Harvesting Chickens Alaska Style

There are days when it seems, as Barbra says, like you could put one of your socks on a hook and catch halibut. Two-fish limits are the norm even on slow days. This brace of 20 and 25 pound fish came back-to-back and fell for twister-tails on five-ounce jigs in 80 feet of water near Homer. Halibut this size are referred to as “chicken halibut” and make for fine dining indeed.

We love Alaska, but between the cold and our wanderlust, it’s unlikely we’ll remain here permanently. We dream about sailboats and warm beaches, about driving our camper all over Canada and the U.S., and about one day maybe owning a home on a few acres, complete with a clean, wood burning stove, a large vegetable garden, perhaps some fruit trees and of course a few chickens for eggs and for roasting. The good life comes in many forms!

One thing that has dismayed us as we’ve looked for our next utopia is the state of many of America’s freshwater fisheries. Log onto a few of our states’ department of natural resources pages, look at fish consumption advisories, and a pattern soon emerges. Mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) contaminate most freshwater bodies, and some even contain unhealthy amounts of DDT–a chemical we’d thought was no longer a problem. Warnings and advisories recommending limited consumption of fish are the norm rather than the exception all across America as fallout from coal fired power plants, cement plants and other sources have laced our waters with unhealthy amounts of toxins. In some waters, it is recommended that no fish be eaten. More commonly – in our view shockingly – anglers and their families are advised to limit their consumption to just one meal of walleye, lake trout, bass or other fish per week or even less!

That’s not very many fish dinners.

The good news is that, thanks to increased awareness which has led to increased regulation of industry, levels of contaminants on many waters are tending downwards. Yes, keeping toxins out of our environment is expensive, but when we take into consideration health issues and quality of life, letting polluters pollute is even more costly. We have the means to keep our country clean, and that’s precisely what we should be doing. If industries won’t comply, then, yes, we need our government to intervene.

Meanwhile, we feel very fortunate to live in a place where, with very few exceptions, people can eat as many meals of fish as they desire with the confidence that they are enhancing, not harming, their health. And so, at this point in our life, our “chickens” are of the finned variety. For now, our halibut omelets are made with store-bought eggs and Tillamook cheddar cheese. Maybe one day they’ll be made with eggs from our own chickens and cheese from our own kitchen!

Pine Nut Encrusted Halibut

A fillet of Resurrection Bay, Alaska halibut in a homemade mayonnaise and sour cream mixture, encrusted with chopped pine nuts and almonds and served on a bed of mixed brown and wild rice. Broccoli is one of the few vegetables we can consistently obtain in good shape in the bush.

I was recently looking around online for the next great place to call home. A top priority for both of us is a place where we can harvest our own fish. With that in mind, as I looked at coastal waters and lakes in other states, it was with a keen eye not only toward some of our preferred fish species (walleye, crappie, perch, striped bass, salmon), but also with an eye toward each state’s fish consumption advisories.

What a shock. In locale after locale, the advice from state departments of natural resources is to limit one’s consumption of local fish. Mercury and PCBs are the chief culprits, but in some places there are other chemicals in the stew. Even DDT remains a problem in some areas. The prospect of living in a place where warnings are to limit one’s consumption of fish to one meal a week–or a couple meals a month–is depressing. (We really hope they keep the Pebble Mine out of Alaska!)

Glad to live in a part of the world where the near-shore fish are still healthful enough to enjoy as often as one cares to. We generally have meals featuring salmon, rockfish or halibut two or three times a week.

There’s nothing to the above halibut dish. In a glass bowl I mixed together equal parts homemade mayonnaise and sour cream. I wanted to add a dash or two of cayenne pepper for a pleasant kick, but having none used a prepared Thai seasoning mix instead along with a couple of grinds of black pepper and a healthy squeeze of lemon juice. I spread this mixture on a halibut fillet, then covered the sauce with chopped pine nuts and almonds, and baked for 15 minutes at 375 degrees in a small, preheated casserole dish in which I had melted butter. Make sure to check while it’s baking to avoid scorching the nuts. Cover with a lid or aluminum foil if the nuts are becoming overly done.

By the way, if you’ve never made mayonnaise, it’s easy–and kind of magical. There are no shortage of instructional videos on the Internet.