Alaska is known for its seafood: wild salmon, halibut, black cod, PEI mussels, and Alaskan king crab. The region produces great fish. But they do not do such a great job of preparing it.
Most of the preparations I tried were severely dated. The recipes tended to overwhelm the fish with creamy, fatty sauces. Or they overcooked and underspiced the fish, leaving it dry and bland. For instance:
-Halibut is a thick, flaky white fish. When I ate it in Gustavus, it was smothered in a layer of sour cream thicker than the fish itself. I tasted the cream much more than the fish.
-Black cod and halibut were served in one of Juneau's most expensive restaurants with Chinese sauces that completely overwhelmed the fish. Both dishes were over $25, yet the sauces tasted no better than standard Chinese American fare. Neither sauce did justice to the fish.
-I tried Alaskan king salmon and coho salmon in Gustavus, Ketchikan, and Sitka. In the first two locations, it was overwhelmed with a fatty brown butter sauce. But when I ordered it grilled without sauce in Sitka, it was overcooked and dry.
-Clams in curry sauce were fairly good in Ketchikan, but the chef added far too much cream to the broth. Why do Alaskans eat so much butter and cream?
-Even at pricey restaurants, most seafood dishes were served with a side of baked or mashed potatoes and frozen vegetable medley. A few of the mashed potato dishes were almost certainly reconstituted from a dried mix.
Alaska's idea of Mexican food.
I was saddened at how chefs squandered great ingredients with unimaginative preparation. I would love to help these kitchens improve their dishes. For instance, I would tell a restaurant with a drier variety of salmon to poach it in a simple ginger broth with leeks, leaving the fish moist but not overwhelming its flavor. With a fattier king salmon, I would suggest grilling it quickly so it remains moist and flaky. With a nice piece of halibut, I might suggest pan searing it to create a contrasting texture while leaving the basic flavor intact. Serve it with a light pinot noir sauce. Or roast the halibut with tomatoes, olives, and basil.
As my trip ended, I did not want to leave the beautiful coastline and snow-capped mountains. But I knew I would find better preparations of Alaskan seafood in Houston.