Alaska will probably never be a food destination, but you'll find some excellent restaurants and many opportunities to dine on fresh Alaska seafood, primarily salmon and halibut.
Freeze As Little As Possible -- Ask if the salmon is fresh (never frozen) when you order it in a restaurant, and eat as much as you can because it will never be better, except cooked on a cedar plank or driftwood fire. If you have a lot of salmon, don't overlook smoking, the traditional Native way of preserving fish for the winter.
Choosing the Best Fish -- The best restaurants advertise where their salmon comes from on the menu. In early summer, Copper River kings and reds are the richest in flavor; later in the summer, Yukon River salmon are best. King, red, and silver salmon are the only species you should find in a restaurant. Avoid farm-reared salmon, which is mushy and flavorless compared with wild Alaska salmon and doesn't come from here. (Fish farming is outlawed in Alaska.)
Keep It Simple -- When salmon is fresh, it's best with light seasoning, perhaps just a little lemon, dill weed, and pepper and salt; basted with soy sauce; or simply grilled over alder coals. Some restaurants prepare it blackened or with a reduction sauce; their success depends on the skill of the chef, as they run the risk that the nuances of the fish's flavor will be hidden.
Don't Overcook It -- Salmon should be cooked just until the moment the meat changes color and becomes flaky through to the bone, or slightly before. A minute more, and the meat becomes "fishier" and loses its texture, taking on a dry, uniform feel rather than its exquisite delicacy. That's why those huge barbecue salmon bakes often are not as good as they should be -- it's too hard to cook hundreds of pieces of fish just right and serve them all hot. Japanese chefs and some trendy restaurants serve salmon raw or cured, which is delicious if the fish is good. Avoid fried salmon, which can be dry and fishy tasting.
Filets, Not Steaks -- Salmon is cut two ways in Alaska: lengthwise filets or crosswise steaks. The filet is cut with the grain of the flesh, keeping the oil and moisture in the fish in ways steaks do not. Do not remove the skin before cooking -- it holds in the oils and will fall off easily when the fish is done. If you have a large group, consider cooking the salmon bone-in (sometimes called a roast), stuffing seasonings in the body cavity. When it's done, the skin easily peels off and, after eating the first side, you can effortlessly lift out the skeleton.
Seasons & Processing -- The halibut fishery continues through most of the year, so fresh fish is usually available if you're willing to pay. Halibut are large, so if you have a successful sportfishing charter trip, you will end up with more than you can eat fresh. If properly processed -- and it is well worth using a professional with the right equipment -- frozen halibut will last most of the winter in the freezer and will taste almost as good as fresh.
Choosing the Fish -- If you are buying halibut or deciding which fish to keep while angling, consider this: The younger, smaller fish are better eating. Huge halibut make good pictures, but their flesh breaks into relatively tough chunks rather than thin, tender flakes of the under-20-pounders known as "chicken halibut." Keep the cheeks, which are prized as the best meat of the entire fish.
Preparation -- There are a lot of good ways to prepare halibut, both simple and sophisticated, that complement its healthy, lean flavor. Halibut is wonderful fried with light batter; grilled with lemon or soy; baked in foil with olive oil, basil, and garlic; or even baked with onions and sour cream for a regional favorite called "Halibut Olympia." Fresh fish needs little help; if it has been frozen awhile, some added fat in the form of oil or butter is a good idea.
Don't Overcook It -- Because a halibut filet can be thick, it's easy to mess up the cooking time. Overcooking quickly dries the fish. When baking, use high heat and check frequently. Thinner pieces can be layered so they don't get done before the bigger chunks. Put bigger filets on first when grilling, and as soon as the flakes separate, the fish is done.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.