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We Alaskans

Honing your Alaskulinity with the help of some salmon

  • Author: Geoff Kirsch
  • Updated: August 25, 2017
  • Published August 25, 2017

Thank the salmon, without which none of us would be here. Express your gratitude by grilling it to perfection. (Tara Young / ADN archive 2015)

JUNEAU — OK, so you're not exceptionally skilled at hunting, fishing or even distinguishing one wild species from another. You've found other ways of demonstrating your Great Northern prowess, aka your "Alaskulinity."

You, you're a rugged indoorsman. Your wood stove's always stoked, your bar's always stocked and you get premium cable. But most importantly, you can cook.

Tonight, this culinary Alaskulinity will be on full display as you prepare Spontaneous Salmon, your take on a classic Last Frontier entrée, for 20 people (and counting), because it's a rainy Sunday and everyone's looking for somewhere (anywhere!) to go and it may as well be your house. At least you won't have to drive home — and neither will your wife, which tends to make things more fun.

Also, you won't have to comb your beard or put on shoes.

Now, for starters, you'll need salmon. Obviously, you earn points for landing it yourself, but there's no shame in buying salmon, especially through a local hookup. Knowing someone who knows someone? That's totally Alaskuline.

Reeking of low tide

Go to the chest freezer in your garage. Clear away the unread mail, dirty mugs and assorted weed wacker parts that have collected since your last Spontaneous Salmon for 20 — by the way, tonight's total just jumped to 22; a friend texted your wife that she's watching another friend's kids while the parents are caribou hunting in Adak — and dig out a few nice chunks. Be sure to include at least one tail section. Everyone loves a good piece of tail.

Thaw salmon in hot water for 15 minutes, or as long as it takes to fix a round of vodka gimlets. Note: This salmon recipe calls for several vodka gimlets. You're definitely going to snore later.

Also, bear in mind you may be on the hook for appetizers, side dishes and salad, too, depending on what your guests promise to bring and then don't. But you're prepared for these eventualities. You shop at Costco. No single family can consume that much baby kale before it liquefies.

Once thawed, unwrap the salmon. Be sure to rinse packaging before throwing away. Otherwise, your trash can — and by extension the whole house — will reek of low tide. And that's a hell of a way to kick off a Monday morning.

Place salmon, skin side down, on sheets of aluminum foil long and wide enough to fold into packets. Not only will this ensure even cooking, they will protect the salmon from scorching should you become distracted discussing all the projects you're thinking about starting with the crowd of dudes who gather around every barbecue discussing all the projects they're thinking about starting.

Fix another round of gimlets.

Preheat the grill to 400-420 degrees. Gather glaze ingredients: melted butter, maple syrup and blueberry syrup made from berries you picked yourself — one type of local wildlife you can actually bag — plus your favorite store-bought seasoning. Or just use salt, pepper and garlic, which is pretty much all those store-bought seasonings are anyway.

Liberally apply butter (olive oil works, too, if you're feeling Mediterranean) and maple syrup to the salmon, plus a few drops of the blueberry syrup (you can also use the liquid that's separated out of the jam someone gave you a few months ago and you forgot in the back of the fridge … until now).

Spread glaze evenly, then season your salmon like a boss. Fold up foil, refresh your gimlet and toss packets on the grill. Keep heat constant, but direct. In a pinch, douse back flames with icy remnants of your gimlet.

Your undiscovered talent

Yell after that kid who took your phone. First, you'll want to check baseball scores. But most importantly, the surest way to ruin Spontaneous Salmon — thereby deflating your Alaskulinity — would be accidentally overcooking it (say, while checking baseball scores).

Point is: set your timer. And use a loud ringtone, like an air raid siren or the intro to Van Halen's "Eruption."

Cook salmon for approximately 15 minutes, but eyeball at 10 and again at 12.

Take these moments to appreciate where you are: a place that's beautiful even in an "off" summer, even in the cruddiest weather; where dinners like this happen routinely, if not at your house then someone else's — with their own version of Spontaneous Salmon — and where long, dark hours inside foster talents you never knew you had. Like cooking.

While you're at it, thank the salmon, too, without which none of us would be here. Express your gratitude by grilling it to perfection, best determined through touch: springy, but firm, falling apart in giant flakes.

Serve immediately, but wait for everyone to quit yammering so they can see you open the foil packets and fully appreciate the pink, steamy fruit of your Alaskulinity.

Are there better recipes for wild Alaska salmon? Absolutely. But this one is yours and it works every time. And look — only an hour to go before your kids get ready for bed, and you can cash in with your wife for facilitating such a tasty impromptu dinner party.

Speaking of which, go ahead and fix another round of gimlets. That usually helps, too.

Geoff Kirsch is a Juneau-based writer and humorist currently working on an essay collection based upon his long-running column in the Juneau Empire.