Oh hey, remember that trip I took to Cordova, Alaska I took in early September? To hang with Copper River Salmon? I have more infos and photos to share with you! If this is the first you’ve heard of the trip, I encourage you to pause and read Part One of my trip recap, as it’s full of juicy information you won’t want to miss. While it’s been a few months since the trip, the visuals, tastes, memories are still so fresh in my mind. What do you think – should we go back together? I’m in support of that idea!
The goal of my first recap post was to pass along the information I learned about sustainable fishing in Cordova and to encourage you to know your fisherman (i.e. ask questions or do research before selecting your salmon). I feel the message of Part One is super important, which is why I chose to break the recap into two parts. To finish up the rest of the story, I wanted to tell you about our activities during the trip, and of course, show you more pretty pictures.
But before I dive into our eats and activities, I wanted to share one of my most jaw-dropping takeaways from the trip…
During a late-night bar conversation with my fellow tour mates, John informed us 80% of seafood consumed in the U.S. is consumed at restaurants. When I heard this statistic, I was completely shocked because I make salmon more than any other animal protein, and I had no clue the percentage would be so high. As John explained, the reason this percentage is so high is people tend to shy away from making seafood at home because they are afraid of preparing it incorrectly. If you can relate, I can tell you with the utmost confidence that we can surmount that fear. Truly, this is where knowing your fisherman comes into play. When you have the confidence that your seafood has been sourced from a reliable supplier, you can feel at ease in knowing that a.) the fish will taste great, and b.) it will benefit your body in profound ways rather than causing it any harm.
While I’m not in the business of telling people what they should and should not cook, part of what I consider to be my job is squashing any unsubstantiated fears when it comes to playing around in the kitchen. A quality piece of fish is incredibly easy to prepare in a manner that’s mouth-wateringly delicious as well as nutrient-dense and healthful. For inspiration and recipes on how to prepare salmon, stay tuned at the end of this post, where you will find links to fool-proof recipes that will really whet your whistle.
And now for the details! For those of you who are looking to visit Alaska, Cordova is a phenomenal choice. The scenery alone is worth the trip, and then when you start talking about the ocean views, the fishing, the people, and the wildlife? Forgettaboutit, it’s an all-out dreamscape.
Where We Stayed
We stayed in The Reluctant Fisherman, a quaint waterfront hotel with a fun bar and restaurant. Our rooms looked out onto the harbor, so each morning I listened to the fishermen starting up their boats and leaving the harbor to go out for the day. That simple detail of seeing and hearing the local fishermen in action gave so much to the mystique of the trip.
What We Ate
The food situation during the trip was otherworldly. We did a combination of self-serve breakfasts, ate at local restaurants, went to a fund raiser dinner prepared by Chef Derek Baril, were invited into the home of a fishing family wherein fishermen graced us with a beautiful meal, and Laura and I were even given the opportunity to cook for a lovely group of locals. The common theme throughout our meals was, of course, locally harvested salmon, and also locally foraged mushrooms and berries.
The restaurants we ate at:
- The Reluctant Fisherman – we ate there for dinner the first night and breakfast the last morning. I had seafood fajitas for dinner and a reindeer omelet for breakfast, both of which were very tasty!
- Powder House Bar and Grill – Set on a small lake with mountains in the background, the location of this gem is absolutely beautiful. The owners prepared us a special lunch of grilled Coho salmon with mango salsa, rice, and a salad. I was blown away by how flavorful and fresh the salmon was – a true delight and special treat!
- Baja Taco – A super cool establishment, where you order out of an old bus where the food is prepared, and take it into a separate small rustic house to enjoy your food and drink. Boasted the best salmon tacos in all of Alaska (and I could even argue the best tacos nation-wide, given how fresh they were!). We ate tacos at Baja a couple of times, and also enjoyed breakfast bowls there one morning. Not to mention, coffee on multiple occasions. 🙂
The Powder House:
Fish Families Potluck
The second evening we were in Cordova, we were invited into the the lovely home of Bill & Renee Lindow (a husband and wife team of fishermen), where we spent the evening exchanging stories with local fishermen and their wives. Everyone contributed a special dish to the evening. The main course was miso salmon, prepared by a husband and wife fishing team, Nelly & Michael Hand, who were also the folks who caught the fish, and there were side dishes, desserts, and appetizers and did I mention salmon? So much incredible, incredible salmon. Have a looksy at what we ate that evening.
Locally-harvested miso Coho salmon:
^Do you see that fat? Flavor and Omegas GALORE, my friends!
Smoked salmon cheese ball:
Delicious coho salmon sashimi:
Fruit salad with locally foraged berries:
Mushroom quinoa with locally foraged mushrooms:
Cheesecake and pie with – you guessed it – locally foraged berries.
Being in this intimate setting, hearing stories about the hard-learned lessons you experience while on a fishing boat, and getting a feel for what fishing life is like.
Breakfast on a Boat
One of the mornings in Cordova, we packed up a bagels and lox picnic breakfast and took it with us on a boat ride with John Bocci. It was a fun experience chit chatting with him, seeing Cordova and the surrounding area from the ocean, and also catching a glimpse of some sea life.
Wild Harvest Feast
We were fortunate enough to be in Cordova during their fungus festival and attended the Wild Harvest Feast, a fund raiser for Copper River Watershed Project. Chef Derek Baril, who is the executive chef at Wild Standard in Boulder, CO, prepared the feast. On his menu: pistachio crusted salmon, a beautiful salad with locally foraged berries and homemade granola, mushroom barley risotto, and roasted veggies. The meal was the perfect balance of flavor, and texture, plus it was the perfect amount of filling.
Oh, and during the Wild Harvest Feast, all of the guests played a game, which involved answering salmon and fungus trivia, as well as running across the room and putting on waders with boots. I was selected from my table to do the wader wearing…surprisingly comfortable, I really must say!
Dinner with Fish Wives and Scientists
The last evening we were in Cordova, Laura and I prepared a salmon dinner for our tour hosts and some of the local fishermen, their wives, and a few local scientists. The salmon fillets we were provided came from a gorgeous local Coho harvested only a couple of days prior by the husband of one of our tour hosts. All we did for the salmon was season it with salt and some dried herbs and roast it in the oven under the broiler for about 15 minutes. We made a sauce/salmon topping using mushrooms we had foraged (more on that later), along with roasted veggies, and mushroom barley risotto made with locally foraged mushrooms.
Both Laura and I were a bit too tuckered out to photograph the food we made ourselves, but I did capture this amazing blueberry cured salmon prepared by one of the local fishermen’s wives:
What We Did
Aside from learning so much about sustainable fishing in Alaska, which I discussed in my first recap post, we covered quite a bit of ground and had an absolute blast!
Have I told you all I’m a big fan of small planes? I am! So I was psyched when I learned we would be touring around in a float plane and seeing the wild Alaskan landscape. We checked out the forest, waterways, glaciers, icebergs, lakes, mountains, and ocean. We even saw a bear on the shore of a river. I was blown away by the beauty of the landscape – it’s difficult to describe in words, so I’ll show you in pictures.
Foraging for Mushrooms
Not only are Cordovans passionate about sustainable fishing and hunting, but they’re also foragers. Alaskan forests have all sorts of mushrooms and berries, both edible and poisonous. Locals have a great deal of experience in identifying which mushrooms and berries can be safely eaten. During the trip, we went foraging for mushrooms in the most incredible forest I’ve seen. The forest was thickly wooded, super mossy, moist and lush. To me, it was a fairy tale forest, and rummaging through it for edible mushrooms was an unparalleled experience. Curly, a seasoned mushroom foraging veteran lead us through the forest, assisting us on our mushroom collection, pointing out mushrooms we should gather and which were inedible or harmful.
Poisonous mushrooms are only harmful if they’re ingested, so biting into them won’t cause problems unless swallowed. We were told by an expert that if you can’t tell by sight whether or not a mushroom is edible, you can bite into it, and if it has a bitter flavor, spit it out, as it is not safe to eat. If the mushroom tastes favorable, it is edible.
We found a great deal of yellow footed chanterelles and hedgehog mushrooms during our foraging adventure. Laura and I used these mushrooms in the meal that we prepared (mentioned above) for our media group and a few local fishing families and scientists. We sautéed the mushrooms in butter, garlic, and a splash of wine and used them as a sauce/topping for the local Coho salmon we prepared. I was amazed at how beautifully the mushrooms turned out and how nicely they paired with the salmon.
Fishing on the Eyak
This is the story about how I fished for 7 hours and caught absolutely nothing. I joke, but seriously. We spent an amazing day fishing for salmon on the Eyak River, complete with waders and all. Our guide was super helpful in taking us to various parts of the river where he was confident the fish would be, and the three other folks in my group were successful in catching fish. I had something on the line two separate occasions, and the buggers hopped off while I was reeling them in. Which is my way of saying it was by no fault of my own that I didn’t catch a single fish. Winky face.
Regardless of catching zilch, I had the best time being on the river and can definitely see the draw to sport fishing. It’s therapeutic to say the least.
Laura caught three beautiful fish…what a natural talent!
To summarize: Alaska? Amazing. I hope to make it back one day, see more sights, and perhaps even redeem myself on the river. Huge thanks again to Copper River Salmon for the unforgettable adventure. I am forever appreciative!
As promised, here are some..