Warm up with Alaska smoked salmon chowder
This week, our New Year celebration will be a quiet affair at Winterlake Lodge. We are deep in snow and the temperatures are well below zero. We might not have fireworks or a fancy dance planned, but in the dark of night, we can stand on our frozen lake and look skyward towards a million stars twinkling over us. What better holiday decoration can there be?
We’ve had some adventures on New Year’s over the years. One year, the wind became so severe exactly at midnight, we marked the moment by rushing outside to hang on the tie-down ropes holding several planes parked on our lake. We brought out our snow machines and tied them to the airplanes, too, and hoped that the whole mess wouldn’t fly away.
On New Year’s Eve, I like to have a late-night dinner that lingers through the midnight hour. We’ll pull out our stored box of streamers and poppers that have been collected and recycled over the years. Often our hats might have a previous year stamped in glitter — we still have some hats that say “2000” on them. We don’t mind.
We’ll sit down at the table late in the evening and talk about the previous year and make plans for the new one. We’ll recount our favorite highlights of 2011.
For me, high on the list is the small cooking school we started located on an old crabbing boat outside of Homer. From the first thought of the project to our inaugural class, the cooking school has been a rich addition to our lives. I’ve learned far more than I have taught.
Another highlight for me was the opportunity to focus on and learn more about Japanese cuisine. In the wake of the Japan earthquake in March, I began to correspond with culinary educator and author Elizabeth Andoh. Our email messages culminated in a weeklong visit by her to our school. Her inspirational sharing of technique and culinary philosophy made an impact on me. Japanese cuisine is so complimentary to Alaskan food products that it’s a natural fit.
Despite some resistance, more technology crept into our culinary lives in 2011. A new tool for us in the kitchen is a tablet computer. Apps are coming along fast and furious in the culinary category, and I soon discovered there are both truly remarkable and truly mediocre choices. A favorite of 2011 was a culinary app called “Great British Chefs.” I am a huge fan of Chef Marcus Wareing from London, and he is one of the featured chefs in this colorful collection of video clips and recipes.
My cookbook collection grew substantially in 2011. There is just nothing like an old-fashioned brand new cookbook in the hand. One book, “The Food52 Cookbook: 140 Winning Recipes From Exceptional Home Cooks,” by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs is a homey and fun collection of crowdsourced recipes from people across the country. I’ve enjoyed the emails I get on a regular basis from the Food52 interactive website. Although I have never met these women, I feel like I have frequent morning chats and coffee with them about recipes and food. They are my virtual friends next door.
There are too many moments to recount from 2011: Setting up my own oyster cage at the end of the dock at Tutka Bay, flying out by helicopter to a fly-fishing river to prepare a luncheon at Winterlake Lodge, and sitting in the kitchen long after all others had gone to bed to talk about life with a guest. On New Year’s Eve, I’ll be grateful for all these memories.
We’ll serve several small courses to keep us lingering at the table. The first course this year will be smoked salmon chowder. My family has practically grown up on this dish.
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large red onion, peeled and diced
- 2 leeks, trimmed, cleaned, and sliced
- 6 small red potatoes, quartered
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 6 cups homemade or canned chicken stock
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 1 pound hot-smoked salmon, skin-off and flaked
- 1 cup heavy cream
- Hot pepper sauce to taste
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add in the onion and leeks. Sauté until the onion is soft, about 5 minutes.
- Add in the potatoes and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally until the potatoes are slightly browned and crispy on the outside-tender on the inside, about 7 minutes.
- Season the vegetables with salt and pepper. Add in the chicken stock. Bring the liquid to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer for about 10 minutes.
- Add in the thyme and the salmon. Check the broth for flavor, adding in any additional salt or pepper if necessary.
- Add in the heavy cream. Simmer on low, uncovered, for about 10 more minutes. Sprinkle in a little hot pepper sauce if desired.