After a miss last week (sorry!), Foodie Friday is back! Since we’re on Week 7 of tours of Southeast Alaska, I’ve gotten a pretty good steer on which of my dishes are ‘must-makes’ each week.
Our crab and shrimp haul is a favorite for guests on the boat for a couple of reasons. One, they get to be in charge of casting and collecting the pots that gather these delicious shellfish (under the guidance of Chef Jenn, of course). Two, the spotted prawns and Dungeness crab are to die for. It’s always the freshest you can get, which is the best ingredient!
An Update on Life in Alaska
Strange Creatures in Our Midst
No, I’m talking about the types that lurk at the bars in Ketchikan (though some would argue they qualify as strange). In the last few weeks, we’ve pulled some funky things out of the water!
First up was a monster octopus that ended up scaring all the shrimp out of our nets a few weeks ago. We took him to the back of the boat and had a photo shoot before he found his way back into the water to swim away.
Then the sharks, called spiny dogfish here in Misty Fjords, started biting at our bait. I finally got a good look at one of these during a lull in my cooking duties. They look like mini Great Whites! Okay… very mini.
The last is the halibut. I know that these tasty white fish are the primary reason people are coming up to Ketchikan to spend a week on a boat but… have you ever seen one? They look like they’ve been put together all wrong! After a few weeks of seeing these odd guys on the reg, I’ve started to think that they’re so ugly they’re cute. Weird.
Exploring the Land
I’ve finally started venturing from the boat a bit more on the weekend, if for no other reason than to stretch my legs! Fortunately, Ketchikan has a lot to offer by way of hikes, and I’ve been taking full advantage. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve circled Ward Lake and climbed to a waterfall past Carlanna Lake. Up next? Summitting Deer Mountain, the peak that towers over Ketchikan and takes about 6 – 8 hours to get up and down. Gulp.
Exploring the Nightlife
Back to my original comment about strange creatures… I’ve finally started braving the social scene in Ketchikan! Through a Facebook group I was able to connect with other seasonal workers in town, and from there I’ve made a couple of great friends. I can count on these girls to grab a beer and decompress after a week of hard work. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job! It’s just nice to have my feet on terra firma on Friday nights and the familiar glow of bar-sign neon every once in a while.
Of course, with that comes the interesting social scene that is Alaska. In a word: Men. Lots of them, and most are of the crusty commercial fisherman variety. It makes for some entertaining people-watching, but it can also get a little bit annoying when you’re just trying to have a chat with your girlfriends and you keep getting interrupted!
But I love the small-town aspect of socializing in Ketchikan. Yes, most of the regulars I meet are seasonal workers as well, but there’s a sense of community among us. And the more I go out, the more familiar faces I start to see. Which is comforting, because then it’s easy to target who the transient commercial dudes are to steer clear.
Holidays on the Boat
For the first time in four years I’ve celebrated the 4th of July in America! …And didn’t see any fireworks because we were deep in the wilderness. Sigh.
But I was so excited about it that I planned an entire BBQ menu for the day, from burgers to potato salad. And of course, I had to make the American flag cake!
Our guests brought some decorations, so we jazzed up the Saltery C and made it feel as much like America’s birthday as we could.
The guests and Captain Rob have started freshwater fishing at least one day per week, with Cap-o (nickname for the boss man) and the group taking off on his jet boat up the river for the majority of the day. This gives me time to do two things: 1. CLEAN the boat without feeling like I’m in everyone’s way and 2. Get some alone time. It’s a nice break, and I’ve used the time to catch up on sleep, get ready for the following week’s guests, and just read.
Of course, I’m also usually working on prepping dinner or dessert for that evening, but it’s a much lower-stress evening meal when I’ve had gobs of time to prep. I just have to pack the group up with a picnic lunch and kick back for a few hours!
Shrimp & Crab Mac and Cheese
Photo Courtesy of Captain Rob @ Classic Alaska Charters
Which brings me to the point of this post, 800 words later. A universal favorite dish since I’ve started cooking up here has been the Shrimp & Crab Mac and Cheese that I make for lunch the day after the big Crab and Shrimp Feast. Usually on Wednesday for dinner, the guests will eat as much steamed Dungeness Crab and Spotted Prawns that they can fit into their bellies. Whatever doesn’t make it down the hatch is free for me to use for the rest of the week.
The first time I made this, it got so many moans of delight and requests for second servings that it now is a staple onboard. Even people who claim to not like cheese or mac and cheese have enjoyed it thoroughly!
It’s also not too difficult to make: Cook the pasta and set it aside. Make the cheese sauce and pour it over the pasta. Throw in as much crab and shrimp as your baking dish can handle, mix in some bacon, top it with panko, and bake it! You’ll never go back to a box of Kraft again (sorry Kraft). They changed the formula for their cheese sauce anyway and now it’s nasty. So you’re welcome.
Shrimp & Crab Mac and Cheese Recipe
6 - 8 servings
20 minPrep Time
50 minCook Time
1 hr, 10 Total Time
- 1 pound orichiette pasta
- 4 slices of bacon, chopped
- 1 shallot, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 pound of crab, picked for shells
- 8 - 10 large prawns, cooked and chopped
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 8 ounces havarti or fontina cheese, freshly grated
- 4 ounces white cheddar cheese, freshly grated
- 2 ounces parmesan or asiago cheese, freshly grated
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/3 cup panko bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Generously butter a 2.75-quart Pyrex dish and set aside.
- Heat a pot of salted water to a boil and add the orichiette. Cook until al dente, about 11 minutes. Drain the pasta, cover, and set aside.
- Heat a skillet on medium-low heat and add bacon. Cook until crispy, then remove and set on a paper towel to drain. Add the shallot and garlic to the bacon grease and cook until softened, about 4 - 5 minutes. Add the cooked bacon, shallot, and garlic to the pasta.
- Toss in the cooked crab and shrimp meat with the pasta.
- Heat the butter in a medium saucepan until it sizzles, then whisk in the flour. Cook until the flour and butter mixture is thick and golden-brown.
- Pour the milk and cream into the butter and flour mixture and continue to stir. Cook until it's slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.
- Mix in the three cheeses and stir until the cheese is completely melted. Add the nutmeg and check for taste. You may want to add some salt, depending on the cheese you used.
- Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta and seafood and toss well to coat. Pour the mixture into the buttered dish.
- Sprinkle the panko over top of the pasta.
- Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the panko is golden and the cheese is bubbling. Pull out and top with the chopped parsley.
Okay dear readers, how does that sound? Pretty yummy, right? Let me know your favorite mac & cheese addition in the comments!