Alaskans know how to eat. Find another place where people are better at DIY food (hunting it, fishing it, picking it; schlepping it on airplanes, ATVs, snowmachines, kayaks, in backpacks; butchering it, cleaning it, smoking it, freezing it, preserving it). You can't. To eat at our tables is to understand our culture. (Home cooking is another area where we excel.) This newsletter is a place for all things Alaska food.
Newsletter #8: How to eat mussels like an Alaskan
Last weekend for my birthday, my wife surprised me with a trip to The Saltry in Halibut Cove, the stuff of Alaska food dreams. We sat down to our 8:15 p.m. dinner reservation at a table directly facing the water. Picturesque is an understatement. Our server came to the table and raved about the mussels, harvested just nearby at precisely 9:25 a.m. that morning and in the kitchen by 10:30 a.m. He named the farmer and the location and explained that all of the wild Alaska seafood on the menu is caught within 10 miles of the restaurant. It really doesn't get much fresher than that. Of course, we ordered those mussels.
Our server then taught us how to enjoy our mussels Alaska-style by forgoing the fancy little forks and instead using an already emptied mussel shell like tweezers to pinch out the meat. Worked like a charm. Finally, he encouraged us to toss the mussel shells over the rail, back into the sea.
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As the night wound down and the sun began to set on the cove, the new chef came out and sat and enjoyed a glass of wine with us. He told us about the rigors and complexities of providing fresh, local cuisine on an island only accessible by boat, including a two-week long stint with no power, when they had to run the kitchen on a generator that only had enough juice to power either the refrigerator or the dishwasher, but not both at the same time. Later, the owner, Marian Beck, came and greeted us. We talked, not surprisingly, about our local fisheries and the accessibility of ingredients.
But for those of us who live on the road and have access to our farmers markets this weekend, it's zucchini time. Grab a bunch and try this week's recipe for zucchini brownies. For a savory take, try Alaska Knit Nat's white lasagna with zucchini and porcini mushrooms, which are also starting to pop up everywhere we look, a forager's dream. Berries are still at their peak, so check out Susie Jenkins-Brito's rhubarb kale smoothie bowls over at Set the Net.
Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop just announced the grand opening of their big, new South Anchorage bakery this Friday, Aug. 10, at 160 W. 91st Ave., just past Anchorage Brewing Co. Check out their new space @fireislandbread on Instagram or, better yet, go see it in person.
Julia O'Malley will be back in a few weeks, but in the meantime, check out her Alaska recipe testing group on Facebook.
Maya Wilson lives and cooks on the Kenai Peninsula and writes the Alaska From Scratch blog. Her book, "The Alaska from Scratch Cookbook: Seasonal. Scenic. Homemade," was published in 2018 by Rodale Books/Penguin Random House. She will be the head chef at a new restaurant (@addiecamp) in Soldotna coming later in 2018.