Alaska Gourmet: Pan-Fried Salmon with Herbed Butter on Butternut Squash Ravioli

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Fall food themes continue with this pièce de résistance fit for a king. Chinook salmon holds center stage drizzled with herbed butter and served on butternut squash ravioli. Food stylist extraordinaire Barbra came up with the idea of rolling shaved parmesan into tubes. 

With plenty of sockeye salmon harvested, cleaned and packaged in our freezers, it nonetheless wasn’t a case of “coals to Newcastle” when a friend offered up a couple fat fillets of Chinook. Reds, pinks, chums and silvers – they’re all welcome at our dinner table any time. But kings… with their higher percentage of healthful fat and their decadent melt-in-your-mouth texture… kings are special.  With a batch of butternut and ricotta ravioli in the freezer courtesy of Barbra, I knew just what I wanted to do with one of the fillets. This was as fine a meal as we’ve ever enjoyed. (Barbra promises the pumpkin/squash ravioli recipe will be posted soon!)

This dish goes particularly well with Brussels sprouts, a vegetable we especially appreciate out here in the Alaska bush because they ship well and have a long shelf-life in the refrigerator. Our favorite cooking method is to cut the Brussels sprouts in half lengthwise, toss them in a bowl with olive oil, sea salt and cracked pepper, and then place them cut-side down in sizzling olive oil in a frying pan. Turn the heat down (but make sure they’re still sizzling) and cover the pan. Check, and when the cut side has browned, flip the sprouts to the leafy side. Turn up the heat a little to get things really sizzling again, then turn it back down to a little below medium and cover the pan. The leaves will brown up and caramelize and a few will blacken. They’re ready to be served.

Pan-Fried Salmon with Herbed Butter on Butternut Squash Ravioli

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 1-pound fillet of any wild-caught Pacific salmon, skin on
  • sea salt
  • black pepper
  • (Optional) mirin or white wine – just a little
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 or 2 shallots, sliced fine
  • 1/2 tbsp tarragon (dried) or 1 tbsp fresh
  • 2 servings worth of ravioli stuffed with pumpkin, squash, mushrooms or light cheeses
  • parmesan cheese, grated or sliced, to garnish
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Prepare ravioli per directions, timed so that it’s ready when the salmon is ready.
  2. Rinse fillet, pat dry with paper towels and cut into two portions. Inspect for pin bones, which can easily be pulled out with a pair of kitchen pliers. Sprinkle with sea salt and a little black pepper.
  3. Add a tablespoon or 2 of olive oil to a frying pan and turn to a little hotter than medium heat. When oil is ready to sizzle, carefully place fillets in the pan skin side up. Add just a splash of mirin. Cover and cook for 2 minutes, till meat is seared.
  4. Turn salmon over so that it is skin side down. Add another splash of mirin. Turn heat down to just below medium, cover. A general rule of thumb for fish is to cook for about 8 to 10 minutes per inch of thickness. When white substance appears on fillet, it is cooked through. Avoid overcooking.
  5. Meanwhile, over medium-low heat, melt butter in a small pan. Add shallots and tarragon and sauté just long enough to soften the shallots and release the tarragon’s aroma.
  6. Serve ravioli and arrange salmon on top. Spoon on herbed butter.
  7. Serve hot with a couple of fingers of your favorite bourbon.

 

Sweet and Sustainable: Alaska Prawns and Shrimp (and a Great Place to Find Them)

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Zaru soba (Japanese buckwheat noodles) topped with Thai-seasoned Alaska spot prawns makes a perfect summertime meal. See recipe below.  

The windshield has a crack running through it, there’s a little rust and a dent or two on the body, and some of the paint is chipping off the hand-lettered sign affixed to the vehicle’s side, but we look for Patrick Johnson’s little black truck every summer when we’re cruising around Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula and we hit the brakes when we find it. If we don’t happen across his truck, we go find him at his Shrimp Guys Seafoods shop in Soldotna. Patrick sells sashimi-grade seafood smelling as fresh and briny as the seas it comes from.

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Maybe it’s my East Coast upbringing, but experience has taught that fancy shops with glitzy signage are usually not the best places to look for quality seafood. The first time we saw the above sign, which is attached to Patrick’s older model black pickup truck, it took me back to days in the Carolinas where small-time operations were hands down the best places to pick up fresh blue crabs, white shrimp, oysters and maybe a flounder to enjoy with a bottle of something white and dry for the evening meal.  

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Alaska’s prized spot prawns, ready to be peeled, seasoned and treated every so briefly and gently with heat.

There are two secrets to great seafood: cook it while it’s fresh, and don’t cook it long. If seafood smells bad, it is. That “bad” smell is not seafood; it’s bacteria growing on seafood. A quality seafood shop (or the seafood counter in a well-run grocery store) will smell pleasantly of the ocean – a little briny, vaguely sweet.

As to cooking shrimp or prawns, a former mentor in South Carolina gave me advice that applies to everything from broiled salmon to fried summer fluke. He was showing me how to prepare the white shrimp I’d caught in a cast net and iced earlier that day. (Read in a slow, South Carolina drawl.)  Jack, a little butter, a little lemon and a little garlic – that’s all they want. And a minute-and-a-half in the pan. Remember, they’ll keep cooking after you’ve removed them from heat, so a minute-and-a-half really means you’re cooking them for two minutes. But get them off the heat before two minutes, or you’ll ruin them. side stripe shrimp n

Smaller than spot prawns, these Alaska side stripe shrimp have the soft texture and signature sweetness of the ama-ebi served by sushi chefs. They are excellent served raw and dipped in soy sauce with a hint of wasabi. Any leftovers make a superb omelet or open-faced shrimp melt sandwich. 

Zaru Soba with Thai Seasoned Spot Prawns (serves two)

Ingredients (This recipe is a snap to make with pre-made seasoning and dipping sauce.)

  • soba (Japanese-style buckwheat noodles)
  • 6 spot prawns, peeled, vein removed and cut open butterfly style along their length. Give them a squirt of lime or lemon and set aside.
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil (or olive oil)
  • Spicy Thai-style seasoning mix, or mix your own from powdered chili peppers, powdered garlic, cinnamon, nutmeg and sesame seeds
  • green onions, sliced thin
  • English cucumber, cut julienne – about 1 1/2 inch of cucumber per serving
  • nori (dried seaweed) cut into thin strips
  • wasabi
  • mentsuyu – chilled dipping sauce – available at Asian grocers or in the Asian section of most regular grocery stores. Or make your own from soy sauce, mirin, sake and bonito flakes.

Directions

  1. Use a bowl to coat prawns in seasoning and let stand.
  2. Boil soba according to maker’s directions. Rinse thoroughly in cold water and drain.
  3. Mix mentsuyu with cold water, according to maker’s directions. Mix in wasabi to taste and add a few slices of green onions.
  4. Heat coconut oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add seasoned prawns. Use tongs to turn so that both sides are cooked – about 90 seconds total. Place on a plate to stop cooking.
  5. Place cold, drained soba noodles on two plates. Add prawns. Garnish with cucumber, onions and nori. Serve with individual side bowls of cold mentsuyu dipping sauce.

Enjoy this dish with a chilled bottle of Bianchello – a beautiful white wine from Central Italy that seems to have been created for light seafood dishes.

For sashimi grade seafood, contact Patrick Johnson at 907-394-4201 or email him at akjohnson98@gmail.com. You can find his shop at 44526 Sterling Highway, Soldotna, Alaska

 

Seafood Kebabs on Forbidden Rice

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Seasoned cubes of wild Coho salmon, fat, succulent Kodiak scallops, sweet Alaska deep sea shrimp and artichoke hearts drenched in olive oil alternate on this broiled seafood kebab.

The early Persians were onto something. Skewered meats, seafoods and vegetables deftly seasoned and grilled or broiled to perfection are easy to whip up and always a hit. The variations on these Alaskan seafood kebabs are endless. We seasoned ours with a mixture of ginger, toasted sesame seeds, black sesame seeds, sea salt, sugar, garlic, pepper and a sprinkle of toasted coconut. Add a little soy sauce, too, and serve on a bed of nutrition-packed forbidden rice.

Seafood Kebobs

Ingredients

A dash or two each of

  • ginger (freshly grated or powdered)
  • toasted sesame seeds
  • black sesame seeds
  • sea salt
  • ground pepper
  • ground peppers such as chipotle or cayenne
  • garlic (fresh chopped fine or powdered)
  • toasted coconut
  • seafood such as chunks of salmon or other fish, whole scallops, prawns, etc.
  • vegetables such as cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts, bell pepper, etc.
  • olive oil

Directions:

  1. Place broiler pan in oven and preheat on broil, or fire up grill.
  2. Combine ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix to thoroughly coat seafood and vegetables.
  3. Put food on skewers and place on preheated broiling pan or on hot grill. Cook for about 5 to 10 minutes, turning once or twice.
  4. Serve hot.

Silver Salmon For Lovers

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The pleasant tanginess of homemade crème fraîche, lemon and leeks harmonize with the buttery richness of wild caught Alaskan Coho salmon presented on a bed of homemade egg noodles. Light candles, play soft music, pop a cork and serve.

Crème fraîche is not available at our local Native store. No problem. We simply mixed two cups of heavy cream, two tablespoons of our homemade plain yogurt and let the mixture sit for 24 hours at room temperature and, voilà, we had crème fraîche.

The leeks in this dish seem to suggest springtime. Endless variations are possible. The lobster base in the sauce lends itself to pairing the salmon fillet with a lobster tail or claw, shrimp or even scallops; freshly picked, lightly sautéed fiddlehead ferns would make a nice addition, as would fresh mushrooms, a sprig of fennel, and so on. Because farmed salmon is environmentally harmful (regardless of what those who profit from that industry might say), if wild salmon is not available we suggest Arctic char (farmed or wild), trout or halibut. Remember, if the salmon in the market does not specifically say “wild” or “wild-caught,” it is farmed, and we urge that it be avoided.

Silver Salmon For Lovers

Ingredients

  • 2 portions pasta of your choice
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 leek, cleaned and chopped moderately coarse
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup broth made from Better than Bouillon lobster bouillon or similar lobster base
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 cup crème fraîche
  • 1 tsp dried tarragon, crushed
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 pinches cayenne pepper
  • 3/4 lb salmon fillet, cut into 2 pieces

Directions

  1. Cook pasta according to directions. While pasta is cooking prepare sauce and salmon.
  2. Melt butter in large pan over medium heat. Add olive oil.
  3. Sauté chopped leek until softened, about 6 minutes.
  4. Season with salt.
  5. Pour lobster stock and lemon juice on leeks. Bring to a boil while stirring in order to deglaze pan. Let sauce reduce until it is nearly all evaporated.
  6. Stir in crème fraîche, tarragon, mustard and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Reduce heat to low and bring sauce to a simmer.
  7. Add salmon fillets to pan.
  8. Cover pan and allow salmon to cook in sauce for approximately 5 – 8 minutes. White-colored fat on top of salmon indicates it’s cooked.
  9. Divide pasta on 2 plates. Spoon sauce onto pasta. Place salmon atop sauce. Garnish fillets with a pinch of cayenne.
  10. Light a couple of taper candles, pour two glasses of buttery chardonnay and enjoy the meal with someone special.

Homemade Beautiful Beet Pasta with Prociutto-Wrapped Scallops

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Adding puréed roasted red beets to dough is an easy way to bring color to pasta such as this fettuccine topped with lightly broiled prosciutto-wrapped scallops.

Roasted beets have been among our favorite vegetables, perhaps as much for their earthy flavor as for their intense color. Beets naturally underscore the connection between the visual and the gustatory pleasures of dining. In addition to their nutritional qualities (in addition to being packed with nutrients, studies have linked beets to lower blood pressure and increased endurance among distance runners), beet juice has long been used as a natural dye. That’s where they feature in in this recipe.

To make four servings of pasta such as the fettuccine pictured above, only one third cup of  puréed beets is needed. The purée is made by simply wrapping an oil covered beet in foil and cooking until soft in a 350 degree F oven. After cooling the roasted beet slightly, purée in a blender  or food processor. Scallops, a fillet of white fish such as rockfish, walleye, porgy or snapper prepared a la meunière, sautéed shrimps or clams would all work nicely with this pasta. Add grated parmesan cheese, pine nuts or a few strips of nori cut thin and serve to smiles of surprise and anticipation.

Beet Pasta Dough

Ingredients

  • 2 cups semolina flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup roasted beet purée
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • water as needed

Directions

  1. Whisk together eggs and beet purée.
  2. Place semolina flour in a large bowl.
  3. Make a well in the middle of the semolina flour.
  4. Pour egg mixture and olive oil in well.
  5. Use a fork and scramble egg mixture into flour.
  6. Continue scrambling until dough resembles large curds. Add small amounts of water if needed.
  7. When all the dough looks like large curds, knead dough several times in order to form a dough ball.
  8. Cover dough tightly with plastic wrap and let rest for 20 minutes.
  9. Follow pasta machine manufacturer’s directions to form noodle shape of choice.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Sea Scallops (for two servings)

Ingredients

  • 4 large sea scallops
  • 4 strips prosciutto
  • 4 toothpicks
  • salt and Italian-style herbs to taste
  • light olive oil

Directions

  1. Position broiling tray just under broiler, brush with olive oil and preheat to high.
  2. Wrap scallops in prosciutto and secure prosciutto in place with a toothpick.
  3. Very lightly season scallops with salt and herbs such as fennel, marjoram, paprika or a blend such as Herbes de Provence.
  4. Broil for about 1 minute. Do not overcook.

Pumpkin Risotto with Spicy Scallops

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Creamy risotto flavored with seasonal roasted pumpkin and topped with spicy scallops warm up an icy Arctic evening.

With our shared goal of making risotto this year, Arborio rice went on the annual shopping list, and recently when a tiny, 1.5 pound pumpkin arrived in our Full Circle Farms box, we decided to make it a featured ingredient in our first attempt at homemade risotto. The idea to pair spicy scallops with the risotto stemmed from the visual impact we thought they’d have: white scallops dusted with ground peppers, nutmeg and cinnamon atop a mellow-orange base. The visual was complimented by the blend of textures and flavors of this dish. Compared with more usual methods for preparing rice, the risotto was a bit labor intensive. But the results left us anticipating making this dish again soon, perhaps next time with Alaska sweet shrimp.

Pumpkin Risotto with Spicy Scallops
Serves 4

Ingredients: (We use our own blend of spices, but any good Thai-style blend such as Penzeys Spices Bangkok Blend works well.)

  • 1¼ cups pumpkin purée
  • 2 tbsp heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp spice blend, such as Penzeys Bangkok Blend
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
  • 5 cups chicken broth (We use Better than Bouillon.)
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 cups Arborio rice
  • 2 tbsp goat cheese, softened
  • ¼ cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • seared scallops (see below)
  • candied bacon (see below)

Directions

  1. Stir together pumpkin purée and cream in a small pot and bring to a simmer. If it seems too thick, stir in a few tbsp of chicken broth.
  2. Simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove mixture from heat. Season with spice blend, salt and pepper.
  3. Add ¼ cup of butter to the pumpkin mixture, 1 tbsp at a time. Stir until smooth.
  4. Pour the pumpkin mixture into a bowl and set aside.
  5. Pour the chicken broth into a medium pot and warm over low heat.
  6. Place a large pan such as a sautoir (a sauté pan with high, straight sides) or a pot over medium heat and melt the remaining 2 tbsp butter and olive oil.
  7. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for about 3 minutes.
  8. Add the rice and sauté for 3 to 5 minute or until each grain of rice is coated in oil and there is a white dot in the center of each grain.
  9. Begin adding the warm broth to the rice, one ladleful at a time, stirring frequently.
  10. Each time the liquid evaporates, add another ladle of broth and continue to stir.
  11. Continue to add liquid and stir until the rice is al dente, 20-25 minutes.
  12. Stir in the pumpkin mixture until completely combined.
  13. Stir in the goat cheese and parmesan until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
  14. Place 3 seared scallops atop a portion of risotto.
  15. Finish dish with candied bacon just prior to serving.

Spicy Scallops

Ingredients

  • 12 large scallops, cleaned
  • 1 tbsp spicy seasoning mix, for example Penzeys Bangkok blend (Optional: add sesame seeds to the spice blend)
  • salt to taste

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Lightly roll each scallop in spice mix and sprinkle with salt
  3. Using tongs or chopsticks to maneuver scallops, quickly sear each one on each side – a few seconds on each side. Do not overcook.
  4. Serve immediately.

Candied Bacon

Ingredients

  • 4 strips of thick cut bacon, chopped into micro pieces
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar

Directions

  1. Heat skillet over medium high heat
  2. Add the bacon to the pan and cook until the fat has rendered off and the bacon has just become crispy.
  3. Drain all but 2 tsp of grease from the pan and return to the stove, over medium heat.
  4. Sprinkle brown sugar over the bacon and stir vigorously until the sugar melts and coats the bacon.
  5. Spread the candied bacon onto a sheet pan lined with parchment and allow to cool and slightly harden.

Light and Airy Smoked Salmon, Alaska Shrimp and Leek Frittata

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Breakfast, lunch or dinner, this frittata this is sure to draw rave reviews.

This past summer in Seward, we had a series of some of the best meals we’ve had in Alaska – or anywhere for that matter – at an inconspicuous little restaurant called The Smoke Shack. In our view, this is hands down Seward’s best restaurant. The head chef smokes all his seafood and meat himself, and combines these with a variety of proprietary sauces to provide an authentic Alaskan dining experience, complete with the kind of consistently good service that is hit and miss at Seward’s two mega-large waterfront tourist restaurants.

One of the meals that most impressed us at The Smoke Shack was the smoked salmon frittata. Light, airy, flavorful and standing over an inch tall, we made a mental note to attempt to replicate this breakfast dish in our own kitchen. There are two keys to this dish: Start with top-notch smoked salmon, and separate the egg whites and whip them before folding in the other ingredients. We added shrimp and leeks and our own blend of seasonings. The beauty of frittatas is that with a little imagination, you can come up with your own specialty. Here’s ours.

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Splashed with Cholula sauce and ready for the oven. It helps to start the frittata by cooking it for a few minutes on the stove before placing it in the oven. A non-stick pan such as the excellent ones made by Swiss Diamond are a good choice, as they are oven safe.

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Piping hot out of the oven and ready to serve, every piece is generously packed with smoked salmon, sweet Alaska shrimp and leeks.fritatta ingredients n

One pan, eggs, whatever additional ingredients are on hand, and seasoned to taste a frittata will feed a lot of hungry sailors, campers or house guests. 

Smoked Salmon, Alaska Shrimp and Leek Frittata

Ingredients (For an 11 inch pan)

  • non-stick, 11″ oven-safe pan
  • light olive oil or other frying oil
  • eight eggs, yolks and whites separated
  • 4 oz smoked salmon (canned or vacuum packed).
  • 4 oz Alaska shrimp, peeled
  • 1 large or 2 small potatoes such as Yukon golds, diced
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Jarlsberg cheese (We chose this variety for its buttery, sweet flavor, but many other types of cheese would work well.)
  • 1 cup leeks, chopped course
  • fine sea salt, to taste
  • Cholula sauce
  • chili spice blend such as Penzeys’ Northwoods Fire, or any blend featuring a combination of black pepper, smoked chipotle, smoked paprika, cayenne or similar peppers and a pinch of oregano

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F with rack at center position.
  2. Heat 3 tbsp olive oil in 11-inch pan over medium heat. Add potatoes and cook till tender, adding salt to taste. Remove from heat, set aside potatoes in bowl, wipe pan clean if necessary.
  3. Add 1 tbsp olive to pan over medium low heat. Add leeks and a pinch of salt and cook for about 5 minutes, until tender. Set aside leeks in bowl. Wipe pan clean if necessary.
  4. Meanwhile, place egg whites in mixing bowl, add 1/2 tsp sea salt and beat or whisk till soft peaks are formed. Do not create stiff peaks.
  5. Add chili spice blend to egg yolks, mix together, and add mixture to whites beating at slow speed until just incorporated. Do not over mix.
  6. Place a scant tablespoon of olive oil in pan over low heat and add cooked potatoes. Pour in egg mixture. Top with smoked salmon, shrimp and leeks. Add cheese. Add a few splashes of Cholula. Allow to cook approximately 5 minutes to firm up bottom.
  7. Place pan in oven and cook for 20 minutes.

This frittata pairs nicely with Champagne.

We use Alaska shrimp because they are uniquely tasty and are sustainably harvested. We harvest our own wild Alaska salmon and encourage readers to look for the “wild” or “wild-caught” label when purchasing salmon, as this is the only sustainable choice for salmon.