Alaska Revisited, The Trilogy - Chapter Two

Chapter 2

Back at the Lodge we were preparing for a long night ahead with a large G&T, dinner and a dip in the Jacuzzi on the sun deck (great itinerary!) But we were also treated to a fantastic talk from our host Jeremy about the five different types of salmon.

A side note - Jeremy was born and raised in Alaska where his family has been based for generations. Many members of his family have worked in the fishing industry - his brother is a fisherman by trade, his father a retired fisherman and grandfather a fisherman before them. It makes sense that Jeremy developed his sea legs as soon as he could walk, spending ample time as a youngster on boats before becoming a fisherman himself. Now serving as ASMI’s executive director, he’s still spending his weekends on the water. Recharging with his wife and children on their family boat, passing his knowledge onto the next generation of fisherpeople, while rods are ready to go just waiting for the salmon, rockfish or halibut to bite. What Jeremy doesn’t know about Alaska, it’s waters and wildlife, isn’t really worth knowing!

But back to the salmon. In Alaska, there are five varieties – pink, keta, coho, sockeye and king. All differ from one another in size and look but there are also some key differences on and beneath the skin.

Pink salmon has a very delicate light pink flesh that almost resembles sea trout. What is interesting is that almost all of the pink salmon ends up in a can – traditionally loved by the UK market. It’s an economical choice for a variety of recipes and because of its milder flavour, it makes an excellent addition to sauces.

Sockeye salmon is almost the abject opposite. With a distinctive deep red coloured flesh and very little fat content, it’s really good for hot and cold smoking, grilling, sautéing, roasting, poaching or steaming. 

Keta salmon - also known as chum or silverbrite - has a pink meat colour, firm texture and mild flavour. It’s another good smoking fish, perfect when dried for jerky and makes a great choice for grilling or roasting. Here in the UK, keta is popular and sold as a chilled naked fillet in supermarkets. Lower cooking temperatures are recommended because of its low oil content.

Coho is the second largest of the species often migrating far into the ocean for prolonged periods before returning to their freshwater spawning grounds. Coho has a firm, orange-red flesh that, because of its delicate flavour, many consider it to be the best salmon for grilling although it’s also a great choice for sautéing, poaching, steaming, smoking or roasting slowly. It is comparatively fatty which keeps the flesh nice and moist without overcooking.

King salmon is the most highly prized of all the species. Considerably larger than even the coho, this fish can swim in open seas for up to six years before coming home to spawn. Its firm, fatty, meaty flesh is perfect for almost all styles of cooking. I personally love to cut lovely thick steaks for roasting.

And that’s just the salmon.

The following day were in for another treat. We were up at the crack of dawn for a hearty breakfast and it was a breakfast that I’ll never forget - homemade bircher muesli brimming with locally foraged forest fruits, salmon ‘bacon’, fried eggs with blueberry pancakes and sugared pretzels the size of my head. To say that I was content is an understatement.

It was a slow waddle down to the docks to catch the boat across to Homer – a lively little place (or at least as lively as it gets this close to the Artic!) It’s a busy harbour town entertaining locals and tourists alike. Pleasure cruisers bring hundreds of tourists to the coastal city for a day of sightseeing whilst locals prep their fishing vessels for a day at sea.

On dry land, Homer has a few shops selling fishing gear…. tackle, outboard engines and even the odd Sou’wester! But I found myself in a pub. The Salty Dawg Saloon. It was about as local as I could get with low ceilings and defaced dollar bills on the walls. Drinking beer at 10am isn’t normal, but the bar had a TV and it was the 11th July. England vs Croatia. World Cup semi-final. I managed to watch almost the whole second half which ended in a nail biting 1-1 draw, but it was back to the boat before extra ‘time. Sketchy reception meant that I had no internet connection, so I hit it off with the captain of our boat to listen to the crackly commentary on the radio. We lost 2-1. A sad day for me, but the location, the setting and the experience I was having certainly took the edge off!