Becky Luigart-Stayner; food styling by Judy Feagin
Alaska's 34,000-plus miles of coastline border some of the most pristine―and fish-rich―water in the world. To familiarize you with the state's bounty, we've answered these frequently asked questions.
What are the most popular types of seafood from Alaska?
Americans prefer pollock, Pacific salmon (including the five species: king, sockeye, pink, coho, and keta), crab, and halibut, says Laura Fleming of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. In addition, black cod, sole, rockfish, scallops, and shrimp are popular exports worldwide.
Why is Alaskan seafood a good ecological choice?
Alaska fishers sustainably harvest to maintain healthy stocks. Even before the state joined the union in 1959, it recognized the importance of seafood as a precious natural resource and included articles to its constitution that protect fisheries. Today, Alaska continues to be a worldwide model for sustainability.
Does Alaska have any fish or seafood farms?
Finfish remain wild-caught (by law), but sea vegetable (think seaweed), oyster, and geoduck farms exist in small numbers.
Are there any types of overfished seafood to avoid?
"No," Laura says. "Commercial harvests are tightly controlled, and strict limits are observed in order to ensure the long-term health of the resource. As a result, supply is subject to fluctuation from natural cycles and the need to prioritize the health of the stocks."
What about toxins, such as mercury?
Fish accumulate mercury as they age, so fish with relatively short life spans, such as salmon, do not have time to acquire many toxins. "The state of Alaska has a fish-monitoring project in place to show scientifically that its seafood is remarkably low in contaminants," Laura says. For consumption guidelines, visit alaskaseafood.org.
When is the best time to purchase Pacific salmon?
"The greatest supply for fresh will be during peak harvest―mid-May to September," Laura says. "But most is frozen for year-round availability."
Do I need to cook salmon differently than other fish?
From raw sashimi to jerky, salmon can be prepared more ways than most other fish. Juneau chef Stefani Marnon sears salmon first to get a golden crust, then turns it over and finishes it in a 450-degree oven. "Salmon tastes better when not completely cooked through," she says. "Medium-rare to medium is perfect. If you prefer fish cooked well, try king salmon. It has the highest fat content, so it's less likely to dry out."
Is there a best season for king or snow crab?
"Almost all crab is frozen shortly after capture, so seasonal availability isn't really an issue," Laura says. "Alaska crab comes from the far North Pacific. A small fraction is flown live or fresh to market as novelty or specialty items, but the vast majority is frozen in order to lock in flavor, color, and texture."
How do I remove the shell from king crab?
Most restaurants and many companies split the shell or notch it so consumers can open it without tools. Otherwise, crab crackers and sturdy kitchen shears will help with the task. King crab legs are spiny; hold them with a kitchen towel to ensure a tight, painless grip.
How can I tell if frozen seafood is good quality?
Check for intact packaging. "Avoid any with freezer burn, ice crystals, or a strong odor," says Anchorage chef Naomi Everett. She suggests freezing fish in airtight packaging for no longer than three to six months.
How do you thaw seafood?
Place it in the refrigerator overnight to yield the best texture and flavor. You can also place it in an airtight plastic bag under cold running water. Some fish can be cooked from frozen; visit cookitfrozen.com.
Recipes courtesy of Chef Naomi Everett of Anchorage, Alaska, and Chef Stefani Marnon of Juneau, Alaska.
Chefs Stefani Marnon and Naomi Everett competed in the Great American Seafood Cook-Off in New Orleans, Louisiana. As finalists, they modified their recipe for home cooks. For more about this year's contest, visit greatamericanseafoodcookoff.com.