Alaska

A Continental Cuisine Series

Alaska Journal

 

Phil goes forth in Alaska

After that we go to harbour side to film Keith's dad unloading his catch; he has a full load and they carefully lift and unload, then off again. Its a fantastic process, that has to be seen to be believed. The fish are in superb condition, and very carefully handled.
After such an early start and with a little jet lag we eat lunch in the staff canteen. It is actually very good, tasty and straight to the point with a heavy lean towards Mexican. The staff come from all over the world, some returning each year and have done for a long time. This is one slick operation.
By the time we polish off lunch and finish a few pieces to camera its late afternoon, so we set off to find some whales. Keith assures us he knows where they are this time of the day. He did not disappoint. We sped off and as we got closer to Hoonah. We could see the plumes of mist from the whales blow holes a long way off. He slowed down as its illegal to chase whales here.

The next 40 minutes I will never forget for the rest of my days. There were a couple of pods circling, diving, blowing all around our boat. Apparently they were feeding and fattening to get ready for the winter. Keith explained that they were bubble net feeding. That means they all circle a shoal of fish letting out bubbles. This confuses the fish and makes them feel trapped. They then swim close together and swim upwards, the whales then rise up underneath the shoal and push them right to the top opening their huge mouth's to capture as many as possible.

Its a truly spectacular sight and we watch them go through the same process many times until they get full, or just bored. At that point they just suddenly disappear and surface ¼ of a mile away, the seagulls following, then they were gone.

We head back to Hoonah, and on the way stop to look at seals sleeping on a buoy. Apparently they are there all the time, how the hell do they get on?
We say goodbye and thanks to Keith (who was off bear hunting) and meet up for a barbeque of King Salmon and a few glasses. What a first day.

We stay in a hotel on the island, I have a suite that overlooks a small lagoon, and I stay up late to look for a bear but to no avail.

Next day, we have a good breakfast of hash again and head off to see if we can find a bear or two with Jimmy and Minnie. The day is overcast and drizzly, but we are in good company, they are very funny. We stop to film the salmon waiting in the river. There are hundreds if not thousands just gently resting. I have never seen so many in all my life.

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Matt and Russel film the coach leaving. I have to say slightly worried as we are deep into Grizzly bear country. As we go further up the road we get to our destination. Waiting for us was our guide Owen James, complete with high power rifle over one shoulder. That did make me feel a little safer.

We pile out of the bus and are given very strict instructions on what to do and what not to do. This is for real. I'm heartened by the fact that our guide (name escapes me) has never had to use his rifle in the past 10 years.
We set off down a long track through trees and then a bog. Bear evidence is everywhere, and there has been a female and young cub have been through fairly recently, Minnie tells us.

You can see the flattened grass and shrubs. We finally get to the viewing platform overlooking the river and ......nothing, just that horrible drizzly mist that chills you through and through. The river is low and we scan the surrounding area, the rain gets slightly harder.

We wait and wait, probably for about 30 minutes. By this time I was starting to think it was not going to be our day. Then, there is a tap on my shoulder and our guide points into the trees 20 metres in front of me. He says quietly to me 'Do not move' I focus and lock onto a large grizzly bear, head poking through the bush looking straight at me. I freeze and do not move. I look away briefly, look back and its gone!
At this point I hear a splashing noise from the river, and glance over to see the river awash with salmon heading up river. It looks like the river has a bubbling wave slowly moving up the river. As they get closer I see the large dorsal fins poking out of the water.

The next thing the bear wanders out from the bushes below our viewing platform about 30 metres away, lolloping towards the river followed by two small cub's; wow! She suddenly runs into the river jumps on a salmon, lifts out of the water, rips off the head and skin in one easy movement and leaves it for one of the cubs. We watch her up and down the river and on and off the banks for a good 40 minutes.

They settle on the far bank, stuffing themselves full of fish. After a while they wade back across the river, onto the stones disappear back into the bushes from where they came out. Wow wow wow!
We wait for a couple of minutes, then walk back carefully, then to my right I see the bushes moving and the mum gives me one last look before going off for a sleep with her babes.

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I have to say I do feel a lot safer in the bus. We decide to head back to Hoonah for a fish and chip lunch in Keith's cafe.
After lunch the rain really sets in, and it becomes very misty, sods law as we had to film the cooking sequence, but first we film with Eric on his boat to chat about fishing and the sustainability issue.
I cook Cedar planked wild salmon with mustard, parsley and salt and pepper.

  • Pre heat the bar b q, soak the planks of wood in the sea for 30 minutes.
  • Next place the salmon on the wood and slice a 1cm deep slit right down the length of the fillet.
  • Place butter into the full length of the crevice.
  • Smear well with Dijon mustard, plenty of salt and pepper and cook by the indirect cooking method on the hot bar b (that means pile the hot coals one side of the grill, then place the planks the other side, then cover with the lid.
  • Wild salmon in any form takes skill and care. It is so lean that if you overcook the flesh it will be dry in a flash, so ALWAYS undercook.
  • After about 8 minutes, I lift off the lid, squeeze over some lemon juice, and sprinkle over plenty of chopped parsley and re cook for a couple of minutes.

We all taste straight off the plank, its delicious and just cooked. Jimmy & Minnie seem very pleased, phew, they eat salmon all the time. We head back to Juneau, in the gloom, in two small planes and back to the hotel for a quite supper and bed.

Next day we are again up early and off too Auke bay to catch a charter boat run by Grant and Tyson.
We are off to meet and chat with a guy called Bill Thomas and his son Cole from Haines. He's big noise in the sustainable fishing movement here; yep he's out fishing and has done for many years. On the jet boat, we fly past porpoises, darting and dipping. We finally meet Bill on his boat. I climb aboard and film a nice piece to camera with his son. He is engaging with a very good sense of humour.

He is gill net fishing, and we film him hauling in his catch. All the fish he catches are placed into a tender boat. That's a boat that comes out to all the smaller fishing boats and collects their catch and takes it off to Excursion Inlet cannery. This way the lads can continue fishing 24/7. We say our goodbyes and head off to see if we can see more whales as Grant has had a call to say there are plenty not far from us. So, all exited we head off into the mist.

 

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