Set the Net

Recipes and snapshots of life in Bristol Bay, AK

First King 2017.jpgThe 2017 Bristol Bay sockeye season was one for the books! With the fourth largest harvest on record and a return that blew the ADF&G’s preseason forecast out of the water, salmon more than ever is our livelihood. I feel I have spoken at length regarding why salmon is so important, but I find I can never say enough. It brings our community together and kindles relationships each season, all while nourishing our bodies in a broad assortment of ways. 
Stringing the cork lineAugust 10th is Alaska Wild Salmon Day, an official state holiday thanks, in part, to Bristol Bay’s own Rep. Bryce Edgemon. I can think of no better way to celebrate than to share with you some photos my dear friend Will took this spring around the Dillingham boatyard as well as a few favorite Bristol Bay links encompassing what salmon is to me…

Hanging Gear for the F:V Mr Fox.jpg Salmon is love and tradition. The way it weaves itself through our lives is exemplified in Apayo Moore’s Salmon Love story. Her passion for art and life in Bristol Bay is unparalleled – scope her hashtag #inspiredbybristolbay for your own inspiration.

NushagakSalmon is a source of pride. This summer the Nushagak District catches smashed records and swamped boats.  The F/V Okuma had the Bay in full envy with the sets they hauled in. Each year I am thankful for the hard work our biologists do in ensuring a robust and sustainable fishery.

Stripping nets in order to hang new web - 2017.jpgSalmon is generational. My husband Bronson is a third generation Bristol Bay commercial fisherman. Our young children have already spent time on the deck of the F/V Sea Breeze and work every summer at our subsistence set net site. Bronwyn headed out for her first solo commercial fishing silver salmon trip with her Papa a few tides ago and I will forever remember Gretchen’s first time picking the net!

Salmon demand respect. The idea of utilizing the whole the fish and promoting quality in our catch is an ever ongoing process. With large harvests and a diverse fleet education is key for proper handling and chilling. 

Fresh Salmon on the Grill 2017Salmon sustain us. Set the Net is my window to you about our lives in Bristol Bay.  I try to show my love through the many ways I process and prepare it.

Corks in Sun rays - This is the DaySalmon deserve to be protected. For years the fight has continued against Pebble Mine and the threat it poses to our waterways and fish in Bristol Bay. To learn more visit United Tribes of Bristol Bay and take a stand for salmon! #nopebblemine

On this second annual Alaska Wild Salmon Day I’ll raise a glass, grill a fillet, and give thanks to the fish that enables our lifestyle and generates joy! 

For more fishing photos and works from Will Kutscher check out his Instagram @kutscher0 




King Salmon Steaks The mighty Chinook Salmon or King Salmon is the largest of the five species of salmon in Alaska. Every year their arrival is much anticipated throughout the state, global markets, and in local nets here in Bristol Bay. It’s fat rich meat & delicate texture is prized for smoking, grilling, cutting into traditional strips, baking or boiling the heads, jarring, filleting, freezing, & steaking the meat. It’s rich roe is some of my favorite for making Ikura or salmon caviar.

Wild Alaska King SalmonProcessing one of these monster fish by filleting can be daunting, and while practice certainly makes a better fisherman of us all, one way to create a stunning product that requires less finesses is to steak out the fish. The benefits are not only in presentation but steaking lends itself when cooking the meat – via grill, oven, stovetop or otherwise – to a more easily achieved evenly done result. There is also very little waste when the salmon is processed in this manner.  Continue reading

IMG_1161Rhubarb and busy hands are in abundance around here come June every year. With our subsistence net in the water and a good haul of fish under our belts we have been nonstop smoking, canning, and freezing a bounty of salmon.

King Salmon of 2017The F/V Sea Breeze launched back on the 20th of June and the guys have been fishing every tide since. The catches have been incredible and I have loved following along through KDLG’s Bristol Bay Fisheries Report. It is always bittersweet this time of year, bustling and buzzing with excitement, hanging nets, making bread and other goodies to send out on the water, listening to the guys crank away on the engines, and scrub the decks only to be left onshore when the season actually kicks off. Someone has to stay behind to parent our kiddos while Bronson captains the boat… I miss it but know I’ll be back out there one day with our passel of kid deckhands and be hauling in the catch once again. Continue reading

Spruce Tip Shortbread TartCommunity can be defined with infinite variables. The town one lives in, the circle of people one’s philosophies adhere too, the family and friends that make up ones web of contacts. Community can just be a sense of belonging and one can be part of many communities at once. Living in Dillingham, the hub of Bristol Bay Alaska, makes me think about my personal communities often. Especially this season when our town has said goodbye recently to so many teachers, healthcare workers, & others leaving for jobs elsewhere, different horizons and the seasonal influx of fishermen is upon us. Even if I don’t see everyone who I value often or even know you that well, just having positive, kind, and friendly people in this region’s web makes us all stronger and creates an atmosphere of health for our children.

Spruce Tip Shortbread

I experience so much joy when my friends from the fishing fleet arrive in the Bay. A culture of sharing, storytelling, knowledge spreading sets in anew and I feel a sense of pride in my communities. We all contribute to the world around us and our actions send out ripples of feelings. So while I may not see your kindness directly or even hear of it maybe you inspired someone else to be kind or lifted someone up who was down, and those ripples will continue and together we make our communities webs strong. In small towns it is easy to identify positive contributors in our webs and when someone leaves, a gap opens, but the beautiful thing about living in a cyclical society is often someone new comes who fills that gap or contributes in a wholly new way that reinforces us all.

Spruce Tips

I suppose I could continue to muse more but really I just wanted to share that I have been thinking about this a lot lately, community, what we all can do to improve it, oh and shortbread… Spruce Tip Shortbread that is! Recently, a crew of folks came to Dillingham as part of a photography endeavor and I was lucky enough to show them the subsistence beach I fish on, share some fresh caught King salmon, and bake for them one of these…

Spruce Tip Shortbread Tart

I love the crumbly, buttery texture of a good shortbread, and with the bright fresh flavor of spruce tips you have a palette of possibilities. I like to top my shortbread with whatever jam I have in the pantry or make a fresh compote, such as a rhubarb or strawberry – both produce options that are in season currently. Making a compote is as easy as cooking down the fruit over medium heat, stirring often, with sugar to taste, until it thickens. Pictured is one of fresh rhubarb and raspberries from last summer’s harvest.  Continue reading

Mother’s Day is less than a week away people … and I can think of no better way to say I love you than presenting her with some Alaskan made love! Here’s a few things on my list…

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Beet Pickled EggsI love pouring over cookbooks, food magazines, and cooking blogs. Whiling away hours looking at pictures of food, it’s styling, voraciously reading recipes and often the science behind them. It is about being inspired, sparking ideas of my own, trying recipes, often progressing to building new flavor profiles when I create dishes adapted from these ideas or perhaps just learning new ingredients. There are so many amazing chefs and cooks out there it is hard, at times, to feel as if one is finding their niche, owning their space, truly offering something different but good.

fullsizeoutput_11I recently read an article about 10 Things People Don’t Talk About in Business (But Should in which Grace Bonney, the author wrote… Too often women in particular are told that we’re competing with each other. It wasn’t until a good friend encouraged me to run toward the feeling of jealousy and fear, rather than away from it, that I started seeing that people who did exactly what I did, or things I wanted to do, weren’t people to avoid, but instead people to vocally and passionately support and stand up for.  Continue reading

When the weather hits a consistent average of above 50ºF during the day and the snow is mostly or completely melted away, the birch sap begins to flow back up from the roots to the above branches preparing to bud. That sap, when tapped into, can be drank straight from the tree as a cool clear tonic, made into syrup, brewed into tea, or even used to produce beer or wine. The entire process is also a wonderful opportunity to share with children as a structured lesson plan or just as a way to get the whole family outdoors. It is also wholly satisfying to pour a swirl of handmade syrup on a stack of flapjacks that has all been created from scratch.

We have hit the window in Alaska for tree tapping and if you have never embarked on this project before this is your year! Spiles can be found on Amazon or locally in Anchorage at Alaska Mill & Feed and on the Kenai Peninsula at Kenai Feed & Supply. I recommend getting the spiles that come with the bucket hooks for ease and if you choose to use plastic buckets or bags look for BPA free. University of Alaska’s Cooperative Extension has an excellent PDF on tapping and uses for birch syrup that the new tapper can use as a how-to in getting started.