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Traditional Alaska Thanksgiving recipes

Alaska Dispatch staff

Food writer and cookbook author John Hadamuscin once wrote the following: "There are four unbroken rules when it comes to Thanksgiving -- there must be turkey and dressing, cranberries, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie." 

Apparently Hadamuscin has never spent a Thanksgiving in Alaska, where instead of turkey, polar bear, whale steak and pickled maktak might well be the table centerpiece.

Indeed, the only real rule throughout the state so far as dining goes is to remember what another famous chef, Julia Child, once said about the universal eating experience: "Dining with one's friends and beloved family is certainly one of life's primal and most innocent delights, one that is both soul-satisfying and eternal."

In that spirit, Alaska Dispatch has compiled some soul-satisfying recipes from across the state, some of which have been passed down from generation to generation, and will, hopefully, remain eternal.

 

Aleutian Islands recipes |Bering Strait recipes | Arctic Alaska recipes | Southeast recipes | Interior recipes | Western Alaska recipes | Southcentral recipes

Thanksgiving in the Aleutian Islands

From the Aleutian Islands and the community of Sand Point, we bring you a traditional spin on crab cakes. In this recipe, Octopus provides the meat source, rich in Omega-3s and iodine.  This recipe, and the ones that follow, are compliments of Store Outside Your Door, a wellness and prevention initiative of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. The project features the harvest and preparation of traditional foods, presented in recipes from contemporary chefs. 

Watch how octopus are harvested from a tide pool here as traditional foods expert Peter Devine Jr. takes you hunting on the beach, then preps the octopus for chef Flora Deacon's inspired cuisine.

 

Octopus Patties or Burgers

1 beach caught octopus
Light olive oil
3/4 cup red onion, small dice
1/2 cup celery, small dice
1/2 cup carrot, small dice
3/4 cup red, green and yellow bell pepper, small dice
Sea salt and black pepper

Cook partially skinned octopus in plenty of water in large pot (keep the suckers on to add color). It takes one and a half hours to cook octopus until tender. Cool until it's safe to handle. Cut in small pieces, small enough to fit in grinder. Grind using the smallest grinding blade. Set aside.

Save a few teaspoons each diced vegetable, set aside for salad. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in sauté pan; add onion, celery, carrot and bell peppers. Cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add mix to ground octopus, mix well. Add sea salt and pepper to taste. Use an ice cream scoop to measure burgers.

Heat additional 1-2 tablespoons oil in same sauté pan.

Add octopus burgers, cook until browned on both sides.

Serve with Sea Lettuce salad and Sesame Rice Wine Vinaigrette.

Sea Lettuce and Sesame Rice Wine Vinaigrette

4-6 pieces cleaned and dried sea lettuce, sliced in ½ inch pieces
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons red onion, fine dice
2 teaspoons carrot, fine dice
2 teaspoons red, yellow and green bell pepper, fine dice
1-2 teaspoons honey

Wash and dry sea lettuce with paper towels. Make vinaigrette by mixing vinegar and honey. Add sesame oil. Mix well. Add diced raw vegetables. Pour over sea lettuce, toss well. Season with sea salt and pepper to taste. Serve with octopus burgers.

Badarkis with Marinated Kelp Salad

Also from the community of Sand Point comes a recipe for a snail-like creature, Badarki.  Badarki is a type of Chiton and a member of the mollusk family, found on rocky beaches where it can dine on algae. With eight protective plates covering it's body, it looks like an overturned boat, hence the name Bidarki, a Russian word for the boats used to hunt, fish and travel in. 

In this recipe, chef Flora Deacon prepares a boiled version of the marine delicacy served over a salad made with marinated kelp.

4 Badarkis
4-6 pieces kelp
1/2 English cucumber
1 tablespoon red onion, fine dice
2 tablespoons red, yellow and green bell pepper, fine dice
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon sesame seeds

Cook badarki’s in water till tender about a half hour to 45 minutes. Let cool.

Peel black skin off and remove guts, discard. Dice or shred meat, set aside.

Wash and dry kelp. Remove ribs from kelp and dice. Chop the leaves.

Make vinaigrette from the vinegar, sesame oil and honey; add the sesame seeds and diced vegetables.

Pour over kelp, toss well. Serve salad with bidarkis.

Puffin with Quinoa

Farther west in the Aleutian Chain lies Akutan, a small community located near prime fishing waters and close to a Trident Seafoods fish processing plant for cod, crab and pollock. Akutan is also the site of a traditional Unangan village. 

In this recipe, chef Flora Deacon shows how to prepare sauteed Puffin breast in olive oil served over a bed of beef broth-infused quinoa. 

Puffin Breast with Quinoa Pilaf with Local Greens

Debone puffin breast, sprinkle lightly with sea salt and black pepper.

Sauté in olive oil. Set aside.

Saute carrot, celery and onion in olive oil.

Add 1 cup quinoa and 2 cups water or beef broth. Cook 15 minutes until quinoa is done.

Add beach lovage and other beach greens to pilaf. Serve pilaf with sliced puffin over top.

Aleutian Islands recipesBering Strait recipes | Arctic Alaska recipes | Southeast recipes | Interior recipes | Western Alaska recipes | Southcentral recipes

 

Aleutian Islands recipesBering Strait recipes | Arctic Alaska recipes | Southeast recipes | Interior recipes | Western Alaska recipes | Southcentral recipes

 

Thanksgiving in the Bering Strait

Little Diomede

 

On an Alaska island so remote it's closer to Russia than the North American mainland, villagers from Little Diomede will spend Thanksgiving cooking up holiday meals at home, since the school where the communitywide feast is usually held is under construction.

A steep and rocky outcropping rising from the frigid Bering Strait, Little Diomede Island villagers -- Ingalikmiut Eskimos -- survive off the land and sea, eating what is readily available just outside their doorstep: seal, polar bear, blue crab and whale.

This year they all have turkeys to roast, compliments of the school. But you can also expect to find polar bear, walrus and a traditional berry dessert on the menu. Here are recipes from Little Diomede resident and tribal coordinator Frances Ozenna.

Polar Bear Prepared Two Ways

Diced: Dice polar bear meat, leaving fat on some chunks of meat. Season pieces with bouillon, onion, Mrs. Dash Seasoning Blend and salt. Boil.

(Chef’s note: Polar bear fat is drier than walrus or seal blubber. It is neither fatty nor runny and is subtle in taste and very tender.)

Diced variation: Cook polar bear meat with frozen, sliced fermented walrus flipper.

(Chef’s note: When you eat the two together it sweetens the bear meat, and the bear takes away the greasy taste of the fermented flipper.)

Serve with: mixed greens and oil.

Stew: For choice cuts, choose meat form the back polar bear shoulder blade. Dice meat. Marinate in refrigerator for one to two days with beef bouillon, Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce, garlic, onion and Mrs. Dash Seasoning Blend. After marinating, rinse well to remove some of the blood.

(Chef’s note: a small amount of brown sugar can also be added to the seasoning.)

Boil a pot of water and add onion, Mrs. Dash, bouillon, salt, Worcestershire sauce. Add meat and simmer for 1.5 to 2 hours. Add rice, potatoes and carrots, if available. Thicken with flour, corn starch or elbow macaroni about ten minutes before the soup is done.  Let stew rest, then serve.

Serve with: homemade corn bread or biscuits.

 Walrus Stew

Stew: Dice and salt meat, and bring to a boil in a pot of water. The mixture will bubble up as it cooks, creating its own thick broth. Add rice and onions.

Variation: Add diced seaweed or wild potatoes and consider adding a little bit of walrus fat to enhance flavor of the broth.

Serve with: walrus coak (an Inupiaq word), which is walrus skin with a about an inch of blubber still attached cooked with salt and water, similar to muktuk from a whale.

(Chef’s note: Eat this combo by taking a bite of coak, then taking a spoonful of stew. Also, this walrus stew is a very traditional recipe, unlike the recipe for polar bear stew, which represents a newer interpretation of an otherwise traditional meal.)

 Diomede Dessert

Berries with reindeer fat: This is Little Diomede's regional variation on akutaq, more commonly known among non-Alaska Natives as Eskimo ice cream -- a dish that literally means "mix them together." In Diomede, salmonberries are the main berry used in this recipe, although people with relatives on the mainland are also able to import blackberries.

Mix together: Berries, sugar, water, a little bit of seal or Wesson oil, and reindeer fat.

(Chef’s note: for an added burst of flavor, add in a can of strawberry or cherry pie filling at the end.)

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Thanksgiving at the top of the world

Barrow

As in many Alaska communities, families in Barrow -- the northernmost town in the United States -- have traditional recipes that grace Thanksgiving tables, alongside the quintessential staple of the holiday: turkey.

In this Arctic community where the Chukchi Sea hugs the village shoreline, residents hail from generations of Inupiat Eskimo whalers. Barrow is the economic center of the North Slope Borough, which is also home to the nation's largest oil field, Prudhoe Bay. Many in the region hunt and fish, harvesting whale, seal, polar bear, walrus, duck, caribou, grayling and whitefish. The following recipes reflect this tradition:

Whale Steak

Here's what you'll need:

1 steak-size slice of whale meat of your preference (bowhead is often used)
1 cup of flour
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Seasoning of your choice to taste
Onions
Oil

Slice the whale meat, roll in flour, salt, pepper and seasoning mixture.

Heat frying pan with oil of choice.

Place meat with flour mixture in pan and add sliced onions.

Pickled Muktuk (variation 1)

(Muktuk, or maktak, is whale skin with blubber) 

How to make brine:

2 cups white vinegar
5 cloves
2 cups water
1 tsp. black pepper 
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 tsp. Allspice
4 bay leaves
1 tsp. pickling spice.

Cut maktak in small pieces. Boil 30 minutes.

Add plenty of salt and pepper while muktuk boils. 

Rinse in hot water twice.

Put muktuk in jar with lots of onions.

Pour cooled brine over maktak and keep in refrigerator for 4-to-7 days.

Pickled Muktuk (variation 2)

Boil muktuk until cooked.

Cut muktuk into bite sizes.

Add 1 cup Apple Cider vinegar.

1 ginger root, shredded.

4 fresh jalepenos.

2 slices white onion.

Chill overnight and enjoy.

Aleutian Islands recipesBering Strait recipes | Arctic Alaska recipes | Southeast recipes | Interior recipes | Western Alaska recipes | Southcentral recipes

 

 

Thanksgiving in Southeast Alaska

Indian Village in Juneau

Percy Kunz, who lives with her husband in Juneau's historic Indian Village -- a place throughout the years that's been whittled down to only a few buildings -- doesn't prepare a Thanksgiving meal herself. She lets her niece do the cooking, and a turkey normally takes up the center of the table.

But sometimes a side dish with more traditional foods is also served. The one that Kunz fancies in particular is a salad made from herring eggs. Kunz said her family gathers the eggs in Sitka in spring, usually around Easter, by cutting down a tree and submerging it in the water. Then they wait a few days and, hopefully, the tree becomes covered in eggs.

"You can see very little of the tree," she said. "It's like the tree is covered in little beads stuck together."

Percy Kunz's Herring Egg Salad

2 cup herring eggs
A couple of handfuls of fresh spinach
1 cup of grape tomatoes
1/2 cup onions
1/4 cup of mayonnaise, or until salad is moist
Top with black seaweed

*****

Calling around Southeast Alaska, it was a little hard to find a main dish that deviated from turkey. But the folks at SeaAlaska Heritage Institute had a few choice recipes. The first, a traditional seagull egg pie, might sound a little off-putting to those who haven't dined on the eggs. But in Britain, at least, they're all the haute-cuisine rage.

A 2009 Telegraph story notes that at Le Gavroche in central London, seagull eggs are served "poached, either with artichokes, smoked salmon and caviar, or with chicken, truffles and foie gras." The New York Times notes that gull eggs taste "surprisingly un-oceanic -- subtle in flavor, and very good, especially the yolks, which are rich and, well, eggy and have an excellent creamy texture ..."

Seagull Egg Pie

2 seagull eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
Dash salt
Nutmeg to taste

Beat eggs, sugar salt vanilla together. Add milk and beat for 5 minutes.

Place in unbaked pie shell and sprinkle with nutmeg.

Bake for 45 minutes in an oven preheated to 400 degrees. 

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Thanksgiving in Interior Alaska

Kandik River

Mark Richards, who lives on the remote Kandik River in Northeast Alaska with his wife Lori, makes those long, cold winter nights tastier with this rolled moose rib roast. "We always bring everything back on the bone," Richards said of the moose. "The sinew is taken from the long length of backstrap meat -- one wide long piece and you then are able to peel off thinner lengths of sinew to use for cordage."

To get the meat off the ribs, cut along each rib bone to peel the meat off so it comes off in one large piece. "We had a very rough moose hunt this year and only got a yearling bull, which is not enough meat," Richards said.

Consequently, some butt-end rings of beaver that Richards trapped earlier this year might have to substitute. But Richards may also end up buying a turkey on his next trip to town and bringing it back to his cabin for what he calls "a real treat." Lori's homemade highbush cranberry sauce goes on top. Also on the table will be cabbage salad, potatoes, homemade sourdough bread, blueberry pie (from blueberries jarred up in August), with "snowcream" (ice cream made from snow).

Rolled  moose rib roast tied with backstrap sinew

Sprinkle both sides with salt, pepper, summer savory, garlic and onions.

Roll tight. Tie and bake for approximately 2 hours. 

Cover with cranberry glaze. To get the meat off the ribs, cut along each rib bone to peel off the meat in one large piece.

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Thanksgiving in Western Alaska

From the seashores of Western Alaska comes a recipe for Geese soup, which will dress up a traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey, cranberry sauce and yams.

Unalakleet is the first checkpoint along the coast in the famous Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Racers reach it after travelling hundreds of miles across Alaska's interior and the Yukon River westward from Anchorage on their way Nome. The village is located on the eastern side of Norton Bay, fed by the Bering Sea. This recipe is compliments of Crystal Kaleak via her sister, Cheryl McKay. McKay also included a special appetizer. Enjoy!

Appetizer

Unalik (fresh-boiled muktuk) -- serve on toothpicks.

Nigliq ("Geese") Soup Recipe from Crystal McKay Kaleak

1 Speckle-breasted Nigliq (Greater White Fronted Goose) plucked, and cut up
4 large potatoes or 6 small potatoes quartered
One onion, diced
1/4 cup minced onions
1/2 cup white rice
3 tablespoons of white flour dissolved in 1/2 cup water
Salt and pepper to taste


Fill a large soup pot with water.  

Add the cut up goose and all its parts, including the head, feet, heart and other organs. Make sure you wash the gizzard well and peel away, and discard the yellow, leathery piece on the flat side of the gizzard. Also, remove the green-colored bile sac located next to the liver and discard. Cut the head from the neck and add them to the soup. Keep the heart and lungs together where they are attached, and add to the soup. (If you do not want to add the lungs to the soup, then pull the heart out and add to the soup, and discard the lungs).

When you get to the breast meat, cut it away from the bone and cut it into 4 even pieces. Add the breast bone, back bone, and wings to the soup.  Cut the feet off at the joint, and add the feet and legs to the soup.  Every part of the goose should be added to the soup, including the clotted blood which adds to the flavor.

Next, add the cut up potatoes, onion, minced onions, and salt and pepper.

Bring the soup to a boil then turn down heat to a low-medium level and cook for 45 minutes. Stir the soup every 10 minutes or so.

The last 10 minutes of cooking, add 3 tablespoons of flour whisked into a half-cup of water with a fork or a whisk to thicken the soup.  

If the soup is already thick from the potatoes, it's up to you how much flour water you want to add. Enjoy! Aarigaa!

Aleutian Islands recipesBering Strait recipes | Arctic Alaska recipes | Southeast recipes | Interior recipes | Western Alaska recipes | Southcentral recipes

 

 

Thanksgiving in Southcentral Alaska

Port Graham by way of Anchorage

From the Southcentral region comes a holiday hors d'oeuvre recipe making use of Alaska's piscatorial gold -- salmon. Alaska Dispatch readers should feel lucky that when we went in search of a recipe with origins close to our Anchorage-based world headquarters, Helen Young answered the call.

A program assistant in the heritage preservation department of Chugachmiut, a tribal consortium comprised of the seven Native communities of the Chugach region, Young offered to share her coveted salmon pate recipe.

Young, whose family is from the Port Graham area, seemed tempted to also give us her three-time award-winning recipe for blueberry-salmonberry pie, but didn't, saying some family heirlooms are too secret to share. Maybe next year we'll get it out of her (with, of course, her family's blessings)!

Salmon Pate

1 pint-sized jar of pressure-cooked (or fresh packed) red salmon
1 small jar of smoked salmon (can be red, king or silver salmon)
8 ounces softened Philadelphia cream cheese
1/2 cup finely minced onion, chives or green onion or combination of these
1 lemon

For best flavor, prepare 1 day in advance and chill tightly wrapped in the refrigerator until serving time.

Flake and drain the salmon to remove skin, bones and juice and place it in a bowl with the cream cheese. Mash together.

(Chef's note: use a blender if you prefer a finer texture.)

Add in the finely minced onion(s). Finish the mixture by squeezing the juice of 1/2 lemon into the bowl. Mix. Wrap tightly and chill until ready to use.

Transfer the pate to a nice dish and serve with Ritz crackers.

Aleutian Islands recipesBering Strait recipes | Arctic Alaska recipes | Southeast recipes | Interior recipes | Western Alaska recipes | Southcentral recipes