KODIAK — It’s always fascinated me that a great big roast turkey is central to our annual Thanksgiving feast. The truth of the matter is that by historical accounts of the event, they shared the billing with quite the array of domestic and wild meats along with wild and domestic produce and fruits.
My hat is off to the folks over the years who have moved turkeys to the “traditional” seat of honor at Thanksgiving tables. According to some sources, turkeys didn’t become regular Thanksgiving fare until after 1800 or so.
My next reaction is to study what our forebears in fact prepared and enjoyed at that first feast with friends and neighbors in 1621.
For one thing, the meal sounded like one heck of a potluck!
Neighboring tribes brought foods from their own fields along with wild fare while the colonists added what they could from their own sources.
Venison, waterfowl, hams and seafood shared place of honor with wild turkeys. From the few accounts, it’s easy to envision the vast array of fruits, nuts and veggies that appeared alongside.
While you might not want to give up on that big fat turkey in the middle of the table, it sure seems fitting to include local fare as we celebrate a Kodiak Thanksgiving.
I bet you have the makings for some great dishes close at hand.
For examples, I’ll start large with main courses and work small.
In truth I prefer venison to turkey, even at Thanksgiving.
We eat enough turkey the rest of the year it doesn’t seem all that special to me any more.
But slap a whole venison hindquarter on the barbie and I’ll be first to the feast table!
We just don’t shoot enough deer these days to justify dedicating a whole hindquarter each year to the feast, so it’s truly a special occasion.
You’ve never tasted finer meat that slabs of juicy sweet Kodiak venison carved off the bone at the table.
Kodiak venison is about the best in the world in the first place, but it takes on a whole new dimension when a hindquarter is roasted whole. The closest beef comparison I can draw is prime rib. But better!
I start a hindquarter by seasoning the outside, then browning all sides over the coals. If using a rotisserie on a gas grill the procedure is much the same, though the meat has to be boned and trussed.
Brown the outside, then slow cook it till it’s medium rare in the middle, as determined by an instant-read meat thermometer. Of course you can do the same in your indoor oven any time Kodiak’s weather gets interesting.
If that sounds pretty overwhelming, how about a whole-cooked salmon to share the table with your turkey?
You can of course stuff the body cavity of a salmon with your choice of ingredients, but I prefer them plain with just a sprinkling of salt and pepper on the inside before cooking.
You can bake a salmon almost any way you want, whether wrapped in foil or uncovered.
My favorite sounds radical at first, but the results speak for themselves.
I preheat the oven to its highest setting and place the salmon on a rack in a baking pan. Our oven goes to 475 degrees as I recall and I truly wish it went higher.
The point is to quickly sear and seal the skin to trap all those sweet juices and fats.
I put the salmon into the high heat and watch for the skin to shrink a little and brown slightly. It generally takes about 15 minutes in our oven, but I’ve seen it take only 10 minutes in hotter ovens.
Once the skin looks right, I simply turn off the oven and let the salmon continue to cook through as the oven cools. It generally takes about 20 minutes, but a little longer if you’ve opened the oven too often.
You’ll know it’s done when you press on the thickest part of the salmon with the flat of a fork. When it’s firm, it’s done. If it’s not done at that point, of course you’ve cooled the oven by opening it, so turn the oven heat to low and close the door.
Check for firmness often because you want it just firm and no more, in order to preserve all those sweet juices.
It’s going to continue to brown over the course of cooking, so you might be a little dismayed you pull a brown salmon from the oven.
But peel that dry crackly skin off the top and garnish with greens and veggies of your choice before transferring it to your serving table. The brilliant pink salmon flesh arrayed against the greens and colorful veggies will brighten any holiday table.
Keep that in mind for Christmas!
Moving smaller, we love spreads made with smoked salmon any time, and especially as a prelude to our Thanksgiving feasts.
Everyone loves smoke salmon it seems, and especially in front of a TV set to a college football bowl game.
But don’t stop there.
Everyone enjoys the chicken, beef or pork strips at Crab Festival, but have you ever made your own with venison? Ptarmigan and ducks are prime for such treatment too.
Simple teriyaki sauce is great, but if your family favors other tastes, try them too.
Not everyone is inclined as we are, but another favorite in our household for snacks and service on top of green salads is ceviche made from halibut or rockfish.
I’ll leave it to you to look up procedures and recipes for making it, but make sure the preparation calls for something green in the mix.
We prefer fresh jalapeños and onions in ours, but always make a separate batch with sliced green olives for those raised far from the Southwest.
If you’re looking for less work while assuring the enjoyment of your guests, why not fire up the smoker and prepare a big batch of your favorite smoked salmon?
While I’ll take my smoked salmon in any form, it’s sure a lot easier at the table if you cut it into small “serving size” portions or even morsels before smoking.
Now let’s settle down to some serious eating.
If you’ve never tasted fresh homegrown Kodiak potatoes and other root veggies, you can’t imagine what you’re missing.
Beg, borrow or steal some from your favorite gardener or better yet, invite them to bring and array to your feast or wrangle an invitation to their house.
Kodiak grows especially good potatoes in the first place, but there is a huge difference between Kodiak fresh and the veggies in a market that might have left the farmer’s field months before.
And of course, let’s not forget desert.
Pumpkin pie is great of course, and Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without it.
But there’s lots more room on a dessert table!
My wife makes terrific crisps and crumbles from salmonberries, blueberries and homegrown raspberries from our garden.
But our special treat is the sorbet she makes with any and all the berries we’ve lovingly stowed in our freezer.
Sorbet is a very light dessert, making it the perfect finish for a heavy meal. The tart sweet fruit flavors really enliven your taste buds too.
That might seem like a small point in the wake of a large feast, but think about it.
There are, after all, so many leftovers just waiting for halftime in the next ball game!