Wild Food

I’ve thought a lot lately about what I eat and how it is produced. Because I have the luxury of living in Alaska, where wild foods are abundant and accessible on our extensive public lands, I hunt deer, fish for salmon; char; and halibut, dig clams, pick berries, gather seaweed and wild greens, and hunt for mushrooms. I hunt, fish, and gather for many reasons.
I love hunting. Moving quietly through the woods hunting deer or mushrooms brings me more into the present moment than any yoga or meditation class I’ve ever attended and instills a deep appreciation for and understanding of habitat. I do not enjoy killing, but I’d rather kill and eat a deer that has had a good life in the wild than buy the meat of an animal that has spent its life in captive misery.
It matters to me that the animals I eat have experienced joy. The taste of animal-joy is in smooth, strong, lean muscles and thick layers of clean fat, in the delicate texture and flavors of carefully cooked organ meat, in the fat that congeals on the roof of your mouth after eating ribs. It is in the flick of a deer tail as it darts quickly away through a screen of blueberry bushes, or the insolent look of a marten trying to steal your kill, in the gaze of a wild wolf or bear, stumbled upon in excessively close quarters.
Eating wild also saves money and makes me more self-sufficient and less reliant upon the grocery store. There is a confidence to being able to produce your own food that I treasure. It makes me less tied to employment and allows me a more independent viewpoint.
Alaskan wild food is the cleanest and most nutritious food available. We have very little agriculture or manufacturing in Alaska, so our wild foods are relatively untainted by pesticides, fertilizers, or air pollution. Wild foods are naturally organic, being pesticide and hormone-free; they are also non-GMO, and free range. Wild salmon has less saturated fat and PCBs than farmed salmon and wild blueberries and cranberries are higher in antioxidants by nearly an order of magnitude than domesticated varieties. Eating venison can lower LDL (bad cholesterol) and increase HDL (good cholesterol) levels.
Hunting and gathering of wild foods doesn’t utilize fertilizers, or require unnaturally high-density aggregations of animals, so pollution is limited to the footprint of the hunter-gatherer.
When I can’t hunt or gather my own wild foods I buy them, preferably from local fishermen or the grocery store. This supports my local economy, promotes community, and creates advocates for wild rivers and oceans. Wild takes must be well-managed to avoid overharvest, habitat damage, and excessive use of fossil fuels. As a hunter-gatherer and consumer of commercially harvested wild food, I pay attention to issues around sustainability and contribute to non-profit organizations that are engaged with influencing government policy around commercial and personal harvest.
Advocates for wild lands staying wild are increasingly important in our world where every scrap of land and water is employed for the benefit of humanity. In addition to food, wild lands provide many benefits to humanity that are insufficiently understood and valued. If a river is not incubating salmon eggs, there is less reason to worry about mines spewing waste into it, transporting ore on it, it’s being dammed to produce hydroelectric power, or being diverted for agricultural, industrial, or urban purposes. Alaska’s wild rivers are the arteries and veins of our wild lands, providing homes and thoroughfares for moose, wolves, bears, wolverines, and lynx—among others. Chanterelle mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fungal mats associated with evergreen trees which are found exclusively in old-growth forests. In addition to producing tasty mushrooms for humans and other foragers, these fungal mats have recently been found to produce antiviral compounds that help bees stay healthy.
The extensive access to wild foods that Alaskans enjoy is undeniably unique. Nonetheless, wild foods are gathered in many areas of the world. Norwegians pick lingonberries, Finns are passionate mushroom hunters, and Oregonians gather copious hazelnuts. The cultural benefits of hunter-gathering may even outweigh their nutritional value. Sustaining these resources into the future will require a multi-faceted approach: advocacy for maintaining and expanding wild lands and harvests, shifting back to a more intensive small-scale agriculture and transitioning to a more plant-based diet.

Red King Crab

It was a calm June day in Southeast Alaska. We were setting 200-lb, 7-ft base diameter conical crab pots to survey the red king crab grounds for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. As our own research vessel was overbooked this June, we were working on a chartered commercial vessel. We zigzagged through the area setting pots in preselected locations. Setting pots on a survey is different from commercial fishing as the pot locations are randomly predetermined (within areas of known crab habitat based upon historical survey catch distribution) so that the catch will be representative of the area and year, not of the skipper’s skill and knowledge. However, when chartering with a commercial skipper we habitually set additional ‘skippers choice,’ ‘prospecting’ pots using his knowledge of the area to expand our own.

I was having a hard time making myself useful. The deckhand wasn’t big, but commanded the deck with lithe, fluid movements. Grab the bait jars, throw them in the pot, snap them onto the webbing, using the hydraulic boom, lift the pot onto the launcher, throw the buoy and line over, launch the pot on the skippers’ quiet command over the deck speaker. Having performed these tasks as part of a team of three, I could see that there wasn’t any wasted movement here. The sparse, purposeful motion reminded me of the Japanese tea ceremony. As a biologist, field work is a welcome break from sitting at a computer analyzing data and writing reports; and it is a joy to work physically on the deck of a boat, so I did my best to contribute.

Several hours later we were done setting pots. We entered data into the computer as the boat rocked gently at anchor, then ate a simple tasty dinner, watched the sun set, and hit the sack.

The next morning, 18 hours later, we started pulling pots. Another nice day, not too sunny to dry out the crabs and make the bait smelly, but not too blowy or rough either, and the horse flies hadn’t hatched out yet as they would later in July. The pots came aboard as smoothly as they had gone over. Throw the hook to grapple the buoy, hand over hand the buoy aboard, wrap the crab block, and with a whine of the hydraulics, the pot surfaces. Hook the pot with the boom hook and pull it over the deck, unhook the purse line that holds the pot bottom closed, and release the crab onto the sorting table. Sort and measure the crab. There were big beautiful legal males, most with shiny clean shells, a few barnacle-studded and scratched; the females all have abdomens bulging with new purple-brown egg clutches, and the juveniles are spiny and quick. After we measure them, crabs are released gently overboard; they swim away, dreamlike into the depths. It is satisfying, rewarding work.

Back in the office our biometrician was waiting impatiently for this data, as the time between data collection, analysis, and management decisions is tight. He estimates the red king crab population size through mathematical modeling techniques. This information is used to set harvest levels for the commercial and sport fisheries in the area.

While fun to know how crabs get to our table, the biggest consideration for cooks is what recipe to use! In all honesty, I like king crab best sectioned, boiled in lightly salted water and dipped in butter. However, if you are lucky enough to have an abundance of this delicacy, then I can heartily recommend this recipe.


Thai Red King Crab Legs


Cooking shears

Cutting board


Hand juicer

Large fry pan or wok with lid



1 lb shell-on, uncooked red or golden king crab legs

3 T grape seed oil or canola oil

2 large shallots

1 clove garlic

1 ½ T ginger, julienned

2 T Thai fish sauce

1 t red pepper flakes

½ c dry white wine

Juice of 1 lime

½ lb green beans

1 c cooked short-grain white rice



  • Cut king crab legs in sections and then halve lengthwise with kitchen shears.
  • Slice shallots and garlic thinly and julienne ginger.
  • Cut green beans in bite-size lengths, remove stems.
  • Put grape seed oil in wok and heat until sizzling, add shallots, garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes, cook until shallots are translucent.
  • Add shell-on king crab leg sections, green beans, fish sauce, chicken stock, and white wine to shallot mixture.*
  • Cover and cook for 6 minutes.
  • Serve over boiled short-grain white rice.
  • This recipe feeds 2 people.


* If crab leg sections are cooked, add them at about minute 4 of the 6-minute cooking time.

Dungeness Crab

We were walking a northern California beach at low tide looking for female Dungeness crabs buried in the sand for a friend’s PhD research project on Dungeness fecundity. My years of clam digging were paying off, the slightly angular buried crab image was easily identifiable and I found crab after wriggling female crab—orange egg masses bulging and claws attempting to pinch me. Back in the lab we (killed the crab and) removed the egg mass and estimated the number of eggs. Astonishingly, a female Dungeness can produce 2 to 3 million eggs per clutch. This is the reason she buries herself in the sand, its too many eggs to be carrying around. In Southeast Alaska, female Dungeness crabs bury themselves 5-crab deep and spend the winter hunkered down subsisting on stored energy reserves. The choice of where to bury is important because the eggs need to remain aerated during the approximately 6-month development period. SCUBA divers have found huge football field-size aggregations of these buried females in areas where the sediment has good water flow. In the spring, when the water warms up and phytoplankton blooms, females emerge from the sediment and fan their abdomens to release the attached embryos, which swim off to spend the summer munching plankton before settling to the bottom in the fall as baby crabs. About 5 years later, the crabs reach harvestable size. In Juneau, an evening’s skiff ride to pull crab pots or a trip to the harbor where commercial fishermen sell dockside, can net you a tasty 2 ½-lb Dungie or two. To be honest, I really don’t like messing around with fancy recipes for crab meat until I’ve eaten quite a bit simply boiled and dipped in butter! But after a couple of meals of unembellished fresh crab meat I’m ready to experiment. Here is one of my favorite recipes for Dungeness crab!
Dungeness crab melts
Stock pan
Broiler pan

One Dungeness crab
8 cups water
2 T salt
4 dashes Worcestershire sauce
Juice of ½ lemon
2 T capers
2 T horseradish
½ t black pepper
½ c mayonnaise
6 English muffins
8 oz Monterey Jack cheese

Clean crab, crack its sternum by banging hard on rounded blunt surface, pull off carapace (shell), and break body into two halves; remove gills and any innards clinging to meat. Bring salted water to boil in large stock pan. Add crab halves and boil for approximately 10 minutes. Remove crab from boiling water and shell.
Combine crab meat with mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, capers, horseradish, and pepper.
Split, toast and butter English muffins, arrange on broiler pan.
Top muffins with crab mixture.
Grate Monterey Jack cheese and spread over crab.
Broil crab melts on high for approximately 5 minutes on second shelf of oven until cheese melts, then turn oven to bake at 400 °F and continue warming crab melts for approximately 7 additional minutes.
This recipe serves 4 to 6 people.

Salmon Heads

A warm August evening found my son Corwin (then 10), friend Daniel (15), sister Brita and I hunkered around a fire at our camp on the back side of Portland Island, a short 20 minute skiff ride from Juneau’s Auke Bay. The Lund skiff rocked gently at anchor offshore. We’d finished half of Daniel’s first Coho, caught earlier that day while trolling at South Shelter Island, and were still a little bit hungry. The coals were glowing in a state of perfection that usually happens AFTER you’ve finished cooking whatever you had for your main dish. As dusk slowly fell, the boys skewered the coho head and started to slow roast it over the fire. We sat around, reflecting on the perfection of the day, listening to whales breathe offshore and inhaling the wonderful aroma of roasting salmon. After about an hour of roasting it was pitch dark and the head was done to perfection. We sat around in the light of the fire and picked off greasy, delicious pieces of head meat and popped them into our mouths like cave men. After a little while we put the fire out and stumbled into the woods to our tents to sleep, cheeks glowing and stomachs heavy with good food.

After years of practice, I’m actually pretty good at fileting salmon. Nonetheless, it has always pained me to waste salmon heads, collars, skeletons, fins, tails, hearts, and gonads. This is in part innate, and part a result of having eaten a lot of good meals from these parts. Just like a mammal, different parts of the fish have different flavors, textures, and oil content, and meat on the bone tends to be more flavorful and oily. For this reason, I’m always on the lookout for recipes that use salmon heads. If you’re not out camping, this light and delicious Phillipino soup recipe (modified from The Splendid Table) uses salmon heads and shell-on northern shrimp. I particularly like this recipe because while it feels like a treat, the richness is strictly from healthy seafood Omega-3 fats.

Seafood Sinigang Soup


Large stock pot


Small tea strainer



King or coho salmon head with collar, backbone, fins, and tail

¾ lb shell-on northern spot prawns or sidestripe shrimp, preferably with heads

2 c long-grain white rice

6 oz tamarind paste

¼ c fish sauce

1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes

1 medium yellow onion

3 cloves fresh garlic

1 orange, red, or yellow pepper

½ pound kale

2 medium carrots

1/8 c chicken bouillon paste

4 c water

4 c rice washing water

½ tsp black pepper

Calamansi juice to taste


  • Simmer salmon head, bones, and fins in 4 c water, remove to strainer and cool, separate meat from bones and retain
  • Wash rice, retaining wash water and transfer to stock pot with salmon stock
  • Add 1 c hot water to tamarind paste, let sit for approx. 10 min then sieve to remove seeds, pod, and fibers
  • Chop onion and garlic
  • Slice pepper and carrots, remove mid-ribs from kale leaves and shred
  • Add tamarind paste, fish sauce, tomatoes, and chicken bouillon to stock pot, bring to boil
  • Reduce to simmer and add carrots, peppers, onion, garlic, and black pepper, simmer for 15 minutes
  • Just before serving add shrimp, kale, and salmon head meat, simmer for an additional 3 minutes
  • Serve over cooked rice, add calamansi juice* to taste

*Note that lime or lemon juice or rice wine vinegar may be substituted for the calamansi juice.


Blueberry-Ginger Kombucha

Its wild blueberry picking season here in Juneau and I’ve snagged a friend for a sociable evening pick. It’s been an amazingly sunny summer and blueberries are plentiful and huge this year. Even shady areas that usually have wormy, small, pithy berries are yielding large, plump, tasty berries! We meander along the roadside between berry patches, chatting amiably as we go. Elsewhere I’ve seen bear poop full of blueberry seeds but this patch is unmolested, probably too much human activity. After a pleasant couple of hours, the gathering dusk encourages no-see-ums and mosquitoes to unbearable levels and we pack Ziploc© bags of blueberries into buckets and head for home at about 9:00 p.m.

There are five species of Vaccinium, commonly known as ‘blueberries’ in Southeast Alaska, each with distinctive flavor, fruit size, color, bush size, and habitat: early blueberry Vaccinium ovalifolium; Alaska blueberry, Vaccinium alaskaensae; alpine blueberry, Vaccinium uliginosum L.; dwarf blueberry Vaccinium caespitosum and red huckleberry, Vaccinium parvifolium. The most commonly picked species in Southeast Alaska are the early blueberry, Alaska blueberry, and red huckleberry. Tonight, I’m targeting the early blueberry! Since retiring I’ve switched from picking by hand to picking with a plastic berry rake. Although I miss the sensual experience of hand selecting each berry, I love the fact that its increased my production by about 50 percent! This is a slightly misleading estimate because using a berry rake adds an additional step of removing leaves with a filter tray back at home, but I find de-leafing frozen blueberries an enjoyable winter task.

I used to use all my berries for cobblers, jams, and pies, but I’m finding that I don’t need to eat that much sugar. This kombucha recipe is a great use for my frozen blueberry surplus, domestic blueberries can be substituted but wild berries have a higher antioxidant and vitamin content.

Kombucha is a fermented tea beverage. It originated 2000 years ago, in China where it was called ‘The Tea of Immortality’. From China, it migrated to Eastern Europe and Russia, and more recently to Western Europe, and the U.S.  Anecdotally, it is thought to have a broad spectrum of health effects, but western medicine has not yet verified or disproved them. Being well-versed in the health values of other fermented foods, I am inclined to believe the anecdotes, and am anxiously anticipating reading the results of future studies of kombucha health effects.

I discovered kombucha a few years ago, when a friend gave me a bottle; I was surprised how much I loved this trendy drink with its slightly vinegary flavor. After getting tired of shelling out $4/bottle at the grocery store, I got a mother or SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) from a friend and started making my own. After an initial false start (involving a moldy slimy putrid mother) I am now producing several gallons a week and have shared my own mother with several friends. Here is my favorite recipe for blueberry-ginger kombucha!


2 gallon jars

cheese cloth

large rubber band

large funnel

small funnel

hot water bath

Large sauce pan

6 18-oz swing-top bottles

canning jar grabbers



Primary ferment

6 black tea bags

1 c granulated cane sugar

Mother (SCOBY)

¼ c vinegar

1 c unflavored kombucha


Secondary ferment

6 c blueberries

1 c water

½ c sugar

4 T grated ginger



Primary ferment

Add sugar to gallon jar. Brew tea, and pour into gallon jar while warm to dilute sugar. Add room temperature water to almost fill jar, leaving room for kombucha mother, vinegar, and kombucha. Do not overfill jar, there should be considerable air space between kombucha mother and cheesecloth cover. Cover jar with cheesecloth and secure with rubber band. Set kombucha in warm area (65 to 70 °F) out of direct sunlight and cover with towel. Brew for 7 to 10 days until desired sweet-sour balance and light carbonation is achieved.

Secondary ferment

Sterilize swing-top bottles, funnels, and gallon jar in hot water bath, remove and cool. Add blueberries, sugar and grated ginger to sauce pan, bring to a boil and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Cool to room temperature and then strain mixture through cheesecloth-lined large funnel into second gallon jar. Fill each swing-top bottle with ½ cup sweetened blueberry-ginger juice. Top off with kombucha and cap. Secondary ferment at room temperature for 3 days or until lightly carbonated, then refrigerate and enjoy at your leisure! A secondary ‘mother’ will form in each bottle, it is edible but slimy and flavorless, and can be strained out when the bottle is poured.

Salt-Wrinkled Potatoes with Mojo Rojo and Mojo Verde

Besides rhubarb and kale, potatoes are one of the only garden crops that really WANT to grow in Southeast Alaska. I just finished pulling my potatoes and once again the fingerlings (Rose Finn) outperformed the heck out of the other two varieties I planted (Yukon gold and Sangre) in terms of both poundage and lack of any scabbing. Every year I swear to plant nothing else, but I do love the beauty of variety. Is there anything lovelier than a bucket of red, white, yellow, and blue potatoes? Anyway, beauty aside, the Rose Finn are also delicious. My favorite way to cook them is salt-wrinkled and dipped in red and green mojo sauce in the style of the Canary Islands. This is a very simple recipe, but I have messed it up by paying inadequate attention to the salt level. Besides potatoes, this recipe employs several other ingredients that I grow, the tomatoes and jalapenos come from my greenhouse, the cilantro and parsley from a deckside herb planter, and the garlic from the garden. Home grown garlic has an oily potency unequalled by anything I have ever found at the grocery store, so this recipe might need to be adjusted according to your personal preference. In the Canary Islands, where it originates, there is no set recipe for mojo sauce, it varies from family to family and depending upon the contents of your cupboard at any moment. The ratio of wet to dry ingredients can also be adjusted to match the desired consistency. The sauce is a bit tastier if the ingredients are incorporated slowly in a mortar and pestle, but I love the convenience of a food processor!

Salt-wrinkled new baby potatoes with mojo rojo and mojo verde


Deep sauce pan

Food processor



Salt-wrinkled potatoes

2 pounds new baby potatoes

1 cup salt

Water to cover potatoes


Mojo rojo

1 red bell pepper

1 yellow bell pepper

2 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp black pepper corns

2 tsp hot paprika

1 tsp red pepper flakes

1 large tomato

2-3 cloves garlic

1 tsp sea salt

½ c extra virgin olive oil

½ c apple cider vinegar

½ c almonds

1 slice bread


Mojo verde

1 bunch cilantro

*1 bunch parsley

4 jalapeno peppers

2-3 cloves garlic

½ c extra virgin olive oil

½ c lemon juice

½ c almonds

1 slice bread

1 tsp sea salt

2 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp black pepper corns



Salt-wrinkled potatoes

Put potatoes in large, deep sauce pan. Dissolve salt in several cups of hot water, add to sauce pan of potatoes. Add warm water to cover potatoes. Potatoes should be floating, if they are not, add salt in 1/8-cup increments. Boil potatoes until tender, dump boiling water and return to low heat, tossing potatoes to turn until they are dry and slightly wrinkled.

Mojo rojo

Broil red and yellow peppers until skin is slightly blackened and flesh is tender. Remove skin, stem, and seeds and add to food processor. Toast cumin seeds, paprika, red pepper flakes, and black pepper corns lightly in dry cast-iron fry pan, grind in mortar and add to food processor. Add all remaining ingredients and process until smooth.

Mojo verde

Remove stems from jalapenos and add to food processor. Add next eight ingredients as well. Toast cumin seeds and black pepper lightly in dry cast-iron fry pan, grind in mortar and add to food processor. Process until smooth.

Leftover Salmon

The several seasons I spent commercial fishing ruined me forever for most sport salmon fishing, I just can’t sit in a boat for hours while moving slowly and catching nothing. Fortunately, we have a wonderful salmon fishing opportunity here in Juneau! Sockeye salmon are stocked by our local hatchery into landlocked Sweetheart Lake creating a fishery where Juneauites fill our freezers with lovely plump, bright sockeye salmon. Because these fish cannot spawn (sockeye salmon biology requires them to transit a lake to spawn in the inlet stream or lake shore) regulations permit fishers to harvest the salmon with dip or throw nets and the bag limits are generous.

We leave early Saturday from the Douglas Boat Harbor, loaded with equipment (large coolers filled with ice–check, chest waders–check, shotgun–check, cast nets–check, dry bags with backpack straps–check, filet knives–check) and happy expectations. It is late July and reports from Sweetheart Creek have been good, the word is that the sockeye are large and abundant this year. We push off and head south, the early morning ocean parting calmly before us as we whiz across the mouth of an uncharacteristically quiet Taku Inlet, encounter a little chop near Grand Island, and, and round Point Styleman into Port Snettisham, finally coming to rest at the head of Gilbert Inlet where we anchor and row ashore. As planned, we’ve hit the Inlet at high tide so we don’t have far to pull the inflatable into the rye grass and secure it before heading up the rough trail to Sweetheart Creek. In the woods, there are large brown bear poops every 500 feet or so, I glance back and am happy to see that Steve, an accomplished hunter, has the shotgun on his shoulder. Teenage Luke trails him, shouldering his pack as the emerging man he is. Crossing the Creek, we head upstream along the right bank, scrambling through the woods we are happy to find ourselves the first to arrive at the top pool. The water level is high so we perch on logs and rock outcroppings to fling our cast nets into the pool below the barrier falls. It requires both skill and strength to fling the net so it lands in a back-eddy where sockeye will be resting and begin retrieving it after it hits bottom but before it snags on a rock or submerged log. We plug away valiantly, two of us fishing and one cleaning throughout the day, breaking for a bite to eat mid-day. As the day comes to a close we have not quite reached our 25-fish per household bag limit but are satisfied with our catch and want to vacate the area before dusk comes and bears get assertive so we load up our drybag packs, struggle to our feet and head back downstream to the boat. At the lowest pool, we encounter a skinny mom with three cubs and cautiously skirt her to reach the trail on the other side. We are not so lucky with the tide this time and have a longish carry to get the inflatable to the water’s edge but soon we and the fish are all back aboard and heading for Juneau, fish nestled into ice we slog through a northerly chop to reach the boat harbor. Exhausted, filthy, happy, and rich with salmon.

Almost everyone can do a good job cooking fresh-frozen wild Pacific salmon Having salmon in the freezer come fall is a great feeling but the difficulty of freezing salmon in pieces of the right size for a single meal leads to one of the more wonderful problems of living in Alaska–what to do with leftover salmon?! Here is a recipe I use to solve this ‘problem’.

Salmon nettle pinwheels


Cookie sheet


Medium-sized bowl

Cookie rack



8 oz cooked leftover Pacific salmon filet

1 egg

3 oz feta cheese

1 finely chopped shallot

1 finely chopped small garlic clove

1 oz finely chopped nettles or spinach

1 oz dried wild mushrooms, rehydrated or store-bought

½ tsp black pepper


1 sheet of frozen puff pastry

2 oz grated parmesan cheese combined with 3 oz grated Monterey jack cheese



  • Defrost puff pastry at room temperature for 40 minutes or until pliable
  • Preheat oven to 400 °F
  • In a medium sized bowl, flake salmon filet and add to it the next seven ingredients, mix well
  • Spread pastry evenly with salmon mixture, leaving a ¼-in gap on the leading and tailing edges only
  • Roll the pastry up
  • Cut roll into 12 rounds
  • Lay rounds flat onto cookie sheet
  • Spread rounds with the grated cheese mixture
  • Bake for 30 to 35 min in middle rack of oven
  • Remove and transfer to cookie rack to cool

If these pinwheels are meant to be an appetizer, consider cutting the pastry spread with salmon mixture in half and making two separate rolls for a total of 24 smaller pinwheels.