The sablefish edge off Alaska’s southeast coast is half a world away from Barcelona, Spain. But this spring, two things shortened that distance: the globe’s largest seafood tradeshow and a recipe.
In late April, I attended the Seafood Expo Global in Barcelona. It was a working vacation where I hoped to find new ways of preparing Alaska salmon. As the proprietor of a subscription dinner service in Sitka, I serve a lot of Alaska coho: broiled under a maple-miso glaze or roasted with caramelized-lemon mustard or marbled with roasted vegetables in seafood cakes. But I’m always looking to diversify.
During the day, I conducted research at Expo. I found inspiration in the Alaska hall, of course - an island of wild seafood producers in an ocean’s worth of aquaculture companies - and in booths from far-flung places like Ghana, France, and Japan.
At night, my husband and I searched for my next recipe in restaurants. The Spanish eat dinner between 9 p.m. and midnight, which was easy for us courtesy of jet lag. We sampled delicate hake cheeks in bechamel at the restaurant Denassus and exquisite black paella made with squid ink and the broth of monkfish heads at Cachitos. For dessert one night, we mused over chocolate mousse with an unusual salty garnish, trout caviar.
But I didn’t find the recipe I was looking for until 11:30 p.m. on the final evening. The dish wasn’t new to me, and it wasn’t Mediterranean. In fact, it wasn’t even salmon. That’s because when I saw Nobu Barcelona listed among the participants of Wild Week, a collaboration between the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute and twelve local restaurants, I jumped at the chance to eat one of my favorite fish - sablefish, also known as black cod.
Nobu is a worldwide empire of 50 high-end restaurants masterminded by namesake chef Nobu Matsuhisa. Black Cod with Miso is the brand’s most famous dish, achieved with a marinade of miso, mirin, sake, and sugar that permeates the fish’s rich meat in a perfect balance of sweet and savory.
That night, I was on a mission to find out as much as I could about Nobu cuisine, so we pulled the Alaska fisherman card. My husband longlined for many years, and I’ve fished for salmon as a troller and seiner. Our table was immediately assigned to the restaurant’s head waiter (fittingly known as the capitán), Ferran Pallares, who told us everything we wanted to know - most importantly, that Nobu restaurants source their sablefish from Alaska.
It shouldn’t have surprised me. I had met at Expo the broker who supplies Nobu with Southeast-harvested product. But it didn’t really sink in until I saw Ferran light up when he talked about the cold, nourishing waters he had heard about, as if from legend. I wondered how many Alaskans truly comprehend the reach of our seafood wealth, from the sablefish edge to the processing floors in our small coastal towns, to hearts and minds in New York, Barcelona, Dubai, and beyond.
I thought about the men and women who, at that very moment (early afternoon in Alaska), were hauling fish over the rail. They were cold, tired, and probably didn’t even know what day it was. But I was betting they were happy because fishing isn’t just a job, it’s a way of supporting families, chasing adventure, and finding a place in the world. I didn’t have a chance to tell Ferran that, but I will if we realize our dream of bringing him to Alaska to teach sashimi techniques (that’s when I’ll get my salmon recipe).
Nobu’s Black Cod with Miso was everything I had anticipated. It pulled apart in tender, buttery flakes that were both sweet from the fermented rice wine and savory from the house-made miso. Now that I’ve eaten the real thing, I’ll try preparing this iconic dish in my own kitchen, and maybe even put it on the dinner service menu.
In Sitka, I buy sablefish just down the street at Seafood Producers Cooperative, one of the same processors where Nobu restaurants source theirs. The reach of Alaska seafood is both extremely close and breathtakingly long. I just had to travel halfway around the world to realize it.
Beth Short-Rhoads is the chef-proprietor of Fireweed Dinners in Sitka where she offers 3-course weeknight meals by subscription. You can find her recipes for Alaska seafood on her website (www.fireweeddinners.com) or on Instagram (www.instagram.com/fireweed.dinners/).