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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Bonnie Aeschliman: Smoked salmon just like Alaska’s

By Bonnie Aeschliman

An Alaskan cruise had been on my mind for several months. A few weeks ago, I took the plunge and booked the cruise for the first week of July. It was strange packing sweaters, jackets and cold-weather gear while we were sweltering in Kansas with triple-digit temperatures. I wondered if I really would need that insulated vest, those corduroy pants and numerous sweaters, and the recommended rain jacket.

A few short days later in Alaska, I was layering on sweater, vest, jacket, scarf and gloves while wondering if I would be warm enough in the frigid air.

On Independence Day, I was in Juneau. The seaport town was celebrating the holiday in grand fashion with a colorful parade. I had booked an excursion to pan for gold and to attend a salmon bake on the Copper River. Being outdoors in the brisk Alaskan air and panning for gold in the mountain stream was exhilarating. Although I did not find any gold nuggets, I did end up with a few gold flakes, which our guide carefully transferred to a tiny vial, which she filled with water. I asked why she was adding water and she replied that it makes the flecks appear larger. That works for me. My gold flecks are now magnified.

After the gold panning, I was off to the salmon bake. As we approached, the aroma of fresh salmon grilling over an open flame fired by local alder wood whetted my appetite. Alder wood, the favored wood for grilling fish in the Northwest, is the predominant native deciduous tree; most of the others are evergreen.

The salmon event was a larger-than-life picnic: Picnic tables dotted the landscape surrounding the huge barbecue pit where the salmon was sizzling. The fresh grilled salmon was fabulous and the setting was a perfect way to enjoy it.

Alaskan salmon is the best — and I tasted four different varieties: king, sockeye and silver, and then an albino salmon that we were told was such a delicacy that it seldom left Alaska. It may have been a delicacy, but I prefer my salmon to be red. Had I been blindfolded, I probably could not have told the difference in taste. But my brain associates the color red with salmon.

The grilled fish was served with a crunchy vegetable slaw, hot au gratin potatoes and a relish tray. Urns of coffee, hot cider, hot chocolate and tea were set up to take the chill off the event. A large contraption that looked like an oversized birdhouse housed a layer cake for dessert. I wondered if that was to keep the bears at bay. Perhaps it was only to add to the ambience of the event.

The setting was picture-perfect: We were on the banks of a lovely meandering river surrounded by trees, breathing in the crisp Alaskan air, with mountains rising in the background. It would be a toss-up deciding which was better — the food or the spectacular scenery. After we ate, we took a walk through the area and the path led us to an abandoned gold mine with some weather-aged equipment nearby. What an experience.

If you have the opportunity to go to Alaska, I say go. But meanwhile, I will share a recipe with you reminiscent of my recent trip.

Bonnie Aeschliman is a certified culinary professional who owns Cooking at Bonnie’s Place in Wichita. For more information, call 316-425-5224 or visit cookingatbonnies.com. To submit a question to Bonnie, e-mail her at bonnie@cookingatbonnies.com.

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