herbs of your choice, probably sage and thyme,” Jolis said. “Let them steep a while, then add the blueberries, just long enough to cook them.”
After a couple of minutes, she said, strain the blueberries and herbs from the liquid and reduced it as desired to a sauce or a thicker syrup. If you can’t find fresh blueberries, start with blueberry syrup from a store and go from there, she suggested.
Blueberries are only the beginning of Alaska’s berry offerings. Crowberries grow in muskegs and spruce forests throughout the state. Raspberries thrive in gardens. Both make great jams that can be served with biscuits at a Christmas breakfast. And while the strawberries that thrive here are tiny by grocery-store standards, they taste almost impossibly bright and juicy. Plus, Alaska is rich in that holiday berry staple—cranberries. Both high-bush and low-bush cranberries flourish across the state. The low-bush cranberries, in particular, pack a punch, according to Patrick Hoogerhyde, former executive chef at Anchorage’s Glacier Brewhouse and current partner in Bridge Catering and Bridge Seafood.
“These little guys, one-tenth of what you would need with a commercial cranberry and you get that flavor profile,” he said.
Hoogerhyde used cranberries and mushrooms gathered by a forager for dishes at the Brewhouse, as well as jams from Alaska Wild Berry products (see “From Frontier to Table,” Page 32). Raised in King Salmon, he learned early that “if you cooked, you didn’t have to do dishes,” he said. After culinary school in Portland, he returned to Alaska, where he worked at Anchorage restaurants including Orso, The Crow’s Nest, Marx Brothers Café and Glacier Brewhouse. His new venture, which operates out of the former Bridge restaurant near the Port of Anchorage, is a catering facility and event venue in the winter months. Hoogerhyde plans Bridge Seafood as an Alaska showcase “seafood extravaganza” that will operate from May to September beginning in 2012. Hoogerhyde loves creating Alaska cuisine, he said, a kind of food experience that defies easy labels.
Smoked Sablefish (Black Cod) Potato Salad
“We’re shoved into the Pacific Northwest, but we have nothing in common with them,” he said. “Except that they have salmon and we have salmon.”
In addition to local berries and mushrooms, Hoogerhyde uses Alaska seafood, local greens, even Alaska vodka in his preparations. At the Brewhouse, he said, they stock the wood-fired grill with Alaska birch and the wood-fried oven with Alaska alder. Sometimes he did something as simple as adding reindeer sausage to a pizza to give it some local flair.
“You’re not in Seattle where everything is there and everything’s been done,” he said. “Here really is the Last Frontier and that’s exciting.” In Alaska, Hoogerhyde said, “we have to think bigger because our backyard is bigger.”
Still, bigger does not have to mean more complicated, the chefs agree. A few Alaska ingredients can transform a meal into something extraordinary. Jolis advises any home chef to keep Alaska blueberries and cranberries nearby, “because you’ll find a place for it.”
“Don’t be afraid to try something you haven’t before,” DuBey said. “I don’t think it has to be the main course. Sides are a really easy way to experiment with different things. And if you don’t like it, you don’t have to make it next year.”
The holidays are “definitely a time to come together,” Jolis said. Food is about taking care of people and creating a community. “It’s like an offering. Lots of people pray before they eat. (My husband and I) generally don’t do that, but I think even though we don’t, that is what’s happening.”
Hubbard, who pioneered the stuffed salmon tradition at her family’s Thanksgiving, co-owns J&R Fisheries in Seward. She grew up as a fish-camp cook, but she wings it and doesn’t like spending all day in the kitchen. Still, she knows how to put an Alaska imprint on a holiday. Christmas Eve at the Hubbards’ means an open house with sushi made from locally harvested black cod, along with avocado and green onion. Why not? she said.
“I’d rather have sushi than cookies, myself.”
Lynne Snifka teaches in the University of Alaska Fairbanks Journalism Department. She wrote about Alaska becoming a state in the May 2008 issue.