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Salmon Fishing in Alaska + Salmon Recipes

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For the past two weeks I have been on a working vacation in Alaska. I was offered the opportunity to be the guest celebrity chef on Holland America. Anywhere in the world, mind you… and I chose Alaska! I’ve wanted to go to Alaska since the 3rd grade. My grandparents traveled there often when I was a child. Listening to their stories and watching slides on the old-fashioned projector, Alaska seemed to be a great wild land of mystery. My grandparents loved to fish and I do, as well. I think that’s one reason Alaska held such enchantment for them — the fishing.

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Before our cruise started we stopped for a few days at the beautiful Tutka Bay Lodge. The scenery was breathtaking, the hospitality was unrivaled, and the food was incredible. Tutka Bay Lodge sits at the entrance to a splendidly rugged fjord at the southern end of Kachemak Bay, near Homer, Alaska. My grandparents used to park their motor home in Homer to go salmon fishing. The Tutka Bay area is ripe with rugged coastlines, dramatic mountains, quiet rocky beaches, old growth Sitka spruce forests, and amazing tidal fluctuations that revealed fantastical sea life. It was beyond exquisite.  These photos below taken at low tide off of the sea anemone, urchin, and starfish are not retouched!

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The lodge set us up for a day of salmon fishing. It was everything I could have hoped for and more! The water glistened like mercury and the next minute it roiled ebony black in our wake. The snowy peaks of the Alaska Peninsula were on the horizon and we saw playful otters, a multitude of sea birds, majestic eagles, and breeching humpback whales.  I felt like I was in a National Geographic storyboard. I shot a little video about our adventure for Seafood Watch.

Check out this video I shot for the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Seafood Watch of our salmon fishing trip!

It was truly one of the best days of my entire life, an absolute dream come true. The video is just a snippet of our beautiful day on the Falcon with Captain Tony. We caught 14 large fish, enough to ship home 30 pounds of dressed filets. As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I am on the Blue Ribbon Advisory Board for Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. As a cook, I am wildly passionate about sustainable seafood. I am concerned for our oceans. I teach sustainable seafood in cooking classes all across the country, and I only buy, cook, and eat sustainable seafood. I “walk what I talk.” It really and truly hit home for me to see how important it is to seek out sustainable seafood while on this trip.

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Before we left on our incredible trip I was enthralled with a new cookbook. I have to share a bit of a secret. I don’t really read cookbooks. Of course, I flip, glance, and peruse. I use them for research, but even then, I normally suss out the bits that are relevant and study those pages. I can’t tell you how many folks tell me, “I read your cookbooks just like I read novels.” I am very thankful for such praise. So, it’s big doings for me to put this out in the world, but the honest truth is that I seldom read a cookbook cover to cover. A rare, recent exception? Yogurt Culture: A Global Look at How to Make, Bake, Sip, and Chill the World’s Creamiest, Healthiest Food by Cheryl Sternman Rule. I love her work. Her writing is delightful and her recipes “read” delicious. The photography is stunning, shot by the talented Ellen Silverman who also did the photography for Bon Appétit Y’all. It’s been a real joy to read Yogurt Culture from start to finish.

There were so many recipes I wanted to share, but I instantly knew that on the heels of our trip to Alaska that her Oven-Baked Tarragon-Scented Salmon was the one. And, here’s a link to another one of my favorite salmon recipes, what I call “NY Times Salmon“.

Thanks for reading and watching! Let me know what you think.

Bon Appétit Y’all! 


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Oven-Baked Tarragon-Scented Salmon
Serves 6 to 8

Fennel seeds and fresh tarragon quietly infuse a yogurt marinade in this delicate fish supper. After it has spent a few hours in the fridge, slide the salmon into the oven and stir together the golden breadcrumb topping. You’ll be rewarded with a meal completely out of proportion to the amount of effort expended.

1 tablespoon fennel seeds
½ teaspoon kosher salt
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
½ cup plain yogurt (not Greek), preferably whole-milk
1½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon
6 to 8 (5- to 6-ounce) wild salmon fillets, 1 inch thick, or 1 (2- to 2½-pound) salmon fillet, pin bones removed
1½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
¾ cup panko breadcrumbs

In a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle, grind the fennel seeds, salt, and pepper together until powdery. Transfer to a small bowl. Whisk in the yogurt, mustard, vinegar, and 1 teaspoon of the tarragon.

Line a baking sheet with parchment. Place the salmon on the parchment and spread the yogurt marinade thickly and evenly over the top. Refrigerate, covered, for 2 to 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375°F, with a rack in the center position. Bake the salmon until cooked through but still moist, about 15 minutes for individual fillets or 20 minutes for one large fillet.

While the fish bakes, or just after you pull it from the oven, heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the panko. Season generously with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until golden. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon tarragon.

Sprinkle the panko over the salmon and serve.

Excerpted from Yogurt Culture, © 2015 by Cheryl Sternman Rule. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved. Photography is © 2015 by Ellen Silverman.


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Virginia Willis

Georgia-born French-trained Chef Virginia Willis’ biography includes making chocolate chip cookies with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, foraging for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvesting capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and hunting for truffles in France. She is talent and chef-instructor for the digital streaming platform Food Network Kitchen. Her segments feature authentic and innovative Southern cooking. She was the celebrity chef at the Mansion at Churchill Downs for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. Virginia has spoken at SXSW, cooked for the James Beard Foundation, and beguiled celebrities such as Bill Clinton, Morgan Freeman, and Jane Fonda with her cooking — but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. Recently, her work has been inspired by her weight loss success story, Virginia has lost 65# and kept it off for over 2 1/2 years! “If a French-trained, Southern chef can do it, you can, too.” She is the author of Fresh Start; Secrets of the Southern Table; Lighten Up, Y’all; Bon Appétit, Y’all; Basic to Brilliant, Y’all; Okra; and Grits. Lighten Up, Y’all won a James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence in the Focus on Health Category. Lighten Up, Y’all as well as her first cookbook, Bon Appétit, Y’all, were finalists in the Best American Cookbook for the International Association of Cookbook Awards and were also named by the Georgia Center of the Book as “Books Georgians Should Read.” She is the former TV kitchen director for Martha Stewart Living, Bobby Flay, and Nathalie Dupree; has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants; and traveled the world producing food stories – from making cheese in California to escargot farming in France. She has appeared on Food Network’s Chopped, CBS This Morning, Fox Family and Friends, Martha Stewart Living, and as a judge on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. She’s been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, People Magazine, Eater, and Food52 and has contributed to Eating Well, GRLSQUASH, Culture, Garden & Gun, and Bon Appétit, and more. The Chicago Tribune praised her as one of “Seven Food Writers You Need to Know.” Her legion of fans loves her down-to-earth attitude, approachable spirit, and traveling exploits. Her culinary consulting company, Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc specializes in content creation, recipe development, culinary editorial and production services, cookbook writing, media training, spokesperson and brand representation, and public speaking. Virginia is on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Atlanta Community Food Bank Advisory Board, as well as the Community Farmers Market Advisory Board. She is a food and hunger advocate for No Kid Hungry and a premier member of the No Kid Hungry Atlanta Society. She a member of The James Beard Foundation, Chef’s Collaborative, Georgia Organics, and Southern Foodways Alliance.

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