Two local businessmen are kings of the caviar

Posted: Friday, May 30, 2003

On the WaterfrontBy Elton Engstrom

It's not that easy to get a mention in the New York Times. Of course, if you are famous like Gov. Murkowski and Deidre McDonnell, you get noticed, but for a fish buyer?

That's a long pull. I was never written up in the Times and I'm 68 years of age. But Eric Norman, fish buyer of Taku Smokeries, was quoted in the Jan. 15 edition.

He was not on the front page, or even in the business pages, but it is still noteworthy to be in the Dining Out section. He wasn't reported to have dined out at a swank New York restaurant. His quote came while sitting in his office on the Juneau dock.

The name of the article was, "Salmon Brings Its Own Caviar to the Table." Norman is quoted as saying the Taku Smokeries plant harvests more than 100,000 pounds of caviar each summer. He says that most is shipped to Japan, where "Red caviar is king."

Another item, from the March 18 edition of the Times reports a recent study led by a scientist at the University of Windsor in Canada. The study shows that the eggs of farm-reared salmon are smaller than wild salmon. So not only do these farm-reared fish have no taste, because, like turkeys, they are raised on pellet food, but they are also genetically inferior compared to our wild Alaska salmon.

Dick Hand, of Juneau, and his Alaska Seafood Co. are in the business of processing caviar, as well as salmon, packed in cans and pouches. He uses two-ounce jars to pack his caviar.

He buys ikura, a Japanese word for the single egg, as distinguished from sujiko, which is the whole skein of eggs. He holds the frozen eggs in his refrigerated storage room until ready to start processing. After packing the eggs, the two-ounce jars are placed in a retort and cooked for one and a half hours at a temperature of at least 120 degrees Fahrenheit. A higher temperature is not needed, because, in addition to the heating, the salt itself acts as a preservative. Dick Hand's caviar is available at local retailers.

For many, the question is often asked, whether things started with the chicken or with the egg. For Dick and Eric, you can say, it started with an egg - caviar, that is.

• Elton Engstrom is a lifelong Alaskan, retired fish-buyer, lawyer and legislator (1964-70) who lives in Juneau. He can be reached at 586-1655.

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