When you travel around the world, the environment, climate, and agriculture of a place inform its flavors. As a chef, culinary inspiration comes from all the senses—what I’m seeing, smelling, and tasting inform ideas that I want to try out and bring onto the plate. The idea of capturing the essence of Alaska made developing the flavors of our Salmon Bites a delicious challenge—one where the flavors would enhance the naturally luxurious taste. So, let’s set out on a virtual hike in Alaska to forage for flavor as we drink in the natural beauty.
It’s spring. During this season in Alaska we are gaining minutes of daylight unavailable in the winter. In another month or so the sun settles to dusk at night. The longer days bring back a primal energy. Everyone feels it; spruce tips and sea vegetables photosynthesize longer, bright pink fireweed and raspberry patches blossom. Rhubarb is one of the first plants to awaken and stretch out of its dark winter slumber.
Our journey begins on the coast as we discover our inspiration for our savory sea kelp and sesame Salmon Bites. We walk along a rock-strewn beach. It is low tide. Tidal pools glisten. A starfish awaits the ocean’s return. Sea vegetables like bladderwrack lay motionless across granite and volcanic piles making walking a slippery task. There is a light breeze that stirs up a subtle salty fishy or briny smell that you can taste as it fills your lungs and nose as you inhale—an umami smell. This sensation nudged us to add a hint of sea vegetable to our salmon.
Continuing our search for flavor we move up from the beach to reign in wild Alaska spruce tip. Soon we are in an old growth forest. The sun breaks through the layers of evergreen illuminating the mossy floor in vibrant patches of green. The day is warming up as well as the damp bark of cedar creating its own unique smell. On the edge of the forest, spruce tree boughs extend with new growth as spruce tips reach toward the light. Each tip is like a soft verdant tuft of fir. Traditionally we sustainably harvest only one tip per branch. Spruce tips are our natural calendar stating that the long nights are over. Infusing spruce into syrups or tea imparts a wonderful citrus juniper-like effervescence, and we love how it lends a citrusy herbal note to salmon.
Walking along the edge of the trees there will be thickets of raspberry bushes providing natural barriers or obstacles into the forests. Eventually they will break out in pink blossoms and will be weighed down by plump red raspberries. Sometimes at the base of these bushes crimson sprouts and leaves will be poking through the natural mulch signaling rhubarb’s presence in the order of spring. Unlike trying to harness the smell of the sea or forest in our bites, raspberry and rhubarb introduce familiar flavors in a new way. The sweetness of raspberries balances rhubarb’s sour, together imparting a tangy fruity flavor to salmon.
During the height of late spring, bees can be seen and heard buzzing in and out of these patches. Our curiosity is piqued. Where is the bee going after it leaves the raspberry blossoms? So, we follow its flight and end up in a vast field of fireweed flowers. Fireweed is not a little plant, mind you—it’s eye level. Its fuchsia color literally and figuratively can smack you in the face in sensory overload. The surrounding green forest provides an amazing complimentary color to this neon pink dominance. Be careful of the bees—the flowers are loaded with them. Honey from fireweed tastes clean and light. It is our final flavor profile and certainly didn’t require much effort as far as inspiration!
Alaska is an enormous state and truly awe-inspiring. But it’s the small details like the spruce tip that intrigued the imagination into the conclusion of complementary flavors with one of nature’s greatest food sources—the salmon.