Above: Fishing boats in Sitka Sound. Photo by Lione Clare.

Citrus Herb Crusted Alaskan Salmon. Lox Platter. Salmon caesar salad. Pan Seared Alaskan Halibut. These are some of the menu options for patients at SEARHC Mount Edgecumbe Hospital in Sitka. Since Lexie Smith began as Executive Chef just over one year ago, she has been working to integrate local, wild seafood into both the patient menu and menu for the newly-renovated cafeteria, The Island Skillet.

The Island Skillet retail line offers al la carte, coffee, salad bar, and entree options to the public. Photo by Lione Clare.

For salmon specifically, there are “plenty of health benefits,” said Smith. “It’s a great source of protein, omega fatty acids, and Vitamin B and D. Some of those omega acids you can’t produce, so the only way to get them is through your diet, and salmon is a great way to do that.” But salmon isn’t only on the menu because of its health benefits. “It’s also just a local favorite. It’s very plentiful here but something that people resonate with,” explained Smith.

Smith’s team considers food as part of the healing process, so their patient line is always sourced as local as possible. The seafood served in this line is from Sitka Sound Seafoods, which means it is caught fresh from the ocean waters surrounding Sitka. “We obviously want to pay homage to the culture and the native cuisine that’s here,” says Smith. “A lot of our patients are natives, so that is part of what we feel is a full circle restorative process. Patients are seeing doctors, but we cater to the idea that it’s a holistic healing process and food plays a part in that. Having the local seafood definitely lends a hand.”

Each patient plate is prepared individually. Here, a plate of seared and baked salmon accompanied by sautéed vegetables and rice is being served. Photos by Lione Clare.

The cafeteria uses salmon in many different ways, as well as rockfish, halibut, crab, squid, and clams. A highlight in the cafeteria is seafood soup Fridays. Each soup, whether it’s chowder, seafood gumbo, or bisque, is made from scratch the day it is served.

“One of our biggest hits is the smoked salmon lasagna”, Smith adds. “We smoke the salmon and do a bechamel sauce, which is a cream-based sauce instead of the marinara and that seems to go over really well. It’s fun to take the local foods and do our own little spin on it and find ways to reinvent them so it’s not monotonous.” Doing this while also keeping health in mind can sometimes be challenging, but even though a dish like lasagna might not be the first most healthy recipe, throwing in salmon is definitely a healthier alternative. 

Additionally, using and consuming salmon and other local seafoods means less environmental impact and better food security. Sitka is far from any cow, chicken, or pig farm, which means all of those protein sources must be transported and barged up using fossil fuels. Large-scale commercial food production, especially involving cattle, also produces powerful greenhouse gases that contribute to nearly a third of the United States’ Agricultural emissions (www.epa.gov/ghgemissions).  

 “We definitely take pride in what we do,” Smith shared. The kitchen crew is diverse, including Jamaicans, Norwegians, Filipinos, and Native Alaskans. “It’s fun to have the different backgrounds to try different things.” Since the menu ventures all over, having those varied backgrounds is really helpful. Traditional comfort foods, like meatloaf, are also desired and offered, however, the crew is always working to find ways to jazz things up with healthy and creative options that can keep customers involved and thinking about what they’re eating.   

Nutritional information, ways to stay healthy and active, and comment cards are available outside the Island Skillet. Additionally, everything on the line and the menu has the ingredients, nutritionals, portion sizes, allergies, and calorie counts visible. Photo by Lione Clare.

Smith is currently working on a donation policy and program she expects will take two to three more weeks to finalize. The goal of developing a donation program is to ensure the patient line can be sustained year-round with wild, local ingredients.

SCS supports salmon diets in Southeast Alaska because locally-sourced protein is better for both our health and the environment. Additionally, wild salmon are an important resource that help sustain our communities and the natural environment surrounding them.

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