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Pacific Northwest Food
The Pacific Northwest is a region known for its seafood, and its healthy, fresh, and local foods. The Pacific Northwest of the United States, for our purposes, includes the states of Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. Both Oregon and Washington are part of Cascadia, the region that is situated in the Cascade Mountain Range, and are known for their cool, wet climate. This climate combined with the rich and fertile volcanic soils have allowed this region to become a top grower of many types of produce, including apples, stone fruits, berries, and mushrooms. Alaska in the far north is home to unique specialties from the natives of the region, who had to find creative ways to survive in the harsh conditions of winter, when edible vegetation was nearly impossible to come by. The natives survived on hunting the many types of wildlife available in Alaska, many of which are not often found outside the state today.
Alaska, Washington, and Oregon each have long coastlines, which has made seafood is an essential part of their cuisine. In fact, Alaska boasts the longest coastline of any state, and the cold, deep waters off its coast are home to many unique species of seafood.
Some might argue that the Pacific Northwest has no particular cuisine, and foods served in this region are typical of the entire United States. With the region’s relatively short history, there may be some truth to this assumption. After all, today’s Pacific Northwesterners have not had the years of opportunity to cultivate their cuisine that places in the South and New England have had. Instead, the region is left with many special ingredients in their purest form, and a few dishes that can be considered cuisine. Some influences from Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Italian, and Greek cuisine are present in the region, but for the most part, the cuisine of the Pacific Northwest stems from the natural resources of the region.
The most important aspect of cuisine of the Pacific Northwest is its many types of seafood, caught fresh not far off the coast. Cold water seafood, like Pacific salmon, King crab, halibut, and herring are some of the major types of seafood that are found in these waters.
Alaskan King crab can be found in the deep, cold seas of Alaska. Fishermen of the King crab have one of the most dangerous jobs in the nation, and can suffer from hypothermia in the low temperatures and harsh conditions of the open sea. Drowning and accidents happen frequently, and at such distances from land, the chances of survival are slim. But the crab these fisherman catch are very large, some varieties reach six feet in leg span and up to twenty pounds, and can be sold for high prices. Because of the King crab’s limited availability from strict fishing regulations and the dangers of catching them, King crab can not be found year-round. They are also not always recommended for consumption by conservationists, because despite regulations, over-fishing can still become a problem.
Wild Alaskan or Pacific salmon is one of the favorite varieties of wild salmon in the nation. Alaskan salmon is prepared in a variety of ways, including smoked, cured, dried for jerky, and even candy.
In Seattle, the Pike Place Market, which was founded in 1907, is located right at the edge of the water, so when the ships come back in with the day’s haul of fish, it can be sold by the fishmongers right away, while they are still very fresh.
Stinkheads are a traditional dish from the cuisine of the native Yupik tribe of Alaska. This dish is made from fermented fish heads and sometimes the guts of salmon or whitefish. The ingredients are mixed together in a barrel or bucket and then buried underground for a week, then uncovered and eaten. This dish has been called one of the most unusual delicacies in the world, and some indigenous people have claimed that people outside their tribe are unable to consume this potent meal.
The geoduck (pronounced “gooey duck”) is an odd-looking soft shell clam with a long neck, that is found in the muddy waters of the Pacific Northwest. The geoduck can grow grow up to fourteen pounds, and can live up to 150 years, though it reaches its maximum size in about fifteen years. This rare dish is served in restaurants across the Northwest, as well as parts of Asia, like Japan, where they are a popular delicacy. Geoducks can be cooked in a variety of ways, like regular clams, such as in a chowder, stir fry, seviche, or carpaccio.
Large Game Meat
The other major source of meat in the Pacific Northwest consists of large game that is typically hunted in the wild, rather than farmed. Animals such as moose, caribou (also known as reindeer), elk, and bear are eaten frequently in places like Alaska, though they are rarely found outside of the region. Dall sheep are native to the region and are also hunted for food.
The indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest prepared these meats in a few different ways, including drying them, eating them raw or cured, or boiling them lightly.
Eskimo Ice Cream (Akutaq)
Eskimo Ice Cream, known in the native tongue as Akutaq, is a traditional native delicacy in Alaska, made from the fat of animals, such as reindeer, seals, or bears. The fat is combined with snow, berries, oil, and fish to make this dish. The dried fat of these animals is grated and whipped with oil and water, until it creates a creamy mixture. Since the indigenous people of this region did not traditionally have sugar, they did not include it in the original recipe. Only the berries sweetened this treat. This was made by the women of the tribe as a treat for special occasions.
Today, Akutaq is made with Crisco in place of the fats, with berries, dried meat, dried fruit and sometimes vegetables.