I've been to Alaska and seen the light: wild Alaskan salmon is in a league of its own compared to the farm-raised fish we routinely buy in supermarkets. Alaska's annual salmon run–early May through mid-September–produces five different types of salmon. It's easy to get confused when shopping the seafood counter for wild Alaska salmon because each salmon variety has two different names. This, I learned, from a behind the scenes tour at the fascinating Alaska Sealife Center Seward, a rehabilitation, research and wildlife rescue facility. Depending on where you shop, you may see any of these names:
King Salmon = Chinook Salmon
Silver Salmon = Coho Salmon
Red Salmon = Sockeye Salmon
Pink Salmon = Humpy Salmon
Dog Salmon = Chum Salmon
Not only is salmon super good for you because of it's high omega fatty acid content, but a trip across Alaska reveals just how many different ways this native fish can be prepared.
At the end of the Kenai Peninsula sits the charming town of Homer and the equally lovely Timber Bay Bed & Breakfast with its stunning view of Kachemak Bay. Chef-owner Don Cotogno prefers simple salmon preparations, such as a soy-ginger marinade, that let the quality of the fish speak for itself. Soy-Ginger Salmon from Real Simple is an example of this type of preparation.
Just down the road from Timber Bay is the first certified "green" restaurant in Alaska, the Fresh Sourdough Express Cafe & Bakery where salmon is lovingly prepared and often flanked by organic vegetables and brown rice. Owners Donna and Kevin Maltz are hands-on with the food and it shows on the plate. Grilled Wild Salmon with Vegetables from Cooking Light features locally-grown onions, fennel, potatoes, and baby spinach alongside the salmon.
A 40-minute ride across the bay to secluded Halibut Cove is Still Point Lodge, offering a combination of high-end, wilderness seclusion with fabulous, healthy food. Owner and water colorist, Jan Thurston, has created a peaceful vacation oasis and serves up a meatless menu crafted by Chef Susan Lehman, who has a special bent for Indian-focused cuisine. Indian-Spiced Salmon from Sunset showcases these flavors.
Driving across the peninsula, a logical stopping point is Cooper's Landing, ground zero for "combat salmon fishing" on the infamous Kenai River. Gwin's Lodge has just the kind of fish camp ambiance you'd want, and dishes it up 24/7 with signature items such as salmon stuffed halibut (another plentiful Alaskan fish) and smoked Alaskan salmon chowder. Try this top-rated Smoked Salmon recipe from Cooking Light.
Back in metro Anchorage, there is no shortage of good eating spots. Ginger Restaurant serves refined Pacific Rim cuisine with inventive touches. Pistachio-crusted salmon with a tamarind-pineapple glaze, a strawberry-pineapple salsa, and a dollop of crabmeat successfully merged Caribbean flavors with Alaska's hometown fish.
I can't wait to try some of these recipes with the salmon we shipped home in our cooler. Not only does eating salmon help prevent heart disease, catching it yourself and preparing it at home is a good excuse for re-living the trip all over again.
Donna Shields is a registered dietitian, author, and certified personal trainer with over 20 years experience in the food and beverage industry.
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