By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
It’s starting to feel like winter, with shorter, colder and gloomier days. It makes me think of how I felt when my husband, Bob, and I embarked on a much-anticipated trip to Alaska back in August. Then, in truth, it was a little like experiencing whiplash. We went from 100° sunny weather here in arid California to rainy, overcast, cold Alaska. We didn’t see the sun for nine days. Note to self (and others): It rains in Alaska in August. Best chance for good weather is June and July.
We didn’t take the usual cruise, mind you. We chose a different route to see the Inside Passage in the southeast corner of the state. Easy decision, not easy to do. Figuring out the Alaska Marine Highway ferry system and connecting the ports of call can be tricky. Now I know why people take cruises. It’s a much simpler, worry-free way to go from town to town, island to island. Book the trip and let the cruise liner do all of the planning. Unpack your suitcase and you’re good to go. But no, we went the more difficult route.
There are three obvious advantages of not taking a cruise. First, traveling on our own was a fraction of the cruise cost. Second, we were not on anyone else’s schedule. Lastly, and most important to me, we were able to stay a few days in each town instead of an eight-hour pit stop. This was quite enlightening. We rented apartments in the towns and soaked in the local ambience and culture.
Besides Sitka, which was our first stop, we ferried to Juneau, the Alaskan state capital. The city had more of a feel of an old-fashioned town with clapboard buildings lining the streets. Think Gold Rush days. We were able to visit one of the last remaining southern blue glaciers and also stop by an indigenous people’s museum. We had one of the best breakfasts ever at a famous local haunt, Sandpiper Cafe: Crab Cake Benedict on a toasted biscuit, poached eggs, caramelized onions, Hollandaise sauce with fried capers. Don’t ask!
A real highlight of the Alaska trip was a three-day stop in Haines, in the north end of the Inside Passage. Think the 1990s TV series Northern Exposure. The look and vibe of the town was as depicted as Cicely, Alaska in that show. No traffic lights; no traffic, for that matter. A general store/coffee house/meeting place is the hub for information and town gossip. We ate at the best restaurant in Haines, a pizzeria of all things, and it was Northern Exposure!
One morning, we were able to take a rafting trip on the Chilkat River through the bald eagle preserve. This majestic bird, emblem of our country, was something to behold close up. As the raft gently floated by the small islands in the middle of the river, the eagles hung out, waiting to fish. We had hoped to see bears and moose, but alas, that was not to be. We looked for these animals the whole trip. My husband joked that we saw one bear: it was in a glass case in the Juneau airport.
The people in Haines (and everywhere we went) were unbelievably warm and friendly. Upon arriving in this small town, we decided to hike down the hill to check out the town. We stopped into a few stores, talked with local folks, and got the lay of the land. After a long descent and a trek of a couple of hours, we were faced with climbing back up the hill to our apartment. Bob said to me “I can’t make it up that hill, I’m too tired”. I say, “No problem.” I see a young woman carrying groceries in a parking lot and politely tell her my husband is too fatigued to walk up the hill. Could she please give us a ride? Sure! Hop in! Where in America can you do that? This was the beginning of our fast friendship with Rose.
We met Rose the next day for coffee and came to learn that she was a fellow Michigander. The best part: She owns Shoreline Wild Salmon, a company that line-catches Alaskan fish to ship to your door. Rose was excited to learn that I was in the food business too, so we had lots to talk about.
Rose told us that she began the salmon fishery with two partners in 2016. The importance of their work is that all of the fish are caught by hook and line (trolling) as opposed to net fishing. Each fish is individually handled– caught, gutted, filleted and packaged immediately, in order to maintain ultimate freshness. (To learn how the company began, click here and read about this fantastic business.) Rose taught us what the different salmon species are, from best to worst: silver/coho, king, sockeye, chum and pink. That rating is based on flavor and texture.
Meeting Rose was a real adventure. I loved her enthusiasm for Alaska and seeing what living there was like through her eyes. I’m using delicious Coho salmon from Shoreline Wild Salmon for my recipe today. I decided to use ingredients that are grown and foraged around Alaska. Barley is one of the few grains grown in that state. Also, oregano and cranberries proliferate in the Alaskan climate. Mushrooms are one of several plants foraged there. Feel free to pair this salmon with any starch or vegetable. Because of its simple preparation, it goes with almost anything.
Tell us here at The Insider if you’ve enjoyed wild-caught salmon and how you prepared it. And don’t forget about the Herculean effort that went into having a hook and line fish gracing your dinner table!
Grilled Alaskan Salmon with Mushroom Barley Pilaf
Yield: 4 servings
1 1/4 lb. fresh Alaskan king or coho salmon filet
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. coarse ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 c. small diced onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 oz. crimini mushrooms, sliced thin
3/4 c. pearl barley
1/2 tsp. salt
2 c. vegetable stock, plus more if needed
1/4 c. chopped dried cranberries
2 Tbsp. fresh chopped oregano or parsley
1/4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1-2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
In a medium saucepan, sauté the onions and garlic over moderate heat until the onions are translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Add the mushrooms. Continue cooking until the mushrooms are softened, about 7-8 minutes. Add the barley and salt. Cook for 1 more minute.
Pour in the stock. Bring to a boil. Turn down to a low simmer; cover. Cook barley until soft, about 45-50 minutes. Stir occasionally adding additional stock if the pan is dry.
Blend in the cranberries, fresh herbs, and black pepper. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
While the barley is cooking, combine the dry rub ingredients in a small bowl. Pat the salmon filet dry. Rub the seasoning all over the fish, pressing into the flesh. Allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Heat grill to moderately high. Place the salmon, skin side up on the grill. Cook for about 5 minutes. Carefully turn over. Cook until translucent in the center, about 4 more minutes. Serve skin side down. Melt butter on top of the fish so it glistens.
To serve: place a mound of pilaf on each plate. Set a piece of salmon on top of the barley. Sprinkle with additional chopped herbs if desired.
NOTE: The cook time is very tentative with variables to consider. Had the fish come to room temperature right before cooking? How thick is the filet? How hot is your grill? My advice: watch it carefully!
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.