Market Fresh: Small Alaska company gets national praise for smoked salmon

Steve Edwards

Ask 100 Alaskans how they smoke salmon and you're likely to get 100 variations.

Cold smoked or with some heat? What type of wood chips do you use? How much salt and how do you apply it? Brown sugar?

The options are limitless. And there's always a secret ingredient or two.

While Alaskans love their smoked salmon, not everyone has the reach of Ninilchik's Art Tilgner. He runs the family business, Tilgner's Specialized Smoked Seafood Products, and has recently joined the Center Market inside The Mall at Sears to share his cold-smoked sockeye salmon.

Tilgner is new to the farmers market scene, but he's been smoking salmon the same way for about 35 years. And his products have made their way far from Alaska.

"Last summer a very nice lady from Brooklyn, New York, was here fishing and I offered her a sample of our cold smoked salmon," Tilgner says. "She said she was a big fan of lox and ours was the very best she had ever eaten. She is friends with Peter Shelsky, a popular smoked fish monger in Brooklyn, and suggested I send some to him for tasting. I did, and he immediately said it was the best he had ever had and claimed to be an expert on smoked fish. He put in a large order and has ordered every week from me since.

"We use the European method of dry salt brining, followed by application of only natural ingredients, no additives, then a light cold smoke of native alder. This is comparable to but is not traditional lox. Our product is low fat, low calorie, very low sodium and gluten free. We use Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound sockeyes, which are very carefully selected for high quality."

In addition to New York, Tilgner's smoked salmon is being shipped regularly to North Carolina, Arizona and, most recently, a sushi restaurant Hollywood, Calif.

Tilgner developed the smoking formula while serving as a physician in Cordova. Last summer, he completed a commercial processing plant in Ninilchik.

"Our process is very labor intensive and done by hand including the slicing," he says. "It takes about 36 hours once the raw filet is produced. One really distinctive feature is the buttery texture. My fish is not cooked but neither is it raw."

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The fish will be available at the Center Market both 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday.

Other vendors at the Center Market include:

A.D. Farm: Alex Davis will have fresh eggs; a wide variety of pork cuts including chops, fresh side, roast, steak, breakfast sausage patties, ground pork, Italian sausage and spicy sausage; and several storage crops including potatoes, beets, parsnips and Brussels sprouts.

Rempel Family Farm: They will have 11 varieties of potatoes, sugar pumpkins, jumbo pink banana squash, acorn squash, red kuri squash, stripetti squash, spaghetti squash, beets, green cabbage, parsnips, rutabagas, daikon radish and carrots. They are at the Wednesday market.

Alaska Vegan and Gluten Free: Kristin Donaldson will be back with will be offering some new items this week, beet, parsnip, carrot, sweet potato, kale and potato chips. Other items available include: spinach mushroom soup, split pea soup, roasted beets and sweet potato soup, carrot ginger soup, red beans and rice topped with pico de gallo, corn chips and baguettes.

Country Health Foods: Duane Clark will have grass-fed beef, free-range roaster chickens, local honey, goat cheese and a large selection of Alaska Sprouts products. Away from the market, Clark is selling Christmas trees at the Pioneer Square Shopping Center in Palmer. His selection includes noble, grand and Nordman firs.

The South Anchorage Winter Market has many of its regular vendors back again this week. Vendors include Arctic Choice Seafood, Mat Valley Meats, Glacier Valley Farm and Stockwell Family Farm.

Delicious Dave Thorne will be back providing some tasty treats from market items. Last Saturday, Thorne served fresh scallops.

The market is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.

Daily News correspondent