Quick look: A self-described “California girl” turned Alaskan galley cook, LaDonna Rose Gunderson is used to cooking in small spaces without easy accessibility to additional ingredients. As she points out in her introduction, “There are no super-markets at sea.” Still, onboard her 32-foot commercial fishing boat – where she cooks with an 18-by-21-inch diesel oil stove – or at home in Ketchikan, her recipes center around fresh and minimally processed foods, including plenty of freshly caught salmon, halibut, crab and clams.
What’s inside: Gunderson is a self-taught cook who once owned and operated a bakery and deli in Poulsbo, the little Norwegian town on the Kitsap Peninsula. Her husband, Ole, who did many of the photographs for the cookbook, is a commercial salmon fisherman, and she’s worked alongside him every summer for the past 20 years, living abroad their boat, LaDonna Rose, named for her. “But just because we’re on a boat doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice taste or quality,” she writes. “I have to plan our meals and make the most out of every single ingredient that is available to me, but a little creativity and planning ahead is all it takes to have plenty of tasty meals.”
Gunderson refuses to serve “heat-and-eat” prepared meals, opting for relatively simple dishes with short prep times and only a few, easy-to-find – but flavorful – ingredients. She’s created boat-friendly recipes to feed hungry fishermen in open water, but landlubbers will enjoy them, too – especially if they like seafood and bacon.
Recipes – there are 107 in this cookbook, Gunderson’s third – are organized by meal and entrée type, and there really ought to be a bacon-wrapped section. “You could wrap just about anything in bacon, and I would devour it,” Gunderson writes. “But bacon-wrapped salmon? Could it possibly get more mouth-watering?” She offers recipes for pancetta-wrapped king salmon kebabs, prosciutto-wrapped nectarine bites, bacon-wrapped dates, and bacon-wrapped halibut. Plus, there are other recipes with bacon in them – from sweet-and-spicy bacon by itself to a BLT salad with buttermilk dressing, an easy prosciutto and mozzarella pizza, grilled cheese with bacon, avocado and tomato, and roasted red pepper, bacon and egg pastries.
For breakfast and brunch, there are currant scones, rhubarb-lemon muffins, chocolate and cinnamon babka buns, apple puffed pancake and sweet orange cinnamon rolls. Other recipes include crab-stuffed mushrooms, crab croquettes, Key lime mousse in gingersnap bowls, Italian wedding soup, and chicken, corn and edamame chowder. Handy cover flaps help mark recipes. Gunderson also includes sample menus, cook’s notes and vignettes about living the commercial fishing lifestyle in Southeast Alaska – including her top 15 reasons why a fisherman makes a good catch.
What’s not: There’s none of the seasickness or saltwater spray that sometimes comes with seafaring. (But then there’s none of that freshly caught wild Alaskan salmon, either.)
On the Web: ladonnarose.com.
Pancetta-Wrapped King Salmon Kebobs
Bacon. Salmon. Bacon-wrapped salmon. Two of my favorite foods in one succulent and savory appetizer. On a stick.
LaDonna Rose Gunderson pairs lean, wild-caught salmon with the warm and bright flavors of red pepper, roasted garlic and rosemary, along with the saltiness of crispy pancetta. The fatty flavor of the Italian salt-cured bacon adds to the richness of the flaky fish, wrapped up like little gifts then skewered, grilled and dipped or drizzled with infused olive oil.
The small, decadent bites are full of flavor and relatively simple to fix, perfect for summer grilling not only in Alaska, but the Pacific Northwest and anywhere else wild-caught salmon is readily available.
For the rosemary oil
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon and more for brushing the grill
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
For the salmon
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds king, coho or sockeye salmon, skin and pin bones removed, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
4 ounces pancetta, thinly sliced
Make the rosemary oil: In a small saucepan, heat ¼ cup olive oil, rosemary and garlic over medium-low heat until the garlic sizzles and begins to brown around the edges, about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the red pepper flakes. Divide oil between two small bowls with a rosemary sprig in each and let cool to room temperature.
Make the salmon: Heat a grill or stovetop grill pan to medium heat.
In a large bowl, combine 1 tablespoon olive oil with salmon. Toss to coat. Sprinkle salmon with salt and black pepper. On a work surface, set out rows of three salmon chunks. Unroll pancetta slices into strips. Working with one chunk at a time, wrap strips once or twice around salmon. Skewer each row of salmon with chunks slightly separated.
Brush grill grate with oil. Place kebabs on grate, cook turning once, until fish flakes easily with a fork. Place kebabs on plates and serve with rosemary oil.
LaDonna Rose Gunderson calls bacon her “star ingredient.” And, “This Bacon-Wrapped Halibut turns out flaky and full of bacon juice,” she writes. “These (fillets) make you feel as if you should add bacon to your dinner every night!”
4 (6-ounce) halibut fillets, skinned and trimmed
2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
2 teaspoons fresh dill, minced
4 slices quality thick-cut bacon
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 lemon, cut into wedges
Season the halibut with the Old Bay seasoning and dill. Wrap the bacon tightly around the middle of the fillet.
In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 teaspoon oil over medium-high heat. Add the fish, secured side down and cook turning once until the bacon is crisp, about 8 minutes. Serve immediately with lemon wedges.
Crab Salad on Corn Blini
For the salad
1 1/2 cups fresh crab meat
1/4 cup red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chives, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons mayonnaise, divided
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 avocado, pit and skin removed
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 small jalapeño, cut in half lengthwise, seeded and thinly sliced, divided
For the blini
1 teaspoon rapid-rise yeast
2 tablespoons warm water
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup 2 percent milk
3 tablespoons butter, melted
Make the salad: In a medium bowl, gently toss together crab meat, bell pepper, chives, Dijon, 1 teaspoon mayonnaise, ¼ teaspoon salt and pepper until mixture is well combined. Refrigerate.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the avocado, remaining mayonnaise, lime juice, half of the jalapeño slices and remaining salt, then pulse until the mixture is smooth.
Make the blini: In a small bowl, combine the yeast and water and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. In a medium bowl, stir together the cornmeal, flour and salt. Add the milk, butter and yeast mixture, then whisk until smooth. Let the mixture sit, uncovered, at room temperature for 10 minutes.
Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat; when hot, spray the pan with cooking spray. Working in batches of three, spoon 1 tablespoon batter into skillet for each blini and cook 2 to 3 minutes on each side until crisp around the edges and golden brown. Transfer to a plate and cover with foil to keep the blini warm.
Top each corn blini with crab salad; garnish with avocado puree and remaining jalapeño slices, if desired.
Makes: 12 to 16
Smoked Salmon with Wild Berries on Grit Cakes
LaDonna Rose Gunderson calls these basil-and-berry-topped bites one of her “go-to appetizers.” They’re “simple yet sophisticated” and “perfect for cocktail hour.”
The berries bring out the richness of the smoked salmon, also complemented by the “slight sweetness” of the grit cakes.
For the grit cakes
2 1/4 cups low-sodium organic chicken broth
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup uncooked coarse-ground yellow corn grits
3 tablespoons shallot, minced
3 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
6 ounces thinly sliced wild smoked salmon
1/2 cup berries, for garnish
Fresh basil springs, for garnish
For the mixed berry spread
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup fresh blackberries
1/2 cup fresh raspberries or salmonberries
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Make the grit cakes: Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the broth, butter and salt to a boil. Gradually whisk in grits and cook 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until grits are thick, whisking frequently, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the shallot, basil and Parmesan, and cook for an additional 2 minutes.
Pour cooked grits into the prepared baking dish. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the grits; refrigerate for two hours or until firm. Unmold chilled grits onto a large cutting board. Cut the grits into 12 (2 ¼-inch) cakes.
Make the mixed berry spread: In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the berries, sugar and vanilla, and cook until mixture is thickened, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Pour berry mixture into a food processor and blend until liquefied. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve; discard seeds. In a small bowl, using an electric mixer, blend together the strained berry mixture, cream cheese and lemon zest until well combined. Chill until ready to use.
In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, sear each cake 2 minutes per side or until lightly browned and heated through. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Spread an even layer of the mixed berry spread onto each grit cake, then top with a slice of the smoked salmon, trimming salmon if necessary. Garnish with a dollop of the mixed berry spread, a few berries and a sprig of basil.