Thursday, June 22, 2006

Those Generous Alaskans

We settled in pretty quickly. We've moved so often we're really good at most things, but we never lost the tendency to rush the house-choosing process. At least this time there was an excuse - the long drive coming after an unsettled four months in Texas had made the 'temporary' in TLF a real problem. The place was reasonably large, and the daily maid service wasn't exactly a trial, but we wanted a home, a place to put our own things and be private again.

So we found a house - like many Alaskan houses it was a 1970's era split level - and, gulp, gasp, a school for the oldest two kids. Actually the school was directly across the street, but I still insisted on walking them all the way there for the first several months. However, I did not then stand in the front of the school and wave madly, shouting 'bye baby!! Have a wonderful day!! I'll be thinking of you all day long, and I'll have a BIG kiss waiting when I pick you up!!' Well, not more than once or twice.

It didn't take a week though to find out something amazing about Alaskans, even people who hadn't been Alaskans more than a year or two. Alaskans are unbelievably generous. Within a day or two Kirk was bringing home packages that people at work were not just giving him, but pressing on him with urgency, insisting that no, he MUST take them home! It was November, but we were eating wild-caught salmon almost every night, varied with halibut, or sometimes caribou. These weren't little dainty slivers of fish in polythene packages either - these were five pound hunks of meat double wrapped in industrial grade foil.

If you come from a land-locked area fish, even frozen fish, so long as it hasn't travelled hundreds of miles, is a revelation. This was the real deal - no injections of psychodelic pink, no flavor boosting brine. We couldn't get enough. Teryaki salmon, salmon with dill and lemon, salmon with a horserashish sauce... mmmm.... and halibut in butter sauces, cream sauces, tomato sauces.... all thanks to the amazing generosity that seemed to inhabit the Northern air.

Eventually we realized what was really going on. As soon as someone new moves in a sort of 'empty freezer' radar goes off in all surrounding houses. All through the summer Alaskans busily reel in salmon and halibut, and hunt for moose and caribou. That adds up to an enormous amount of meat. The salmon at least is fairly versatile - what isn't eaten fresh is smoked (with a great deal of controversy over method) or pickled (sorry, never tried doing it myself, but had some that was fantastic. Recipe is for reference) until the remainder is finally frozen out of desperation. But halibut, which is often caught at over 150 pounds, is much more delicate and has to be eaten just about as-is, fresh or frozen. Shamefaced halibut offloaders began handing us recipes as well to sort of soften the blow. No need. We gorged ourselves.

Of course, by the next summer we were catching our own salmon and scanning the naive faces of newcomers for the best mark, and they in return were marveling at the giving nature of even the most recently come Alaskans.

Here's what to do with frozen halibut, quick and delicious:

1 large chunk of freezer-clearance halibut, thawed and cubed
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup salt

Fill a large saucepan 2/3 with water, add sugar and salt and bring to a boil. Chuck in the halibut (if you have too much work in batches) and rescue it when it floats to the top.

Serve with simple sauce of melted butter and lemon.


Anonymous said...

Hmm. Curious. Why the sugar? Never heard of that before.

For Kirk said...

Sugar and salt together give the halibut a sweet, almost lobster taste. It's honestly fantastic. We had a friend come up to visit and there were two dishes he refused to leave without the recipe for - the halibut, and a bacon pasta. This is so simple and good, and it even saves end-of-season freezer fish which is saying something!

Anonymous said...

mmmm! end of season freezer-fish. i remember it sooo well. falls right in with homer's unguarded breakfasts. you got the most creative in your panic state.

For Kirk said...

When someone handed over a hunk of halibut and a recipe that started with chunky peanut butter I knew we were about to hit bottom! Never had the guts to try it, although several genuine sourdough types swore by it. I'll stick with my simple solution, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Peanut butter halibut?

Love fish. Love peanut butter. Love peanut butter and bacon. But peanut butter and halibut?

I don't think I'm brave enough to go there.