Just like a fisherman with his perfect spot, it’s easy to fall into a trap of the perfect recipe for the catch.
This summer’s bounty has been frozen for a few months now, and some dents are being made into the stored fish, whether they were canned or frozen.
In Tustumena, though, Fred West is putting more than a dent in the freezer. At his smokehouse, Tustumena Smokehouse, West is going through a full summer’s worth of fish and utilizing it in a unique way.
Standing in front of his open-flame smoker, West explained the thought process behind his award-winning Kylee’s Salmon Bacon, named for his granddaughter, Kylee, who has struggled with food sensitivities her entire life.
“I decided to make a product that was totally chemical free, 100-percent wild Alaskan salmon, certified organic and I decided I was going to make bacon. ” West said. “We sell 23 different products here, but we sell lots of our bacon.”
After winning the Alaska Symphony of Seafood, organized by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, in Anchorage in 2016, West brought his salmon bacon to the Boston Seafood Show. After winning that event, his unique salmon product continued to grow.
“If they only knew that a little tiny place on Tote Road, like this, beat them all,” West said. “Our biggest handicap here is that we’re small.”
And the Tustumena Smokehouse is small, with two rooms behind an office and something smoking at every turn. Behind the small, cabin-like building are wood piles that could fill half of the building. But from the small operation comes a lot of flavor.
“It’s one of our creations, inventions,” West said of Kylee’s Alaskan Salmon Bacon. “It’s a bacon consistency and when it fries up, it smells and taste delicious with no real fish taste.”
West’s interesting twist on salmon has found its way across the world, with restaraunts and grocery stores offering the bacon throughout the world.
Creating the bacon is a process including a lot of hardwork and no additional chemicals.
“My smokers are open flame, I cut and cure my own wood and we dry it here for two years,” West said. “I get the wood from right around here, just go out and cut it… During the summer, when the boys are fishing, I buy directly from them out of the Cook Inlet.”
Salmon bacon is a “top knotch recipe,” according to West, but a lot of elbow grease, and smoking, goes into the uncommon breakfast meat so Linda Tannehill, who works with the Health, Home and Family Development division of the University of Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service in Soldotna, recommends being creative with some less advanced recipes.
“In the wintertime, smoking can be tough at home since it’s colder outside,” Tannehill said. “I can tell you, though, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute has an unbelievable listing of recipes for people to try and it’s always nice to have enough in your freezer to experiment with.”
Tannehill said that, personally, when she has a stocked storage of a certain type of fish she will take that opportunity to explore unique recipes.
“I have plenty of canned salmon,” Tannehill said. “So, I am willing to experiment to try to find my next new favorite.”
A recent addition to the new favorite list is a Southwest Salmon Quinoa Cakes recipe she found through the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.
“One year, for my friends, what I did was put together little bottles of rubs and used them as Christmas presents,” Tannehill said. “So, they didn’t have to make the rubs themselves and could use it in their cooking throughout the winter.”
Tannehill said that she’ll often put the rub on salmon and sear it on a cast iron skillet, cover it in foil until cooked through and enjoy.
“It’s just so easy and a different kind of dinner you can have in less than ten minutes,” Tannehill said. “And it’s almost something you want to do in the winter because as we store our fish longer, it tends to become fishier tasting than when we first catch it. I would never do that to freshly caught salmon, but as it stores longer, it gets that strong fish taste.”
So despite the freezer looking the same, with rows and rows of pinkish red, it can be easy, or interesting, to turn the fish into a unique meal.