When it comes to Alaska dining, fresh fish is a best bet and the state’s delicious duo of salmon and halibut always rank among the most memorable menu items.
These two fantastic fish are kitchen superstars, though complete opposites in appearance (salmon’s red and orange meat, halibut’s white meat) and flavor (salmon often rich and fatty, halibut often light and flaky). Fish fans and Alaskans will argue (until well after the Midnight Sun sets) about which preparation and presentation brings out their respective best: from simple to sublime, dressed up to deep fried, on the grill or in the oven, brushed in sauce or splashed with lemon. But the thing is, everyone is right!
Here are some of the most popular Alaska fish dishes glorifying Alaska’s legendary salmon and halibut.
Cooking Alaska Salmon
First thing’s first regarding Alaska’s most iconic and ubiquitous fish: salmon. All five species of Pacific Salmon that travel Alaska waters have different meat coloring, fat levels and flavors. While each are appetizing for their own unique reasons, the two most often found in restaurants around Alaska and the world are Red (Sockeye) and King (Chinook). Reds are in high demand in fine dining circles and special occasions thanks to their deep-red coloring and super-rich meat. Meanwhile, Kings are more affordable and available, and equally delightful with its orange hue and surprisingly subtle taste.
Most often, beautiful salmon filets are grilled, broiled and baked to set a foundation for countless culinary creations. Whether plated, slid between buns or tucked into a tortilla, the fish can then be paired with light, sweet and decadent sauces, tangy and zesty marinades, and fruity and spicy salsas. Elevate your order by getting your fish crusted in macadamia nuts, blanketed in sharp cheese, or stuffed with King Crab – truly an entrée fit for royalty. A real gem is finding seared halibut cheeks spooned over with butter. And really, a few shakes of salt and pepper and a squeeze of citrus are just as effective in letting the fish shine.
Cooking Alaskan Halibut
Halibut steaks are also a great option for grilling, broiling and baking. Deep fried halibut is an Alaska dining favorite, practically a must-try dish for visitors, and arguably the finest finger food you can find. Some like their batter application thick and crunchy, while others prefer a gentle dusting of crust over the meaty chunks. Savvy restaurants and chefs mix Alaska-made beers into their batters, adding a hint of amber or IPA to each bite. When the fish arrives, it’s typically partnered with tartar sauce, cocktail sauce and a few lemon wedges on the side. Be sure to use those lemon wedges, giving a generous squeeze of bright citrus juice over the fish, a touch of zing that will really bring out the flavors.
A classic Alaska treat, smoked salmon takes snacking to its most luscious level. Depending on how it’s prepared, the oily smoked salmon texture can be semi-tough like jerky, chewy and even soft, while packing an array of flavors ranging from salty to sweet to savory to spicy. Smoked salmon can be found in many grocery stores and even listed as an add-on for many salads. Look for it in breakfast dishes and quesadillas. Some inventive pizzerias even sprinkle smoked salmon flakes on their pies! Alaskans take great pride in their homemade smoked salmon, often keeping their recipes and smoking techniques top secret.
In Alaska, chowder isn’t just the soup du jour of Fridays. In fact, salmon chowder, halibut chowder and Alaska seafood chowder can be found on many menus most days, and in a surprising variety of arrangements: most often thick and creamy, sometimes cheesy, occasionally brothy, and always enticing and interesting.
Salmon dip is another sensational side. Order a bowl of this whipped up, cream cheesy, sour creamy and reliably zesty (capers! dill! horseradish!) salmon combo and you’ll likely, and enthusiastically, run out of crackers, chips, bread chunks and all other dipping devices.
Sashimi & Ceviche
To explore the true essence of salmon taste, texture and color, take a seat at an Alaska sushi spot and order a pair (or a half dozen!) of King Salmon sashimi pieces. Ignore or go sparingly on the soy sauce, take just a tender swipe at the wasabi, add a touch of lemon and let this fresh flavor sing. After your first piece, you might not want to eat salmon any other way ever again! And if you’re very lucky, your sushi chef will have some White King Salmon on hand – you’ll wonder how salmon could ever be this heavenly.
If you want to really wow your taste buds, order a dish of halibut ceviche. With the small white fish pieces swimming in citrus juices and surrounded by colorful complements like cilantro, sweet bell peppers, tomatoes and jalapenos, this is a fabulous feast for the eyes and one your mouth won’t forget.
Of course, this wish list of Alaska culinary excitement featuring the best of Alaska catches is far from comprehensive. In fact, with salmon and halibut being such staples in Alaska households and restaurants, there are countless ways these seafood dishes can be prepped and served. And this makes for an exciting, if not endless, Alaska dining adventure. Fish on!