Monday, October 29, 2018

Matsutake Dobin Mushi

Last year my friend Taichi Kitamura, chef/owner of Sushi Kappo Tamura in Seattle, gave me a set of two dobin mushi teapots he'd recently picked up in Japan, where "dobin" means teapot and "mushi" is steamed. 

These ceramic teapots are used to serve Matsutake Dobin Mushi, a favorite seasonal dish in Japan that relies on thinly sliced matsutake mushrooms to flavor a subtle broth as they steam in the pot. Other ingredients such as small pieces of chicken, fish, or shrimp along with a few thin slices of mild greens (e.g., yu choy, baby bok choy, or spinach) are also added. The teapot is served with a small upside-down cup fitted to the lid, with half a yuzu on top. The steaming broth is then poured into the cup with a squeeze of the citrus and sipped like tea, while the ingredients in the teapot are eaten with chopsticks. It's a ritualistic meal that evokes memories of brisk walks in the autumn woods as the leaves turn colors and fall to the ground.

You may see sources online suggesting the substitution of matsutake with shiitake, oyster, or cremini mushrooms. Certainly you can do that—but you won't be experiencing the ethereal and aromatic treat that only matsutke can provide and which the Japanese call "autumn aroma." As for the broth, think umami. I asked Taichi for some tips. He makes a kombu dashi and adds manila clams and black cod bones. Shrimp shells work, too. Avoid aromatics such as onion, carrot, and celery, he advised, because they will over-power the mushroom. Season the broth with sake, soy sauce, and sea salt. Lastly, it's important to allow the matsutake slices to steep in the broth and impart their hints of cinnamon, spice, and fungus. Taichi recommends gently warming the teapots with all their ingredients in a bamboo steamer rather than cooking directly over flame.

Matsutake mushrooms are pungent, with meaty texture—a little goes a long way. If you're buying matsutake in the market you'll be spending a frightening amount per pound (they were $70/lb at my local Japanese grocer the other day), but luckily you don't need a lot, so just get a small button to serve two. And if you can forage them yourself in the forest, all the better. Mine came from a patch not far from Seattle, where I found several pounds of prime buttons pushing up through the moss beneath a Douglas fir. At the time I was hunting chanterelles, but I'll remember this surprise of a spot and return to it next year.

Matsutake Dobin Mushi

Serves 2

2 cups kombu dashi (see below) 20 grams kombu 4 manila clams 4 shrimp, peeled (reserve shells) 1 tbsp sake 1/2 tsp soy 1/4 tsp salt 1 small to medium matsutake button, thinly sliced 6 bite-sized, thin-sliced pieces chicken breast (or white fish fillet such as cod, rockfish, halibut) 2 baby bok choy (or other mild green), halved 1 yuzu, halved (or 2 lime wedges) 1. Make kombu dashi ahead. Soak 20 grams of kombu (dried kelp) in a pot with 4 1/2 cups cold water for several hours or overnight. Bring nearly to boil before removing kombu with tongs. Boiling will turn the dashi bitter. Refrigerate dashi or continue to next step. 2. Heat 2 cups of kombu dashi in a pot with clams and shrimp shells. When the clams have opened, remove all shells. Season broth with sake, soy sauce, and sea salt. Simmer until alcohol has cooked off. 3. Divide equal portions of sliced matsutake, greens, shrimp, and chicken into dobin mushi pots, then add hot broth. Replace lids and heat teapots in a bamboo steamer over a kettle of boiling water for several minutes. (You can also steam in a wok with a rack and lid.) This gentle steaming allows the matsutake to fully infuse the broth while the shrimp, chicken, and greens poach. 4. Serve Dobin Mushi with a half of yuzu or lime wedge placed on top of each inverted cup. After removing the teapot lid, inhale the autumn aroma. Winter is on its way.



Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Oregon Truffle Festival

Now entering its 14th year, the non-profit Oregon Truffle Festival's mission is to educate the public about native-grown truffles in the Willamette Valley. With events and workshops tailored to truffle cultivators, foragers (and their dogs!), chefs, epicures, and the merely curious, the festival celebrates a burgeoning culinary industry.

Truffles have been enjoyed for centuries in Europe, but it is only in the last decade or so that North American truffles have begun to appear on the gastronomic radar, including those wild black and white truffles endemic to the Pacific Northwest as well as European varieties such as the black Périgord that are now cultivated here.

If you're intrigued by this newly emerging homegrown truffle culture, consider joining me January 25-27 for the festival's Urban Forager Package, an action-packed crash course that introduces food lovers to the fungi's ineffable pleasures. The package includes an Italian-inspired Friday evening at Marché Provisions in downtown Eugene for bites and drinks; a Saturday excursion (hosted by me) with stops at Mountain Rose Herbs, J. Scott Cellars, and the 5th Street Market (for more truffle bites and pairings), followed by the multi-course Grand Truffle Dinner that night; and a Sunday visit to the Truffle Marketplace for tastings, cooking demos, and talks.

Bottom line: You don't have to travel all the way to France or Italy to experience the charms of truffle culture.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Honey Mushrooms

It's time to tackle the honey mushroom. I haven't written about it before because it's not among my favorites in the Kingdom of Fungi, at least from an edibility standpoint, but in a season such as this, when the mushroom gods are being parsimonious with their gifts, the time is right to make use of this abundant species.

The parasitic honey fungus is famous for being the largest organism on the planet. In the Blue Mountains of Oregon, a single individual has been estimated at covering more than three square miles of Malheur National Forest and is killing the fir trees there.

Science once recognized the honey mushroom as Armillaria mellea. We now know it's a complex of similar looking species. This was another reason why I usually passed on the honey; it was rumored among mushroom hunters that not all species within the complex were choice for the table, and that some might not be edible at all. What has become clear in more recent years is that all honey mushrooms, no matter what species, should be fully cooked before serving and that some people, for reasons not entirely understood, will experience what is politely called gastric distress regardless of careful preparation.

Just the same, people all over the world eat and enjoy honey mushrooms, which are so named for their coloration, not their taste.

For more information about identification, check out this video, which contrasts the honey mushroom with a poisonous semi-lookalike, the deadly galerina. I usually find honeys in large clusters on dead or dying trees in the fall, from sea level to sub-alpine woods. They can vary significantly in appearance as they age, and will develop from small buttons into broad open caps. I look for young ones with veils covering the gills and I trim away the fibrous stems. Where I live, I don't have to go far for honeys. They grow in Seattle parks and along trails in the Cascade foothills just outside the city.

In my opinion, honey mushrooms are a lot like supermarket buttons in both taste and texture. They can be mucilaginous—another reason to cook them amply—though some recipes for soups and stews make use of this characteristic as a thickening agent.

I usually prepare them simply. The sautéed mushrooms pictured above were cooked in canola oil over medium heat for several minutes before I lowered the heat and added butter and garlic. After a few more minutes on low, I stirred in some chopped parsley and served. Kinda like garlic bread for the carb-free set.

There are plenty other ways to prepare honey mushrooms. Remember to try just a small portion the first time you eat them, in case you're one of those who can't tolerate this mushroom.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Fall Classes

In partnership with The Field Trip Society, I'll be offering the following classes and events this fall.

* September 13, 5:30pm, Seward Park, Seattle: "After Work" Wild Edibles Walk

* September 27, 5:30pm, Seward Park, Seattle: "After Work" Wild Edibles Walk

* September 30, 6pm, Seattle: Foraged Dinner at La Medusa

* October 12, 10am, Tiger Mountain, Issaquah, WA: Wild Edibles Hike

Check this page for an updated schedule of events and additional classes.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Beef Pho with Licorice Fern

Everyone at the Mekong Market on Rainier Avenue knew what I was up to. The proprietor, a small gentleman always on the move, paused long enough to grin at the two packages of beef bones in my basket and give me the thumbs up. They were a dollar a pound.

Then he frowned when he saw the big bag of dried noodles—and quickly guided me by the elbow to a refrigerated aisle, where he pointed at the fresh rice stick noodles.

At the checkout, as I unloaded a bunch of basil, bean sprouts, a box of yellow rock sugar, and those fresh noodles, the Vietnamese lady in front of me said, "So you're making pho?"

I explained that I had a sick kid at home and this was his request. It was my first attempt. Did she approve of the beef bones?

Indeed. "But make sure to boil out the impurities," she added. This is a common refrain. All my online sources recommend a brief (three to five minutes) initial boil to exorcize from the beef bones what some call impurities and other call, simply, the scum.

I'm all for getting rid of the scum.

Here in Seattle there is likely more pho noodle soup for sale than any other dish. It's our favorite fast food. My kids have grown up with it and have some opinions. I wanted to do it right.

Besides making comfort food for my ailing boy, I also wanted to test an idea that had been percolating in my head for a couple years. There are two ingredients in a typical pho meant to impart a hint of licorice-like flavor, specifically star anise and fennel seeds. Star anise is native to southeast Asia. I wondered if I might use our native licorice fern instead of a spice from halfway around the world. (Read more about licorice fern here.)

I split my batch of pho and designed a simple A-B test: one pot spiced with star anise and the other with licorice fern.

The short answer is that both phos were smashing. The licorice fern, however, won't end up as a local substitute for star anise in my future attempts. Instead, it proved to be yet another possible variation in an eminently malleable dish that's always been a cultural mashup from its earliest beginnings in French-colonial Vietnam.

After testing the two batches, I recombined them. The fern root can't take the place of star anise, but like a stick of black licorice candy, it adds a back-of-the-palate sensation of spicy coolness—a palpable sensation similar to the way Sichuan peppercorn numbs and tingles the lips.

There are plenty of very similar recipes online for pho. Most of them recommend using cut up beef bones (knuckles, shins, etc.) and doing an initial boil to cook out the foam and impurities. This results in a broth that isn't murky. Charring the onions and ginger in the broiler before adding to the broth is another crucial step. I adapted my recipe from this video.

5 - 6 lbs beef bones
6 quarts cold water
2 medium onions, quartered
4-inch piece of ginger, halved lengthwise
1/4 cup fish sauce
1 1/2 tbsp salt
1-inch piece yellow rock sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp fennel seeds
6 star anise
6 cloves
2 pencil-sized licorice fern roots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
thin-sliced beef such as rib-eye, skirt, ti-tip, sirloin, etc.
1 package thin bánh phở rice stick noodles
sprigs of basil, mint, cilantro
bean sprouts
lime
thin-sliced red pepper
sriracha and hoisin sauce

1. In a large stock pot, cover beef bones with cold water and heat over high flame.

2. Meanwhile, heat oven on broil and place onions and ginger in a roasting pan just beneath heat. Roast 15 - 20 minutes, turning occasionally with tongs, until charred on all sides.

3. Toast spices (cinnamon sticks, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, star anise, and cloves) in a dry pan over low heat for 5 minutes, careful not to burn.

4. When stock pot comes to boil, cook 3 minutes so that scum rises to the surface. Drain in sink and rinse bones and pot with warm water. Return bones to pot and cover with 6 quarts of cold water. Bring to boil once again, then reduce heat to simmer.

5. Once broth is simmering, add roasted onions and ginger, fish sauce, salt, yellow rock sugar, toasted spices, and licorice fern. Simmer, uncovered, at least 3 hours. Skim off any scum that rises to surface.

6. Remove bones with tongs, then strain broth through a fine mesh strainer to remove remaining solids. Refrigerate broth overnight to easily separate remaining layer of fat, if desired.

7. To assemble finished dish, add rice noodles and thin-sliced beef to bowl. Cover with hot broth and serve with bean spouts, lime wedges, hot pepper slices, and sprigs of basil, cilantro, and mint, along with condiments such as sriracha and hoisin.


Friday, February 16, 2018

Spring Foraging Classes

I've partnered once again this spring with both Bainbridge Island Parks & Rec and The Field Trip Society in Seattle to offer a variety of spring foraging trips, from short, after-work wild edible ID walks in a Seattle park to all-day shellfish extravaganzas on Hood Canal. Two of these classes are already sold out, so don't delay.

Below are the classes and dates. Please do not contact me for registration—click on the links. Also, check back for additional classes.
  • April 3: After-Work Wild Edible Walk, Seattle, WA SOLD OUT
  • April 17: Shellfish Foraging & Cooking, Dosewallips State Park, WA
  • April 24: After-Work Wild Edible Walk, Seattle, WA SOLD OUT
  • April 27: ***NEW*** Wild Edible Hike, Issaquah, WA
  • April 29: Shellfish Foraging & Cooking, Dosewallips State Park, WA SOLD OUT
  • May 13: Shellfish Foraging & Cooking, Dosewallips State Park, WA SOLD OUT
  • June 15: Geoduck Foraging & Cooking, Dosewallips State Park, WA SOLD OUT

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Matsutake Sukiyaki Hotpot

I GOT A CALL from Doug (of The Mushroom Hunters) the other day. He's bivouacked somewhere down in Humboldt or Mendocino County picking blacks and hogs. Meanwhile, Norcal friends of mine have been heckling me with texts and photos of their matsutake hauls of late.

Matsutake was still on sale (for outrageous prices) at Uwajimaya in Seattle last time I looked, so if you don't live in California you might be able to make this dish with fresh store-bought mushrooms. Me, I had some just before the holiday season, which occasions this post, and probably won't enjoy it again until next fall.

***

AS A CHILD of the seventies, I'm well acquainted with regrettable fads, from pet rocks to Farrah Fawcett haircuts.

Fondu is not among them.

Our family loved fondu, one of many food crazes during that unfairly maligned decade, and we went through a few different fondu cooking sets just as Star Wars was beginning its long run. Invariably the slender forks got lost or broken, and anything made of wood ended up scorched by the little Sterno tins. But under the Christmas tree each year there would be a fresh new set to put to work.

Forget the Euro-Swiss cheese thing. We all preferred meat fondu, cooked in a pot of boiling oil that could have easily sent one of us kids to the ER with a misplaced elbow, not that anyone worried about stuff like that back then. My dad would bring home good beef from the butcher, pre-cut into small cubes; Mom kept the cupboard stocked with the few sauces available at the time, most of them with a Kikkoman label.


I WAS REMINDED of these good times around the fondu pot after spending an evening with my friend Taichi Kitamura recently at his top-notch Japanese restaurant, Sushi Kappo Tamura, devouring Sukiyaki Hotpot.

It was the tail-end of matsutake mushroom season in the Pacific Northwest and Taichi invited me to partake in a traditional preparation. With a dozen of us at the table, he had three bubbling hotpots along with platters overflowing with matsutake mushrooms, thinly sliced rib-eye and short rib, Napa cabbage, tofu, and pre-cooked cellophane noodles.

Taichi doesn't use beef stock in his broth, or any stock for that matter, and I soon discovered that a simple mixture of water, sake, and soy sauce (sweetened with sugar) becomes increasingly profound as more ingredients, especially fresh slivers of matsutake buttons and premium cuts of beef, are cooked in it over the course of the evening.

The matsutake gives the broth its signature taste that is reminiscent of cinnamon and spice yet earthy and, for lack of a better word, fungaly. Autumn aroma is how the Japanese describe this tantalizing flavor. By the end, all the guests were clamoring for to-go containers so they could take home the rich dregs of this amazing broth mixed with a little rice.

Now I'm shopping for a fondu set—or maybe even a traditional Japanese or Korean hotpot. Regular readers will know that I've posted a Matsutake Sukiyaki recipe in the past, but Taichi has convinced me that it can be so much simpler and just as delicious. From now on I won't be sautéing any of the sukiyaki ingredients; it's just as tasty (even more so) to cook all the ingredients right in the pot, while sitting around the table with friends and family just like the old fondu days.

This same method is easily accomplished in the woods, by the way, after a long day of mushroom hunting, which puts it on an even higher level in my book.

3 cups water
1 cup soy sauce
1 cup sake
1/3 cup sugar (or more, to taste; Taichi will use as much as 3/4 cup)
3 - 4 (or more) matsutake buttons, thinly sliced
1 lb beef, thinly sliced (rib-eye, short rib, etc.)
1 lb cellophane noodles, pre-cooked
1/2 small Napa cabbage, sliced into wide ribbons
1 package tofu, cubed
1 small onion, sliced into half-moons (optional)
rice to accompany

1. Make rice and prepare raw hotpot ingredients: arrange beef on a platter, cube tofu, slice matsutake mushrooms and cabbage, and boil noodles until al dente before rinsing with cold tap water.

2. In a pot mix together water, sake, soy sauce, and sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat slightly. Allow some of the sake alcohol to burn off before adding matsutake. Cook matsutake at a low boil or high simmer for a few minutes until its flavor has infused the broth, then begin adding raw ingredients in small portions. Add noodles last, just before ladling into bowls and serving with rice. Repeat. And repeat again.

Serves 4.


Monday, November 13, 2017

The Fly Tapes: Episode 3

Recently I had the pleasure of talking with Jason Rolfe, a writer and fishing guide who uses fly-fishing as the put-in to navigate an ever-changing stream of words, art, and ideas through a variety of mediums. In addition to guiding and taking shifts at my local flyshop, Emerald Water Anglers in West Seattle, Jason operates the Syzygy Fly Fishing web site, runs a podcast called The Fly Tapes, and is the impresario behind Writers on the Fly, a traveling reading series that combines tales inspired by fly-fishing with visual art, music, conservation, and beer (not necessarily in that order).

In episode three of The Fly Tapes I talk to Jason about salmon culture, the recent release of my book Upstream: Searching for Wild Salmon, from River to Table, and the writing life, among many other  topics, in a wide-ranging conversation that might as well be taking place in a drift boat deep within a basalt slot canyon.

In related news, this week kicks off the second annual Cascadia Tour for Writers on the Fly, with readings/happenings in Bend (11/14) Portland (11/15), Seattle (11/16), Bellingham (11/17), and Vancouver, BC. (11/18) I'll be at the PDX gig this Wednesday with several other esteemed writers, artists, conservationists, and moon-howlers.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Razor Lit

With a tentative fall schedule of razor clam digs released by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, it's time once again to turn our attention to the golden-hued shellfish of Pacific Northwest dreams, the one that inspires thousands of otherwise sensible citizens to flock to the coastal tsunami zone during the most miserable beachgoing months of the year and get in touch with their inner hunter-gatherer. Indeed, on your average razor clam opening, you will see more people on a Northwest beach than on the sunniest summer day of the year. Lots more.

Razor clam culture is an especially big deal in the Evergreen State, big enough to warrant a new book solely on the subject from the University of Washington Press.

For the uninitiated, David Berger's Razor Clams: Buried Treasure of the Pacific Northwest, is just the ticket to understanding what all the fuss is about. Berger is a lively guide to Siliqua patula's ecology, culinary lore, and historical importance in the region. Smartly, he peppers the book with recipes throughout, for the razor clam is rightly considered a local seafood delicacy up there with salmon, spot shrimp, and Dungeness crab, if a bit more blue collar. (Razor clams rolled in Ritz crackers, anyone?) Berger's recipes span the spectrum, from deep-fried fritters to poached clams with snap peas and champagne vinaigrette, and of course several different chowders.

Learning about the natural history of my quarry is one of the reasons I forage. In this case I learned some new things about an old favorite. To wit: Razor clams have copper-based blood, not iron-based, so they can accurately be called blue-bloods. Surprisingly, their preferred diet of microscopic phytoplankton has shifted in the past century, with various species of diatoms revolving at the top of the menu, possibly as a result of dam-building on the Columbia River. I picked up some new slang, too. Seagulling is the act of horning in on a successful clam digger's spot. The author also gets into the finer points of naturally occurring toxins that have put the kibosh on entire seasons in past years, from domoic acid to the sinister sounding Nuclear Inclusion Unknown disease, or NIX.

For many clammers, the excitement is all about the capture—that moment when primitive hunter-gatherer impulses start flowing like teenage hormones. Berger supplies the necessary info to get started, with a detailed analysis of the two main digging tools, the shovel and the tube (and a discussion of which is worthy of the label "clam gun"), and strategies for locating the hidden jewels.

But my personal favorite parts of the book concern the culture. The author introduces us to several characters whose working lives are deeply connected to a humble clam, such as a state biologist who develops a more accurate method of counting the overall population; the mayor of Long Beach, where an annual razor clam festival celebrates the mollusk's role in coastal economies; and a tribal digger from the Quinault Indian Nation, who tells us that a few good tides might earn him up to a thousand dollars.

"That's enough for me for a month," the tribal digger says, reminding us of what constitutes true abundance.

Readers looking for such nourishment will find much to savor in this account of a beloved bivalve.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Wall Street Journal Reviews UPSTREAM

Dear Readers, I'd like to share The Wall Street Journal's review of Upstream with you in full as it isn't available online without a subscription. The review, by David Profumo, appeared in the weekend edition, June 24.

Chinook, sockeye, coho, chum, humpback, steelhead—they sound like a lineup of heavy metal bands, but these are all species of the Pacific salmon genus Oncorhynchus, a charismatic tribe of silvery migrants once so prolific that they were used for fertilizer and dog food but are now, in places, so embattled that some fragile populations face extinction. In the words of Langdon Cook, author of this invigorating book, “They’re dissolving into fable.”

At the heart of “Upstream” is a journey—the oldest shape in literature. It follows the precarious odyssey of these fish that are born in freshwater streams, swim down to feed and mature in the ocean, then run up again to spawn just once, and die. This is known as anadromy (eels, which do the reverse, are catadromous), and salmon’s dramatic life story has captivated the imagination of many peoples in the Northern Hemisphere, eliciting wonder at the salmon’s powers of endurance and giving rise to fluvial myths and seasonal ceremonies that persist even though the heyday of great abundance is largely gone.

In tracing the history and life cycle of these iconic creatures, Mr. Cook embarks on a series of his own journeys—14 nicely episodic chapters that explore how and where such fish still survive in the modern world, despite the threats of logging, dams, the diversion of running water for domestic and commercial uses, overfishing, and climate change. It is a saga that has been told before but seldom with such immediacy and panache.

“Upstream” covers a lot of ground. We begin in a high-end Seattle restaurant, where the season’s first, greatly prized king salmon are being prepared for table. They hail from Alaska’s Copper River, where the annual catch is carefully monitored, but elsewhere the situation is becoming dire. Along the Columbia River in Washington, “harnessed for power” by the Grand Coulee Dam, 1,200 miles of spawning grounds were closed off and a 10,000-year-old tribal havesting spot obliterated back in 1957. Today the salmon runs on the Columbia are augmented by hatchery fish, pale imitations (“an illusion that everything is okay,” in Mr. Cook’s words), but if you want the real thing, you will have to buy it beneath the Bridge of the Gods, from Native American netsmen who are the only people licensed to catch wild chinook there—a source of continuing controversy.

As he visits other waterways that have similarly become part of engineered landscapes—the Golden State’s Sacramento River is “on life support,” the Snake River in Oregon and Idaho has been “handcuffed” by dams and is thronged with newly prolific predators—the author encounters a spirited cast of characters that includes foodies, eco-warriors, sport anglers, local bureaucrats and zealots of every stripe, all of them passionate and often at loggerheads with one another over the use of fresh water, the lifeblood of every region. From the remote gill-netting community of Cordova, Alaska, to British Columbia’s fabled Kispiox River, “Upstream” charts numerous conflicting attitudes toward the sharing of natural resources.

Even the existence of hatcheries is contentious. In a lively chapter titled “The Ballad of Lonesome Larry,” Mr. Cook describes the painstaking efforts of scientists at Idaho’s Eagle Fish Hatchery to sustain a sockeye run that has to migrate 900 freshwater miles and surmount eight hydroelectric dams. This certainly appears a heroic undertaking by all concerned, but some purists regard reared salmon as “zombies” and “clones” that merely dilute the gene pool when funds would be better applied to habitat preservation in the “strongholds” where wild populations are hanging on. There seems to be precious little agreement.

Throughout these sorties, Mr. Cook is a congenial and intrepid companion, happily hiking into hinterlands and snorkeling in headwaters. Along the way we learn about filleting techniques, native cooking methods and self-pollinating almond trees, and his continual curiosity ensures that the narrative unfurls gradually, like a long spey cast. One arresting example is his description of the reef-netters on Lummi Island, in the Puget Sound. Here entrepreneur Riley Starks has revived a traditional practice of luring sockeye salmon down an avenue of ropes and colored ribbons to the waiting net, where they are individually handled, thus avoiding any wasteful bycatch. The fish taste better, too, because they are “untainted by a stressful death,” whereas salmon caught with gill nets “might spend hours, or maybe even an entire night . . . hanging dead in the net.” There are now fewer than 100 reef-netters working anywhere, none of them Indian. “Upstream” may bristle with fins, but the human factor is a crucial aspect of each journey.

As well as being a gastronome and a naturalist, Mr. Cook is a passionate angler. Homo piscatorius tends to see the aquatic world with a sportsman’s peculiar intensity, and he is good on the beauty and “otherness” of his elusive quarry. On Washington State’s Drano Lake, he drags plug baits and cranks in a hatchery-bred 12-pounder; from a secret “honey-hole” in Oregon, he lands a fine 20-pound king salmon with guide extraordinaire Guido Rahr. In the penultimate chapter (“Herding the Pinks”), he joins a flotilla of die-hard aficionados on Labor Day fishing Seattle’s industrialized Duwamish River in pursuit of the often despised little “humpies,” or pink salmon, despite the trash compactors and barge traffic. (This type of urban angling is becoming a global cult: In April, I was fly-casting to catfish just upstream of the Ponte Vecchio in downtown Florence.) The chapter ends with a kid triumphantly yelling, “I’ve got one”—a phrase, as Mr. Cook says, “as old as language itself.”

With a pedigree that includes Mark Kurlansky, John McPhee and Roderick Haig-Brown, Mr. Cook’s style is suitably fluent, an occasional phrase flashing like a flank in the current. One stream is described as sauntering languidly, like “an elderly flâneur out for a morning constitutional”; a spawning king has “pectoral fins working like frayed Chinese fans.” For all its rehearsal of the perils and vicissitudes facing Pacific salmon, “Upstream” remains a celebration. Given half a chance, nature is resilient, like a thistle muscling up through tarmac. This is not a work of eco-worship, but early on in his book Mr. Cook observes, “Our planet, the only one known to have life on it, is nothing short of a miracle.” Could we please have that entered in the minutes?

—Mr. Profumo is the fishing correspondent for Country Life magazine in the U.K.