Monday, October 3, 2011

Emily Maass on Local Food in ALASKA! Part 1

Life in Alaska is a little bit different from the rest of the country. First of all, we are pretty isolated up here and most towns are not accessible by road. Even though I live in Anchorage, which is a real city with most of the creature comforts of any other American city, the goods shipped here are sold at noticeably higher prices. Also, Alaska is cold. We don’t get as much snow as Buffalo, NY (my former stomping grounds) but the snow we get sticks around a lot longer and our average lows are much lower. It’s also dark 18-20 hours per day in the dead of winter and light 18-20 hours per day during the summer. Basically, this is a state of extremes.

What does this add up to? Well, you might think this means that Alaska is a food desert, but this couldn’t be less accurate. It’s just that what we consider to be “food” and “local” is a little different. More extreme, if you will. 

Our growing season is short but intense. Crops, flowers, and even the grass under our feet flourish under three months of warm, sunny skies. Likewise, Alaska farmers market seasons are short but intense. The markets are small, usually with 10 or so produce vendors, one or two baked goods vendors and a lot of vendors selling other local goods like fireweed honey, jams, and crafts. The produce vendors typically sell the items that grow best in this climate including root vegetables, squash, cabbage, etc. And do they ever grow! It’s not uncommon to buy a zucchini the size of my lower leg for $4. Which brings me to prices: they’re really good! Alaskan farmers market prices are competitive with the grocery stores, plus the products are local, sustainable and delicious!

While farmer’s from the Matanuska-Sustina Valley north of Anchorage harvest our produce and local businesses bake our breads, individual Alaskans are tasked with harvesting their own protein sources. That’s right, hunting and fishing (check back on Thursday for my post on hunting).

I didn’t get to do my own fishing this year, but it’s common for Alaskans to spend most summer and autumn days fishing the rivers for various salmon species. On weekends folks drive to the Kenai Penninsula to take a boat out in the sound to fish for halibut, which sometimes weigh as much as 300 pounds! A dedicated angler can easily catch enough fish in a season to stock a freezer with enough wild-caught fish to last the year.

The salmon in my freezer was a house-warming gift from friends at work. I started making this dish in the summer of 2010 when I was working for my grandparents’ organic farm in Washington State and selling their wares at Seattle area markets. My grandparents grow soft fruit (apricots, peaches, plums, etc) and make a variety of low sugar fruit and herb products from their crops. Because market workers tend to trade their wares, I found myself experimenting with the ingredients I was given on a regular basis. This recipe is the result of an experiment that went really well.

Apricot Salmon and Grilled Veggies
1/2 pound fresh or thawed salmon per person
Apricot syrup (preferably a low sugar syrup)
2 medium squash (yellow or zucchini) or any combination of squash, root vegetables or greens (beets, chard, or potatoes)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

  1. Spray a large sheet of aluminum foil with cooking spray or drizzle a smidge of olive oil and spread it around.
  2. Place the salmon skin down on the foil. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Drizzle a generous amount of apricot syrup on the salmon.
  4. Wrap the foil around the salmon, making sure it’s secure so that the syrup doesn’t escape through the corners. Place the salmon in the fridge to marinate for 45 minutes.
  5. Clean and coarsely chop your veggies. Salt and pepper to taste or add your favorite seasoning. Sauté in a pan with olive oil.
  6. When the salmon is ready, you can cook it on a barbeque grill or a stovetop.
  7. To grill: on high heat, place the entire foil package on the grill. Close the lid and check the fish after 10 minutes. It’s done with the center meat is flaky and a lighter pink.
  8. Using the stovetop: spray a frying pan or skillet with cooking oil. Place the salmon skin down and cook it covered on med/high heat until the center meat is flaky and a lighter pink.  This method may cause the fish to dry out a bit more, so keep an eye on it.
 That’s it! A very simple recipe that is delicious, healthy, sustainable and local.

Emily Maass is an attorney who lives Anchorage, Alaska, and clerks for the Superior Court in September.

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