Thursday, May 26, 2011

Just for the Hell-Of-It: A Halibut Dinner in Homer Alaska

If your group of buddies does not take an annual guys or girls trip, you’re really missing out on life.  Sure, it is nice to take family vacations, travel with loved ones and significant others, and see the amazement in kids’ eyes when they first see some of the wonders of the world.  But, it is also nice to just get away with your best friends, leave all your worries behind you, and enjoy other cultures for a little while.  For me, enjoying other cultures means experiencing traditional food and drinks as well as customs, music, and general attitudes about life. 

On a recent guy’s trip, seven of us from Louisiana ascended to Homer, Alaska for a week where we were blessed with gorgeous weather and even lovelier people.  We had no ideas about the ties between Alaska and Louisiana.  Apparently everyone in Alaska is somehow from Louisiana, knows someone from Louisiana, does business in Louisiana, or at least appreciates Louisiana like few other people do.  Maybe it has something to do with the uniqueness of our cultures that few people in the rest of the United States understand.  It possibly has something do with the economy since two of the major sources of wealth for both states are energy (oil) and seafood.  Whatever it is, I found it to be really interesting, and when I saw a museum exhibit about the Exxon Valdez oil spill from 1989 it really hit home.  In many ways, Louisiana is just a warmer, flatter, humid-er version of Alaska… complete with delicious seafood, friendly people, a rich, unique culture, and an oil disaster of its own! 

Scenic Homer, Alaska from East End Road Looking Out Over Kachemak Bay
Homer, Alaska is a rustic yet hip fishing village and tourist destination on the south end of the Kenai Peninsula, resting on the west side of Kachemak Bay.  They boast themselves as the Halibut Capital of the World, and guided fishing trips bring in the majority of the tourists to the otherwise quaint town.  Knowing that their busy season stretches from Memorial Day to Labor Day, our group decided we would plan our trip for the week before Memorial Day, thereby missing the heavy crowds and tourist-induced price inflation.   

On our first full day in Homer we booked a charter halibut fishing trip.  I’ve been on charter fishing trips in the Gulf of Mexico before, but I had never before reeled up anything like a halibut.  The largest fish we caught weighed about 65 pounds, but they can grow over 300 pounds!  Our captain took us way out so that we could have a chance to catch a big one, and then brought us back into the bay so we could be assured a good catch.  All in all we had a great trip and left the docks with over 100 pounds of fresh halibut filets!
Jay, Brent, Matt, Eusebio, Gary, and Eric Returned from a Successful Halibut Fishing Trip!
The following day we invited some Homer locals over for dinner and drinks with a little Louisiana flair.  Among our guests were Karen and Steve, owners of the Homer Brewing Company, a small and passionate microbrewery that produces fantastic local beers that you can’t find anywhere else save the rare keg that makes it up to Anchorage.  The Homer Brewing Company treated us well all week long, and I am very thankful to Karen and Steve for sharing their beers and hospitality with us!  Their favorite brew seemed to be the Red Knot Scottish.  This ale uses Scottish yeast and cask conditioning to create an amber ale that is mild yet extremely flavorful. 

Growlers from the Homer Brewing Company Were Empty by the End of the Night
After sharing a few brews, the time had come to turn our attention to the food for the evening.  Chef Eusebio Gongora, who happened to be a member of our traveling party, prepared a beautiful halibut-four-ways meal for us that began with a fresh Alaskan halibut ceviche.  The ceviche included morsels of halibut filets, roasted bell pepper, orange, red onion, jalapeno, garlic, lemon juice, lime juice, salt, and pepper.  The dish had a tropical taste that I don’t think they get very often in Homer.  The halibut easily highlighted the ceviche with its fresh and tender marinated flesh filling up the bowl of sweet, sour, and spicy deliciousness.

Fresh Halibut Ceviche Whet Everyone’s Appetite
Not to let the ceviche highlight the night by itself, Eusebio also served up a batch of crispy halibut fritters.  They shared similarities with Southern hushpuppies, though I’ve never had a hushpuppy with seafood stuffed inside before!  The fritter had a cornmeal base that was cut by a little bit of flour.  Chef Gongora then added onion, celery, bell pepper, garlic, butter, smoked cheddar, salt, and pepper to go along with the fresh and beautiful diced halibut.  After mixing all the ingredients together they were formed into balls and deep fried in vegetable oil until they turned crispy and light brown on the outside.  The contrasting textures between the crunch on the crust and the warm, moist core made the fritters a pure delight to bite into. 

Halibut Fritters
Finally we readied ourselves for the main course.  Eusebio prepared some mashed potatoes and asparagus for side items, but what really got us all excited were the two additional variations of Halibut. 

Alaskan Halibut Filets Await Our Stomachs
The first method of cooking took the smaller pieces of halibut, dipped them in egg and milk, rolled them in Cajun fish fry, and then dropped them in a pot of hot vegetable oil.  Much like fried catfish in the South, this variation of halibut left the fish tender, moist, and flaky while providing a nice crisp on the outside. 

Cajun Fried Halibut… In Alaska!
The final round of halibut for our dinner was prepared a little more traditionally but still contained every bit as much taste and flavor.  Chef Gongora used the larger halibut filets, seasoned them up real nice, and then pan seared them before finishing them off in the oven.  Before serving, he topped each filet with a homemade lemon butter that offered a tangy taste to complement the fish.  The pieces of halibut ate like ridiculously tender steaks.  Each bite offered tremendous, fresh flavor that you could cut with a fork and would melt in your mouth. 

Alaskan Halibut for a Bunch of Louisiana Cajuns
The Alaskan halibut dinner satisfied everyone from first bite to last.  The growlers of beer from the Homer Brewing Company went extremely well with dinner, and nobody left hungry.  After eating halibut the way we did I can understand why it can cost as much as $20 per pound to get it fresh in Louisiana.  Good thing we brought about 70 pounds home with us!            


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