A Culinary Voyage of Copper River Salmon with Shanna Schad
In the world of gastronomy and culinary delights, few ingredients evoke as much reverence as salmon. But what does it truly mean to source, prepare, and savor this delectable fish? For Shanna Shad of Pineapple and Coconut, food blogger, photographer, and self-taught cook, these answers can be found in her recent trip to the Copper River Fishery during the 2023 Fall Salmon Camp. By the end of the 5-day immersive tour, we had the privilege of engaging in a conversation with Shanna, a seasoned connoisseur of fine seafood, who shared her firsthand experiences and newfound perspectives on the world of Copper River Salmon. Prepare yourselves, dear readers, for an epicurean expedition that not only delights your palate but deepens your insight into this exceptional industry.
What inspired you to visit Cordova, Alaska, and explore the Copper River Fishery for your content?
I have been a lifelong fan of fish and seafood, having grown up in Southern California, and lived in Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest. We got to eat a lot of amazing salmon when we lived in Portland and traveled to Seattle often. Salmon has been a favorite fish to cook and eat since I was a teenager. Alaska has been on my travel bucket list my whole life as well. Having partnered with Copper River Salmon over the last 5+ years with recipe development and photography, my dream finally came true with a visit combining Alaska and learning so much more about the salmon fishing industry there.
I have always been a big fan of learning about where my food comes from, how it is grown or caught or farmed ( specifically organic farming), foraged, etc. and then processed, butchered etc. Getting to see firsthand how much care and respect goes into catching the salmon to preparing them for shipping helps me be able to better inform my readers on why Copper River Salmon is my top choice and helps them to make that choice as well. The more they trust me about my knowledge and ability to lead them in the right direction for choosing the best wild Alaskan salmon, the better for everyone. I love telling everyone about how amazing Copper River Salmon is and now I am even more well informed since this trip.
How has your firsthand experience changed your perspective on sourcing and preparing salmon?
I would have to say it has increased 100 fold. I knew some because of the information that Copper River sends with their salmon fillets, as well as my own research. I love the information packet that is sent with the fish, all the details about the fishing seasons, the kind of fish per season, where and how they are caught, how they are cleaned and processed etc. I have an even greater respect now that I was fortunate to meet many fishermen and women and talk with them directly about the Copper River fishing industry. Seeing them light up and talk about their work as fishermen and women, the care that goes into catching the fish, how they catch them, the type of boats and nets used, how quickly and carefully the salmon are handled once caught. It was so amazing to meet a group of people who are truly passionate about what they do for a living without money ever once being mentioned. Because this is their way of life, not just a "job". And they all clearly love it no matter the bad weather days, the lower fish counts etc. It is not easy work at all and what they do and sacrifice to get these gorgeous salmon fillets on our plates, I will never ever take for granted.
What was the most surprising or eye opening aspect of your journey that you didn't expect before arriving in Cordova?
Several things! I loved learning how tight knit the fishing community is, how even though they are competing in a way, they are all still so very close and help each other out when needed. The amount of fisher women - so inspiring to see and meet these amazing Alaskan women who have their own boats, and do all the work themselves. I didn't realize how small the salmon fishing boats were, but since they fish inlets and rivers, it made more sense once I was actually on a few of the boats to see how it worked. I didn't realize that many of these fishing boats are a crew of 1-2 people only. You see fishing shows on tv with much bigger boats and crews and assume that is the same for all boats but not with salmon fishing in Copper River. Learning about the different nets and how the salmon are caught was eye opening as well. So much amazing information learned.
Also how relatively small the Copper River is compared to all of Alaska and all of the world's sources of wild salmon was eye opening. Here we think food comes from a much larger place when its really small and just over 500 fishermen and women are allowed to fish - because of the fish counts. Also learning about how the fish are aged and counted blew me away. So much work, science and care goes into this industry. Learning about the fish from ADF&G was really eye opening and informative as well. Loved that we got to have that information session with them. I could go on and on, really so much new information learned.
What is one of your favorite ways to prepare salmon?
This is like asking me to name a favorite child! I love so many different ways since salmon is so versatile. A mild fish - some say a "beginner" fish for those who haven't had it before because of the texture and mild flavor. I love roasting with citrus and herbs, pan sautéing with some smoky or spicy seasonings, we often do whole grilled fillets, I will marinate in teriyaki and bake that. We love to brine, dry rub, and then hot smoke salmon as well. Quick flash fry with some seasonings and a drizzle of hot honey over jasmine rice - YUM. Furikake salmon is probably what we make most often at my house, since my kids love it so much too. I told you I couldn't choose just one!
Shanna’s journey to Cordova, Alaska, and her immersion in the art of Copper River Salmon unveil the essence and spirit behind our beloved salmon. To bring to life the stories of fishermen who pour their passion into this demanding work, we gain a deeper understanding of what it takes to put that succulent salmon on our plates. Shanna's experience has opened her eyes to the artistry and science behind sourcing and preparing this delectable fish, inspiring her to appreciate it even more. The journey reaffirms the value of knowing the origins of our food, as each bite of Copper River Salmon can be savored with a newfound respect and admiration.
When Shanna isn't busy developing new recipes and learning about new cooking methods, she is spending time with her husband and daughters. She also has a deep passion for photography. As we saw on her visit to Cordova, she loved taking beautiful and vivid photos of natural landscapes and wildlife. She has been a superstar recipe developer for us here at the CRPWSMA, and we are honored to share a few of the recipes she has created using Copper River Salmon.
Photos by Shanna Schad of Pineapple and Coconut