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We Eat What? A Cultural Encyclopedia of Unusual Foods in the United States
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2 AKUTAQ Popular upriver akutaq contains cooked fish—especially whitefish. The fresh fish is scaled, gutted, quartered, and boiled, before being skinned and deboned. The remaining meat is squeezed to remove any excess liquid, finely crumbled, and then blended in with the fat base. Mashed potatoes may also be used in place of fish to replicate the texture. The precise origins of the dish are unknown, but the accepted history is that akutaq was developed hundreds if not thousands of years ago as a portable, nutrient- and calorie-dense diet staple that could sustain hunters over long trips in the freezing Arctic temperatures. Though akutaq is now treated as a dessert or snack, traditionally it would have been a savory subsistence food, lacking in the sweetness now obtained from the addition of sugar. In outlying Inuit villages, aku- taq containing the dried meat of wild game is still consumed in this manner. The animal fats and oils used in akutaq are rich in fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A and D, while the addition of berries, fish, or greens served as a way to preserve sources of vitamin C and other micronutrients, particularly in the winter months when fresh sources weren’t available. Though modern refrigeration no longer necessitates that wild fruits be mixed with fats in order to be preserved in permafrost cellars, akutaq is still frequently made in the summer months, when berry harvests are plentiful, and frozen for later use. Traditional akutaq can be difficult to find commercially because of restrictions on the selling of native foods. Certain subsistence foods that form the basis of akutaq— locally caught fish and wild game—are legal for Alaska Natives and permit-holding residents to obtain but barred from sale, raising concern about the sourcing of akutaq ingredients at local markets and cultural centers where only akutaq made with commercially processed fish and oils meet food safety regulations. Thus, when many Alaskan visitors describe akutaq, they are most likely describing a particular version of “coastal” akutaq, a version containing only fat, berries, and sugar, made with Crisco and only supplemented with animal fats and oils. Stephanie C. Jolly Modern Akutaq Yield: About 10 servings (1/2 cup each) Ingredients 1 cup vegetable shortening or lard 1 cup sugar 3 cups fresh or thawed blueberries, lingonberries, raspberries, blackberries, salmonberries, cloudberries, and/or other local berry of your choosing Directions 1. In a large bowl, add in the vegetable shortening and whip with one hand until it becomes soft and creamy. 2. Add the sugar and continue to whip by hand, incorporating air, until the sugar is fully blended and the mixture is light and fluffy.