Kasilof man sinks his teeth into new fish dogs

Posted: Sunday, May 26, 2002

KASILOF (AP) -- Coming soon to a ballpark near you: dogfish dogs?

Fred West, owner of Tustumena Smokehouse here, has perfected a technique for making polish sausage, bratwurst, pepperoni and breakfast sausage entirely from pink, chum (or ''dog'') and sockeye salmon.

Judging from the reaction he's been getting from customers, the product is bound to be a hit.

''I didn't even know it was fish. I think it's just great. I was just amazed,'' said Kelly Johnson while buying several packs of Polish sausage salmon to take on a trip Outside.

Johnson heard about the product when a friend offered him a piece of the fish sausage earlier this year. He said he was hooked from the beginning.

''It brought me out here, didn't it?''

West has been perfecting his technique for making the sausage for about seven years now. He said he got started on the idea out of curiosity.

''The reason I got into this is I just like to experiment around,'' West said in an interview.

What started as a hobby quickly became an idea to save his business in Kasilof.

''Over the last four years I've been sending samples out. Now I'm getting a lot of interest. What started as an experiment has become survival, it's as simple as that,'' said West, noting that retail prices for conventional salmon products have plummeted in recent years.

''It's an innovative product, and it's a value-added product,'' he said.

Don't think that because West uses mainly pinks and chum, traditionally the least expensive salmon, his product isn't high quality. He said he only uses fish that have been properly cared for.

''It has to be good fish. The fish have to be bled and iced and kept at the highest quality or I won't buy them. It has to be a top-notch, quality fish. You can't make silk out of a sow's ear.''

That quality is what West is hoping will catch on with consumers. He said he's already been contacted by at least three major chain retail stores. They are intrigued by the potential for the growth of the sausage product, he said.

''One buyer called and said, 'Fred, how much can you produce?' We're really excited.''

Right now, West's salmon sausage is only available through the Tustumena Smokehouse. But he says plans are under way to distribute his product at least locally.

''I'm pleased to announce that my first buyer will be Sally over at Sourdough Sal's. They're going to put it on the menu,'' he said.

''You can use it in anything, really. It's good in soups, stews, scrambled eggs, omelets, pizza, and you'd never know it's fish.''

As a customer, Johnson agrees West's sausage is good for the community as a whole.

''Every time I turn on the radio or pick up the news, all I hear about is how there's no money. What I want to hear is entrepreneurial stories like this. You should be proud of yourself,'' he told West.

Then Johnson opened a fresh package of the sausage and took a bite.

''I think it's great,'' he said.

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