Set the Net

Recipes and snapshots of life in Bristol Bay, AK

img_6646I can hardly believe September is halfway through and that the first frosts are already chilling our nights. I, like many Alaskan berry pickers, like to wait until after the first freeze to harvest Lingonberries known locally as Lowbush Cranberries. Some believe they are sweeter for eating if picked after that frost, but honestly I end up waiting because I try to eek out as many blueberries as I can first, knowing the cranberries can wait.

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With the cold weather settling in,  I am back in bread baking swing and having a bowl of fresh cranberries in the fridge I thought we needed some fall spice in the air. This crusty, berry-dotted loaf is made from a no-knead French bread dough, with a little cinnamon, nutmeg, & cardamom sugar swirled in. It’s perfect for having with tea, toasted, French toasted, or even made into a breakfast bread pudding. Though we can hardly ever wait for it to fully cool, Bea is often seen eagerly tearing off chunks piping hot from the oven. I did not include nuts in this recipe though we often add chopped pecans for a little crunch.

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This sandwich is as delicious as it is pretty, filled with Bristol Bay catches, bold, simple flavors, and fresh market goodies. Canned salmon and Deckhand Seafoods Togiak Smoked Herring are the flavor base on a crusty baguette.


Traditionally this nicçoise salad sandwich features anchovies and tuna but in Bristol Bay where jarred salmon lines my pantry shelves and smoked herring is a treat to be savoured, this version tastes like French cuisine come home. The key to making it something special is using good quality ingredients especially the bread, mustard, and fish. 


Salmon is what Bristol Bay is known for when it comes to commercial catch but beyond that we have a large herring fishery, a small boat CDQ longline halibut fleet, as well as many offshore large boat fleets targeting cod and pollock. Herring, namely Togiak herring, come inshore to spawn each spring and while that fishery is prosecuted right outside our doorstep, accessing it is nearly impossible for the average resident of Bristol Bay. This fishery is targeting the herring for their roe which is bound for Japanese markets with the meat only as an after thought. Not by Deckhand Seafoods though, whose small batch smoking and canning of this underrated fish is hoping to put Togiak herring on the map or at least on your plate. Warner Lew, who by day is our commercial salmon fishery fleet manager, is in his off time Deckhand Seafoods owner and operator. This summer he gave me a few cans of his herring while in town and I have been scheming since then regarding the best way to employ them… these sandwiches could not have been better served! 
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As I write this, it’s just after supper, it turned out so yummy and simply I needed to sit down and tell you about it.

Ramen, particularly this ramen, is somewhat of a staple around our house. It is a bowl of possibilities that is full of that umami flavor and satisfying warmth. Pack it full of canned salmon (or leftover fish that needs a purpose), fresh veggies, noodles, and you have yourself a dinner fit for guests or a ravenous family in less than 30 minutes! 

Wild Alaska Canned Salmon Miso Ramen 

serves 4, less than 30 minutes

You’ll need: 

  • 1 pint jar or can of wild Alaska salmon, drained
  • 1/4 cup red miso paste
  • 1/8 cup white miso paste 
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 8 cups water 
  • 6 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 heaping Tablespoon of Doenjang (fermented soybean paste) 
  • 10 dried shiitake mushrooms, roughly chopped or broken up
  • 12 ounces ramen noodles, cooked and drained 
  • Wasabi powder to taste (optional) 
  • 4 eggs, soft boiled (directions to follow)
  • Fresh baby spinach 
  • Snow peas, chopped in pod
  • Green onions, diced 
  • Furikake 

To make:

In a large heavy bottomed pot combine the water, miso pastes, soy sauce, Doenjang paste, garlic, & mushrooms. Bring to a boil, lower heat and allow to simmer while you prepare the eggs, noodles, and bowls for serving. 

To make the eggs: in a small saucepan bring enough water to boil that will cover the eggs. Once boiling carefully place eggs into pot and boil for 6 minutes. I strongly recommend timing this to achieve the correct “done-ness”. (is that a word… who cares, basically this will get you perfectly soft boiled yolks a little creamy runny but not at all raw, and fully done whites… Perfection.) When eggs have cooked for 6 minutes remove with a spoon to ice cold water and toss your ramen noodles into the boiling water. Peel eggs one cool enough to touch and cook noodles according to package directions.

Drain & divide noodles into four bowls, top each with a generous handful of spinach, chopped snow peas, and the diced onions. Divide the can of salmon between the bowls, ladle miso broth over the bowls contents until they are submerged, and finish each bowl with a halved egg, a generous amount of furikake, and wasabi powder if you want a little heat in your dish. 

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For several months now I have had an obsession of the cheesecake variety. I wanted a rich, creamy, not overly sweet, decadent cheesecake. I wanted it mini, I wanted it to stand up to a variety of toppings, and I wanted it easy… but real.

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Now I don’t think this too much to ask of a cheesecake but every recipe I tried just wasn’t quite there. They were too sweet, not thick enough, not cream cheese-y enough and just well, not right. So I took the aspects of the recipes I did like, combined and tweaked and with no complaint in this household, I made them enough times to be sure they will work for you each and every time. Because really at the end of the day if you are making cheesecake it’d better be worth it!

The kids also got really into this project, crumbling crackers and carefully measuring. Of course they all taste tested and gave their approval. It helps when dessert is already an individual portion, no one is arguing who got a bigger piece. Except after the kids go to bed and you eat two more because one isn’t cutting it, and for good measure you have another for breakfast because god forbid you leave an odd number in the pan.

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I couldn’t decide which I liked best as far as toppings go so you’re getting the how to for all three. You’re Welcome.

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It is late August here in Bristol Bay and like our family most fishermen have hung it up for the commercial season. The major processors have left and only a few die hard direct marketers are still at it, including my sister in law’s family down at Ekuk Beach in the Nushagak District. The Ekuk Wild Salmon & Halibut Co. is a new endeavor of the O’Connor clan who have fished the beach for generations, and in the age of knowing where your food comes from, and knowing your fisherman, you can’t get any closer to your dinner unless you caught it yourself.

Fall fishing is a bit of a different animal from the fast and furious fishery that is the sockeye season in Bristol Bay. Instead of striving for the ultimate poundage and having your net out whenever directed allowable by the ADF&G, fishing is at the discretion of the fishermen. For the O’Connor’s this means at each low water switch of the tide the net is deployed off the beach, just out the door of their cabin, and into the surf. Where they, in waders, stand in the bay and, pick the salmon as they hit the net. Immediately the fish are bled and put into an ice water slurry where they chill until filleted, vacuum sealed and frozen within mere hours of being caught. This father/daughter trio is a well oiled machine of picking hooks, sliding totes, flashing knives, water sprays, banding machines, and scales.

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Salmon Pie. Two words that inspire hunger in this household and everyone down to the tiniest mouth will ask for more. Often called pirok or even kulebyaka if your Russian is up to par. Basically it is a Russian dish that Alaskan’s have taken on as their own, and I have flipped into my own style of cooking.

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The pirok is layers of wild Alaska salmon, a medley of rices, baby Portobellos, purple cabbage, red onions, and fresh thyme, along with gooey cheeses all inside a flaky puffy perfect crust. This dish is one that offers comfort on what feels like Fall days already around here. It is also a show stopper at potlucks or dinner parties. Actually I have decided anytime you make something in a pie plate it is guest worthy and this is no exception with the easy homemade rough puff pastry dough to really wow the crowd!

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I like to use Chum in this recipe as we tend to get some in our subsistence net each summer and I feel it performs well when baked into dishes such as this. You can use whatever type of salmon you have on hand, just remember friend ask for wild never farmed. King salmon will be a bit richer, sockeye will impart a slightly stronger fish flavor, Coho a more mild taste, and I have not made this with pink salmon but I’d imagine if that is what you have it would do just fine!

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It is no secret around Set the Net that salmon plays an integral role in our livelihood. We eat Bristol Bay wild Alaskan salmon 8-12 times a week from dinners, to snack-times, breakfasts, and in lunch boxes. Salmon was both of our daughter’s first food. But it’s not just the eating of the salmon that makes it important to us, it is the lifestyle that swims along with it.

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