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Alaska's Riversong Chef Strikes the Right Chord

September 26, 1996|ANNE Z. COOKE | Cooke is a food and travel writer in Los Angeles

LAKE CREEK, Alaska — The catch of the day at Riversong Lodge is salmon--as it is every day during the season here on the Yentna River in the Alaskan bush. In the kitchen, owner Kirsten Dixon is sharpening her knife, about to fillet a fresh 40-pound king salmon into 6-ounce portions. Her three sous chefs are slicing carrots and oiling parchment paper. It's pushing 80 degrees outside, but Kirsten is all business, working quickly and smoothly, her long brown hair tied back on her neck.

There are 35 hungry guests, after all, lounging on the deck overlooking the Yentna and swapping fish stories in the long twilight. But the wait is worth it. As Carl Dixon, Kirsten's husband, refills wine glasses and spins tales about strange bear encounters, good smells floating from the kitchen confirm that Kirsten, trained at the Cordon Bleu in Paris, is one of Alaska's top chefs.

Now Kirsten hurries to her garden behind the lodge to pick parsley. Herbs sprout like weeds, competing for space with broccoli, carrots, cabbage, snow peas, rhubarb and strawberries. The garden, coaxed to jungle-size by 18 hours of daily sunlight, supplies salads and most vegetable dishes. The moose and caribou that Carl hunted the previous winter are butchered and stored in the freezer.

Some of Kirsten's ingredients--halibut, shrimp, crab, salmon and trout--are native to Alaskan waters. Mushrooms, blueberries, raspberries and currants she finds near the lodge. Staples--beef, flour for fresh-baked bread, oranges, lemons, milk, butter, salt and sugar--come from Anchorage the same way the guests do, by floatplane.

Riversong Lodge has come a long way since 1984, when the Dixons bought a one-room log cabin on prime salmon waters and served chili and burgers to passing fishermen. Their two toddlers are now teenagers, nine guest cabins surround the rustic log lodge, and Riversong is as famous for its cuisine as for top-flight salmon sportfishing.

The inevitable result--"The Riversong Lodge Cookbook" (Alaska Northwest Books, 1993)--showcases a sampling of Kirsten's regional cookery. Although some dishes are typically Alaskan, most use ingredients found in all grocery stores. When they aren't, she suggests a substitute. Beef for moose, for example, or blueberries for wild currants.

Although these dishes look elegant when served, they're easy to prepare. And they're hearty. As she warns her readers, Alaskan cookery is "country food for hard-working people."

STEAMED SALMON IN PAPER

Parchment paper

Canola oil

4 skinless salmon fillets (6 ounces each)

1 large carrot, cut in thin strips

1 leek, white part only, cut in thin strips

2 tablespoons mirin (Japanese sweetened rice wine)

2 teaspoons sesame oil

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Cut parchment (not wax) paper into 4 (10-inch) squares and coat insides with canola oil. Place 1 fillet on center of each paper and top with equal portions of carrot and leek.

Mix together mirin, sesame oil, soy sauce and lemon juice. Drizzle sauce over fish, then sprinkle with sesame seeds. Fold sides of paper over fish, tucking in sides and joining top in several folds so juices won't leak out.

Add about 1 inch water to fish steamer, roasting pan or other deep container with lid and bring water to boil. Place paper packets on raised rack (not in the water). Cover and steam 8 minutes. Place individual packets on plates and remove paper to serve. (Packets can be prepared ahead of time and cooked just before serving.)

Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

393 calories; 622 mg sodium; 90 mg cholesterol; 26 grams fat; 10 grams carbohydrates; 30 grams protein; 0.65 grams fiber.

RIVERSONG MOOSE STEW

6 strips bacon

2 to 3 pounds moose meat or beef, cut into 1-inch cubes

3 tablespoons flour

Salt, pepper

1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups dry red wine

1 cup beef stock, (canned is fine)

3 tablespoons brandy

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram

1/2 orange

Whole cloves

2 tablespoons butter

3 large carrots, coarsely chopped

1/2 pound large mushrooms, quartered

Cook bacon in large oven-proof casserole until browned and crisp. Remove to paper towel and set aside.

Dredge meat in flour and salt and pepper to taste. Brown, stirring, in bacon drippings 10 minutes. Break cooked bacon strips into thirds and combine with onion, garlic, wine, beef stock, brandy, thyme and marjoram. Add to meat mixture and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly, about 10 minutes.

Stud outside of orange with cloves and tuck into meat mixture. Bake, covered, at 350 degrees 2 hours (moose meat requires a little longer cooking time).

Melt butter in large skillet. Add carrots and mushrooms and cook until tender, 10 minutes. When stew meat is done, mix vegetables into meat to coat with gravy. Cover and cook 5 minutes longer. Discard orange before serving.

Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

993 calories; 718 mg sodium; 198 mg cholesterol; 70 grams fat; 20 grams carbohydrates; 45 grams protein; 1.22 grams fiber.

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