This is a two for one blog post today! I’m sharing a recap of my experiences in Cordova, Alaska for the Copper River Coho Salmon Tour. And, I’ve got a great new recipe for Chipotle Blue Corn Tortilla Crusted Salmon.
Disclosure: This trip was sponsored by the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association.
I recently visited Cordova, Alaska during the coho salmon fishing season. I was part of a small media tour group brought up to Cordova to learn about the local salmon fishing industry and the quality of the fish that comes from this area.
Upon arriving in Alaska, I was taken to my hotel, The Reluctant Fisherman Inn, which was right on the harbor. This was the view from my room. No kidding! As soon as I walked in, I dropped my bags and snapped this pic through my sliding glass door. During my stay, I would often leave this door open to feel the crisp Alaska breeze and listen to the fisherman and the boats in the harbor. But, truth be told, there wasn’t a lot of time for relaxing in the room as this trip was packed full of activities.
One of the highlights of the trip was sport fishing for salmon. We got up extra early one morning and headed over to Orca Adventure Lodge. Our fishing guide got the group loaded up into a fishing boat, which we cruised around on until we found the perfect fishing spot. It was stunning! The sun was just coming up. We were in the cold, clear water and surrounded by mountains and greenery. Naturally, the first thing Amanda (from Heartbeet Kitchen) and I had to do was stop to take selfies! Then, we fished. 🙂
I hadn’t been fishing in years. And, I’d never been fishing for salmon before. I just assumed that I probably wouldn’t catch much, but that would be OK since I was just happy to be there. Wrong! My very first cast into the water, I caught my first salmon! It was so much fun! And, I wasn’t the only one catching fish. Everyone in our group caught at least one.
As someone who’s not used to fishing, I was definitely glad that we had guide. One of the best parts about going salmon fishing with a guide is that he’ll take the fish off the hook for you. 🙂
Also, you get to wear these sweet, sweet fishing waders like the ones we’re modeling below in the top left picture. Top right: One of the many adorable sea creatures we saw loving life in Alaska. Bottom left: One of our silver coho salmon. Bottom right: I’m bundled up for our chilly morning boat ride on the way to catch all the fish!
Another amazing Alaskan experience was exploring the Copper River region by air. We took one of those tiny propeller planes that takes off and lands on the water for a flightseeing tour. The views were incredible! This is the cute little harbor town of Cordova, where we stayed.
There are so many interesting things to see packed into one area. First, we flew around the Copper River delta. Within minutes we were flying over glaciers and mountains covered in snow and ice. We even got see some moose and mountain goats from the plane.
The Copper River fishing region is a purely wild environment, which produces salmon with rich flavor and superior health benefits. When I first heard this statement, I didn’t quite understand it. I wondered how the region the fish comes from could make it taste better and be better for our health. But, the explanation makes sense. It’s all about what the salmon have been programmed to do from birth.
Salmon hatch in the Copper River and its tributaries. When they’re ready, they swim out to sea and spend their lives swimming wild in the ocean. When it’s time for them to spawn, they’re genetically programmed to return to the same place where they hatched. They return to the glacial fed waters, swimming back up the Copper River. The salmon travel up to 300 miles from the open ocean to their natal spawning grounds. Their long journey requires them to have abundant energy stores in the form of omega 3 fats, which make them healthy to eat and give them exceptional flavor.
The Copper River region is home to three types of salmon: king, sockeye, and coho. King salmon have the highest fat content and are known for their rich flavor. Sockeye salmon are firm, deep red, and the most abundant of the Copper River species. Coho salmon have a mild flavor and firm texture, making them extremely versatile for cooking.
One afternoon, we drove just outside of town to Power Creek to observe salmon spawning. I’ve never seen water this color any where else. It was so beautiful and peaceful there.
Spawning salmon were not hard to find. See the bright red fish in the picture below? Those are spawning sockeye salmon. This creek was full of them. I was surprised to see them in such shallow water. I wasn’t expecting that. The top of some of the fish are actually protruding out of the water.
Alaska salmon fishing is carefully managed to ensure long-term sustainability and protection of natural resources. In fact, the state constitution mandates that the fish “be utilized, developed, and maintained on the sustained yield principle.” Alaska’s sustainability standards are in place to protect the long-term health of the fish, protect against overfishing, and protect the seafood and the environment for future generations.
We got to speak with several people at Alaska Department of Fish & Game, and hear about the many processes in place to ensure sustainability. I was surprised to learn that they actually count the fish.
The fish populations are monitored at several points along the Copper River. Salmon are counted as they swim up to their spawning grounds, ensuring that there are an adequate number reproducing each year. The amount of fish available determines how much fishing is allowed.
Fishing boats are everywhere you look in Cordova. Our media group was able to tour a few of these boats during our time there. The top two pictures are of the Alaska Department of Fish & Game research fishing vessel – Solstice. The bottom two pictures are of a commercial fishing boat. This type of boat is known as a bowpicker. There’s a huge spool of fishing net that goes through a hole on the front of the boat (the bow) and down into the water. The fish get caught in the net. Then, the net gets pulled back on the boat. Salmon are picked from the net and placed in ice to preserve their freshness.
Once the salmon are caught, they need to be processed. The salmon go from the smaller fishing boats to a larger boat called a tender. The tenders take the salmon to the processors. There, the fish are scaled and cut into fillets. Then, they can be frozen or cooked, packaged, and shipped. We toured one of the local salmon production facilities, Ocean Beauty Seafoods. This is an overhead view of the beginning of the Ocean Beauty production line, where the fish are cut into filets.
As you could imagine, I ate tons of amazing salmon while I was in Alaska . The picture below is grilled cedar plank salmon, which was served at a pot luck dinner. Our media group was invited into the home of one of the Cordova residents. There were nearly 30 people there who were either commercial fisherman themselves, or involved in the fishing industry in some way. There was a great sense of community apparent at this gathering. The people were so warm, welcoming, and willing to talk about that they do.
Cordova’s Wild Harvest Feast was held while we were in town. It’s a dinner featuring the specialties that are locally available and being harvested at that time. One of the media group attendees, Tim LaBant from The Schoolhouse at Cannondale in CT, was the guest chef for this event. His wife Julie also attended the media tour and assisted chef Tim in the kitchen for the big event. He made an amazing meal featuring a watercress salad topped with soft boiled eggs and salmon roe, perfectly cooked coho salmon, roasted leeks, and local hedgehog mushrooms served over what was seriously the best polenta I’ve ever eaten.
One of the local fishermen brought a cocktail to the Harvest Feast for me to try. The night before she was talking about shrub, which is a sweet and tangy syrup made from combining fruit with sugar and vinegar. I told her I’d never had it, but thought it sounded interesting and would probably make a great cocktail. So, she brought me some homemade blueberry and nagoonberry shrub, which we mixed with gin and sparkling water. It was fantastic! It was fruity, sweet, and a little tart with some grassy notes from the gin. Expect a shrub cocktail recipe to be popping up on the blog soon. 🙂
The two pictures on the left are the shrub drinks. The top right is salmon gravlax and pickled fiddleheads, which were made during a cooking class we attended. The bottom right is orange-passion fruit pulled pork and braised beef short ribs from the restaurant at Orca Bay lodge. This was my favorite non-salmon meal.
I started thinking differently about how I use salmon in recipes while on this trip. Before this experience, I thought there were a lot of flavors that just didn’t work with salmon. For instance, I wouldn’t have thought about putting salmon in a fish taco, or beer battering it, or serving it with Mexican spices and ingredients. In fact, the idea of doing those things were a bit off-putting to me. But that’s because I wasn’t familiar with the different types of salmon. Coho is a very mild tasting salmon so it can be a versatile ingredient.
This is ancho dusted salmon topped with salsa and served over lemony polenta and avocado cream. I loved this dish! It inspired me to be more creative with salmon and start using it in Mexican inspired recipes.
After all that great food, I was happy to be able to get in a little exercise. What better place is there to go for a hike than in Alaska? One lovely afternoon, we hiked through hills and vegetation, sampling the fresh blueberries along the way, until we were up close and personal with Sheriden Glacier. It was so peaceful. There were mountains all around us. The water around the ice looked like glass. There were actually people walking on the glacier. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to hike all the way there and walk on it. Next time, though!
It was hard to say goodbye to my new friends, this special community, and this amazing view. This was such a great trip! I learned so much about salmon, Alaska’s sustainable fishing, and Cordova’s fishing community. I’m truly grateful for this experience.
As soon as I got back to the St. Louis area, I started experimenting with coho salmon. I played around with some different flavor profiles and came up with this Mexican inspired recipe.
Chipotle Blue Corn Tortilla Crusted Salmon has bold flavor from chipotle seasoned adobo sauce, and crunch from blue corn tortillas. The recipe only calls for a few ingredients, and it comes together in minutes.
To find Copper River salmon in your area, use this Locator APP. Just click on the ‘Find It’ button and enter your location.
Chipotle Blue Corn Tortilla Crusted Salmon Recipe
- 3 oz. blue corn tortilla chips about 3 cups
- 4 Copper River coho salmon filets 4 oz. each
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp. adobo sauce from a can of chipotle and adobo
- 1 tsp. lime zest
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray.
- Add the tortilla chips to a food processor and process until the chips are in small crumbs (should make about 3/4 cup of crumbs). Transfer the crumbs to a shallow dish.
- Pat the salmon dry with paper towels. Sprinkle both sides of the salmon with salt and pepper. Brush one side of the salmon with the adobo sauce (the skinless side, if applicable). Sprinkle the lime zest on the adobo.
- One at a time, pick up the salmon and press the adobo coated side down into the tortilla chips until evenly coated. Place the salmon tortilla side up on the baking sheet. Discard the unused tortilla chips.
- Bake for 12 minutes, until the coating is crisp and fish begins to flake when pressed with a fork.
Disclosure: All travel expenses related to the Copper River Coho Tour were paid for by the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association. All thoughts and opinions expressed on this site are my own.