6. Vacationing in Alaska: "Don't Eat the Stink Heads"
Salmon is a staple of the native Alaskan diet and natives have traditionally used all parts of the fish. One of the traditional delicacies is fermented salmon heads. Colloquially the dish has earned the name “stink heads.” Essentially the heads of King salmon are buried in the ground in fermentation pits, put into plastic or wooden barrels, even plastic food storage bags, and left to let nature do its thing for a few weeks or more. The heads are then harvested and consumed as a putty-ish mash.
“Stink heads” as a distinct ethnic cuisine have been covered in various mainstream media the latest of which is The Food Network’s “Bizarre Foods” show. In and of themselves salmon heads are not repulsive, whole fish dishes are a legitimate part of rustic AND haute cuisine everywhere and King salmon is a real world delicacy. What has struck the “gross-out” nerve is the overriding fact that much of the stink head prep process is less about fermentation and more about rot and decomposition. The dish, by modern culinary standards, is nothing but rotten salmon heads, albeit treasured tribal fare. Imagine, a bucket load of large King Salmon heads left outside during the warm summer months for a few weeks….Outside the native Alaskan culture the stink head topic is nothing but a novelty, but health-wise the tradition of stink head consumption poses a real and continued challenge to regional Alaskan healthcare professionals faced with frequent and, sometimes serious, totally avoidable botulism cases.