Friday, April 29, 2016

Shellfish Foraging & Cooking Class

PULL ON YOUR rubber boots and grab a bucket! There's still time to learn how to forage and cook Puget Sound shellfish. A new class has been added to this spring's roster after the other two classes sold out immediately. Currently there are eight four open spots.

We'll learn how to dig for clams, shuck oysters, and cook our catch. The class meets at Hood Canal's beautiful Dosewallips State Park on May 6 at 10:30am. Weather report is for sunny, mid-70s, but just in case we have a large covered shelter at the park for the cooking segment.

Cost is $85/person for a five-hour class and you'll go home with a cooler full of clams and oysters. Sign up through Bainbridge Island Parks & Rec by calling 206-842-2306 x118.




Thursday, April 21, 2016

Pasta with Oyster Mushrooms and Smoked Ham Hock

My usual oyster mushroom spots aren't producing so well this year. Maybe it's the combination of record winter rain followed by record spring heat. Who knows? Fungi are mysterious.

I've gotten used to kicking off the spring mushroom season with oysters before heading to the dry side of the mountains for morels and porcini. So I tried something new: cultivated oyster mushrooms.

While in Vancouver, BC, to give a talk at the local mycological society, one of the members, known as The Mushroom Man, hooked me up with an oyster log. In the past I've found my own wild oyster logs in the woods and fruited them at home, but this was my first attempt with a commercially inoculated log (basically a block of compressed sawdust that's been injected with oyster mushroom spores and incubated in a plastic bag that retains moisture and humidity). I followed the directions, gave the log a good soaking, made a few incisions in the plastic wrapping so it could breathe, put it in a cool corner of the basement—and promptly forgot about it.

A couple weeks later Martha told me I better go check on my log. Sure enough, the enormous caps of fresh oysters were sprouting from the top. I harvested this first flush and watered the log again. A second fruiting is just starting as I type this.

In the past I've made a lot of Asian-style dishes with oysters, like Bibimbap and Udon Soup. This time I put them to use in a classic Italian pasta where they went toe-to-toe with a smoked ham hock that had been braised in white wine, chicken stock, fennel, onion, and garlic. The resulting stock became the base of the sauce and was insanely savory, while the tender hock meat paired perfectly with the robust and chewy oyster mushrooms.

Growing oyster mushrooms at home is a fun science experiment, especially for kids, and at the end you get a delicious meal. Just make sure to check your log every day or you may miss the action.

Braised Ham Hock

1 ham hock
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 small fennel bulb, chopped
1/2 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 tsp black peppercorns

Pasta Sauce

2 tbsp butter, divided, plus extra if necessary
1 large shallot, diced
1/2 pound oyster mushrooms, chopped
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup reserved braising stock
1/2 cup heavy cream (or milk or half and half), divided
1/2 cup reserved braised ham hock meat
1/4 cup frozen peas
1 - 2 oz goat cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
8 oz fresh pasta

1. Braise smoked ham hock. I had my butcher saw the hock in half, then I braised it in a small pot with white wine, chicken stock, fennel, onion, garlic, and peppercorns. The liquid should cover about two-thirds of the hock. Simmer, with lid on, for about two hours, checking occasionally to make sure there's enough liquid, until meat falls off the bone. Add more water, stock, or wine if necessary. When meat is tender, discard bone and fat, reserving braised ham. Strain stock and reserve. You should have plenty of meat and some stock left over for another use. Set aside enough meat and stock for pasta, about a half-cup of each.

2. Over medium heat sauté diced shallot in a tablespoon of butter. Add chopped oyster mushrooms and cook together several minutes. Add more butter if necessary. Deglaze with a splash of white wine. Add a ladle of reserved braising stock and a quarter cup (or more) of cream or milk and reduce over low heat.

3. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Add 1 tbsp butter and quarter cup of cream or milk to large pasta bowl and warm in oven.

3. Cook and drain pasta according to directions. Meanwhile add frozen peas, braised ham, and goat cheese to sauce, stir lightly for a minute, and toss with pasta in warm bowl. Finish with grated parm.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

James Beard Award Nomination

I'm happy to report that my article "Into the Woods" for EatingWell magazine has been nominated for a 2016 James Beard Journalism Award.

The article follows Jeremy Faber, of Seattle's Foraged and Found Edibles, on a mushroom hunting expedition in the Pacific Northwest wilderness. Cathy Whims, chef/owner of Nostrana in Portland, OR, supplied the recipes.

For more on the secretive world and hidden economy of wild mushroom hunting, see my book, The Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Spring Classes & Lectures Announced

The spring foraging season is just around the corner. I'm partnering with The Field Trip Society and Bainbridge Island Parks & Recreation to offer a variety of classes for beginner and intermediate foragers.

Due to high demand for these classes, some sold out immediately, before I could even post them here. I will try to offer more in coming months (stay tuned), although shellfish classes are largely dependent on tide schedules.


Classes
* For Bainbridge Island Parks & Rec classes, please call 206-842-2306 x1 to enroll or be put on a waiting list for future classes.


Slide Lectures

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Taste of Place

I first met travel and food writer Joe Ray a few years ago when the two of us read together at Seattle Lit Crawl. At the time, the New Hampshire native had recently returned from a 10-year stint in Europe and was living on Lummi Island near Bellingham, Washington, absorbing the culinary metaphysics of The Willows Inn and its young chef, Blaine Wetzel, who had lately jumped up on the radar of globetrotting gourmands around the world.

Ray had already logged several months on the island and he was far from finished. We agreed to meet up again on Lummi in the spring, and when the time came, he graciously offered me the spare bedroom in the house he was renting not far from the ferry. "You don't want to drive all the way back to Seattle after dinner," he warned.

He was right. My wife Martha still talks about our meal at The Willows that night. Dishes included smoked mussels served in a little cedar box with wisps of fragrant smoke escaping from the lid, spot shrimp in nettle sauce with fresh-grated porcini steaming on top, spring lamb festooned with bright green miner's lettuce, and many other inventive takes on regional favorites. Each of the seven courses arrived with the physical trappings of the Pacific Northwest: atop hot stones gathered from a nearby beach; lying across a splinter of Douglas fir from the rainforest; in a clamshell. The Willows is not an overly ornate or fussy place, but its attention to detail—in particular, the details of place—speaks to a deep affection for the region.

Ray's collaboration with Chef Wetzel, Sea and Smoke: Flavors from the Untamed Pacific Northwest, is now out from Running Press. More than just a collection of recipes, the book explores what it means to live and work on an island in Puget Sound, and how the regional identity is expressed in local ingredients and foodways. Sockeye salmon, Dungeness crabs, hazelnuts, matsutake, and Pacific razor clams all make appearances, of course, as do other less expected ingredients: Nootka rose petals, madrona bark, the skin of halibut.

Joe Ray and I are neighbors now in southeast Seattle, so I caught up with him over a bahn mi and a game of pool at Billiard Hoang and asked what brought him cross-country to The Willows.

Joe Ray: By chance, I was invited to a wedding at The Willows in the summer of 2010. I met the Inn’s then-owner, Riley Starks, who’s a food lover’s food lover. He farmed, raised chickens, had run a pasta company, ran this great restaurant, and was part owner of a reefnetting operation called Lummi Island Wild—a total renaissance man. I even took pictures of his bookshelf, which featured titles on composting, seed starting, poultry raising, and Tom Wolfe’s A Man In Full. I was so impressed with him that I got my Boston Globe editor on the phone and sold her a story about Riley and the unbelievable setup on Lummi and stayed a few extra days. At some point in there, he mentioned that the “chef from Noma” was coming to be the chef at the Inn. It turned out to be Noma’s chef de partie, a young chef named Blaine Wetzel.

LC: Do you remember your first taste of Wetzel's food?

Ray: Of course! I was still living in Europe, but went back up to Lummi that December and was the first journalist to spend time with Chef Wetzel. In Europe, I’d been lucky enough to eat at several of the world’s best restaurants, including El Bulli, Sant Pau, El Celler de Can Roca, and Noma. Wetzel’s food wasn’t at that level yet, but then again, he was still in his early 20s and it was clear he was on his way. I wanted to tell the story of both the riches they’re blessed with up there and how it all comes together with Blaine in the kitchen to turn The Willows into one of the world’s great restaurants.

LC: You do that colorfully with a series of introductory chapters—vignettes, really—that capture life at the Inn and on Lummi Island. The second half of the book is the recipes. Translating restaurant magic into step-by-step instructions for the home cook is its own art form. Tell us your process...

Ray: The more detail-oriented you can be, the better. For a chef, recipes are often in their heads, with a few hastily scribbled lines in a notebook to jog their memories if need be. In my year at The Willows, I’d be paired with Blaine or one of the other cooks every Friday, all day long, and we’d turn one or two recipes they were cooking for that night's meal for 30 into something that serves 4 for the book. It’s a lot to work through. Something that might require a huge stockpot at the restaurant might only need a saucepan for the book, but I’d be damned if I was going to spend a full year up there and not nail these.

LC: Seriously, though. Is this a book for the aspirational chef or can any home cook reasonably make a meal from it?

Ray: I think it’s a bit of both. This isn’t something full of weeknight meal ideas. At all. This kind of food doesn’t happen quickly, even if you’re a chef. But if you want to make incredible food, like The Willows’ famous smoked salmon, this is how they do it. 

LC: I remember that smoked sockeye! At any other restaurant it would be a centerpiece. At The Willows it was a "snack" in between courses. Frankly, some of those snacks are as memorable as the mains. I see that one of my favorites, Caviar and Crepes, opens the recipe section...

Ray: Yes! Try it!

LC: Any final words of wisdom for home cooks who want to incorporate a sense of place into their cooking?

Ray: Cook the best of what you have access to. The Willows is a great model for this. Yes, they forage, but it’s just a part of it. They’ve also got a farm for fresh vegetables, salmon from Lummi Island Wild, and Jeremy Brown [a local troller], so it’s much more a combination of what’s growing and what's perfect right now.

Author photo by Steve Raichlen; Dried Mirabelle Plum Skins by Charity Burggraaf

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Saffron Milk Caps

The saffron milk cap is a wild mushroom that most pot hunters leave to the Russians. That's too bad because it's tasty and abundant.

Saffrons, or ryzhiki in Russia, are actually a complex of species in the Lactarius genus, and much DNA work needs to be done to separate the North American varieties. They're called milk caps for a latex they exude when cut. Some milk caps bleed white, some yellow, others red or orange.

Eastern Europeans have admired saffron milk caps for eons. I see Russians and Ukrainians in the woods outside Seattle carrying baskets overflowing with saffrons while their competition from other parts of the world is only too happy to leave the milk caps in the duff and fill their own buckets with matsutake or hedgehogs.

Saffrons bleed red or orange. The two most common saffrons for the table are Lactarius rubrilacteus and L. deliciosus (again, these taxonomic names are likely to change with future genetic testing). Both will bruise a greenish color (see photo above), which vanishes with cooking. I found the saffrons pictured here at about 4,000 feet in the North Cascades on the edge of an old-growth forest of mostly hemlock amidst a few patches of snow on the ground. They bled a reddish-orange color (see photo below right), though not profusely, and the green bruising was minimal. Saffrons generally have zonate caps (concentric bands in varying hues of orange, pink, red, or green) but these rings were very subtle in my specimens. As you can see, they also had hollow or partially hollow stems.

Perhaps one of the reasons many pot hunters don't eat saffrons is the difficulty of identifying to species. With most mushrooms that's a no-no—and I'm still not sure exactly what species the pictured saffrons are. Jeremy Faber of Foraged and Found Edibles confirmed that he sells this species as a saffron milk cap and that, if not L. rubrilacteus, it's a close relative. He also said that saffrons will bleed less during heavy rains.

Saffron milk caps are versatile in the kitchen. My pal Hank Shaw, in a nod to Eastern European foodways, preserves them in salt. Sautéed, saffrons keep their salmon color and firm, almost crunchy texture.  Some mycophagists have complained of graininess, but prolonged cooking eliminates this. The key to using saffrons is taking care of them in the field and then using quickly at home. These mature milk caps pictured, though completely bug-free, were more suitable for the pan than pickling due to their large size. The green bruising isn't appetizing, but as I said, it disappears with cooking.

Recently I came across a mushroom cookbook with some excellent non-cheffy recipes for the home cook, The Edible Mushroom Book. The recipe that follows is adapted from that with a few tweaks.

Pan-fried Chicken with Saffron Milk Cap Ragout

3 - 4 chicken thighs, skin on
1/2 lb saffron milk caps, cut up
2 shallots, diced
1 - 2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp butter
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 - 3 fresh sprigs fresh thyme
salt and pepper

1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Pat dry chicken and season with salt and pepper. In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium-high and pan-fry, skin side first, until golden, a few minutes on each side. Remove to an oven-proof dish and continue cooking in oven until juices run clear, about 20 minutes.

2. In same saucepan, melt butter and sauté diced shallots until soft and translucent. Add mushrooms, thyme, and crushed garlic and continue cooking together a few minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Deglaze pan with white wine and reduce by half. Add stock and heavy cream and reduce until desired consistency. Spoon mushroom sauce on plates and then place chicken atop sauce.

Serves 2


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Wild Mushroom Strudel

A couple weekends ago, while attending the Sunshine Coast Mushroom Festival in British Columbia, I got a bite of a Wild Mushroom Strudel and immediately vowed to make it at home.

First, though, I had to find the mushrooms. So I visited a regular patch on my way to Yakima to speak to the Yakima Valley Mushroom Society. It's a patch frequented by Eastern Europeans, especially Ukrainians, who pick a variety of different Leccinums including what they call "redcaps" (possibly Leccinum aurantiecum, though we're likely to see taxonomic changes in North America with further DNA testing). They leave all the matsutake, which happily went into my bucket, along with several gypsy mushrooms and a fat porcino of more than a pound that remarkably perched in the duff unscathed. When I got home, the gypsies and king bolete went into the strudel.

I've never made a strudel before. For this reason I kept things simple and bought frozen puff pastry from the store. You're welcome to make your own. A couple notes: braiding the puff pastry makes for an attractive presentation and allows air to escape through the vents so that the strudel doesn't blow up into a monstrosity. Dried porcini, though not mandatory, gives the strudel a deep mushroomy flavor. You need less of the mushroom mixture than you think. My next strudel will have a bit less than the one pictured here.

3 cups diced wild mushrooms
1 oz dried porcini (optional)
1 large shallot, diced
2 tbsp butter
olive oil
2 - 3 springs fresh thyme, de-stemmed
1/4 cup white wine
1 handful parsley, chopped
salt and pepper
1 sheet puff pastry
1 egg, beaten

1. If using dried porcini, pulverize in a food processor and rehydrate with 1 cup warm water. Set aside for 20 minutes.

2. Saute diced shallot in butter over medium heat until soft. Add diced mushrooms. Cook mushrooms and shallot together for several minutes. The mushrooms will soak up all the butter; add olive oil if necessary. When mushrooms begin to brown, deglaze pan with a splash of wine. Add mushroom stock and reduce until the mixture is moist but not wet. Stir in thyme and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat.

3. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out puff pastry into a rectangle about  12 inches by 8 inches. Place pastry on a piece of baking parchment atop a cookie sheet. With a knife, make diagonal cuts to the edges of the two long sides, so that the pastry can be folded up in a braided pattern. Spoon mushroom mixture down the middle. Fold up the strudel and pinch the ends. Brush with eggwash and place in oven. Bake until golden, about 30 minutes.


Friday, October 2, 2015

Halibut with Cauliflower Mushroom & Root Vegetables

It's another dry fall in the Cascades. The new normal. Even so, mushrooms are up if you know where to look. I visited one of my favorite mountain porcini spots the other day only to find a parched landscape with nary a cap or stem in sight. This is why a mushroom hunter needs a diversified portfolio of patches. The next spot, lower in elevation, with taller trees, a nearby watercourse, and more moisture, paid off. I also found a smallish cauliflower mushroom, the prize of the day.

The cauliflower mushroom, genus Sparasiss, is one of my favorites. It looks like something that should be growing on the sea floor, not in a forest, and it's one of the best tasting of all the wild fungi.  The mushroom grows from the duff at the base of trees, old-growth Douglas fir in particular where I live. When you find one, make sure to cut it off at the base with a knife. I try to leave some behind to finish sporulating.

If there's one drawback to Sparasiss, it's cleaning them. All those ruffles and folds collect dirt and pine needles as the mushroom emerges from the ground—forest litter that's difficult to remove. I run the mushroom under a strong tap and try to get as much off as possible, then slice into smaller pieces and wash those as well.

Cauliflower mushrooms are among the tastiest of our wild edible fungi, and in the kitchen they can be used in all sorts of ways. I braise, pickle, and sauté them. They're especially good in a mushroomy broth. You can cook them for hours, infusing your other ingredients with deep fungal flavor, yet they still retain their al dente texture.

This is the sort of dish that would have intimidated me when I first started cooking and now is second nature. The different elements are bound by an intensely flavored yet soupy sauce of butter, chicken stock, and mushroom.

2 portions halibut fillet
1/2 lb cauliflower mushroom, cut into pieces
4 tbsp butter, plus extra
1 shallot, diced
1/4 cup white wine
2 cups chicken stock
1/4 lemon
root vegetable medley, julienned
olive oil
salt and pepper
parsley garnish

1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Peel and cut root vegetables into equal shapes and sizes. Mine were twice the size of matchsticks, with a mix of celery root, purple yam, parsnip, and carrots, enough to cover a small roasting pan. Brush on olive oil and roast in oven, cooking for minimum 1/2 hour, tossing and seasoning with salt and pepper at least once.

2. While root vegetables are roasting, heat a large sauce pan on medium-high and melt 2 tablespoons butter. Sauté diced shallot for a minute or two and add mushrooms. They'll soak up the butter quickly, so be ready to add more butter or olive oil. Once the mushrooms have reduced in size and started to brown on the edges, add a splash of wine to de-glaze. Now add 1/2 cup chicken stock and cook that down, adding more stock as the broth reduces and starts to thicken, repeating until the broth is soupy and flavorful, 15 minutes or so. Squeeze in a quarter lemon. Before serving, stir in remaining 2 tablespoons butter.

3. When mushroom broth and root vegetables are nearly done, heat a non-stick pan on medium-high, grease with olive oil, and pan-fry halibut. Season with salt and pepper as you cook and add a little butter. Depending on thickness of fillets, cook each side for a few minutes until the fish is golden on the outside and opaque yet flaky tender inside. Spoon mushrooms and broth into bowls, cover with root vegetables, and top with fish. Sprinkle over a pinch of chopped parsley.

Serves 2


Monday, August 31, 2015

Ikura

With nearly 7 million pink salmon forecasted to return to Puget Sound rivers this year, just about everyone I know has been hitting the beaches with pink fever. Earlier in the month I spoke with David Hyde at KUOW about the many charms of pinkies, traditionally the least appreciated of our five Pacific salmon species. Since then I've nearly filled my catch card—and the freezer, with a year's supply of smoked salmon.

Today I searched this blog for a salmon caviar recipe and was surprised I'd never posted one. I've been curing salmon roe for years, ever since my pal Beedle (of Fat of the Land fame) showed me how more than a decade ago. Alas, it's been a year since my last caviar session and Beedle's notes have gone missing, so I took to the Web—and I'm glad I did.

I found this post by someone named Marc at No Recipes. To separate salmon eggs from their skeins, I've always used the warm water method. Though it works, it's messy and time-consuming, and the act of picking out all those nasty little bits of skein deserves to have its own ring in Hell. Instead I gave Marc's method a try...and I'm here to tell you it works. I found a wire cooling rack, the sort you might use for cookies hot out of the oven, and placed it over a large mixing bowl. Next I opened up the skeins and ran them back and forth over the rack. The eggs fell easily into the bowl. Besides doing the job quickly with minimal wastage, the process is an object lesson in the durability of salmon eggs. They're tough! Nature takes care of its own, if we let it.

After separating the eggs, I rinsed them in a wire mesh strainer with cold tap water and then adapted Marc's recommended ikura recipe rather than making my usual salt brine. Because I was using smaller pink salmon skeins, and because I didn't have any sake on hand, I halved his recipe and used aji-mirrin in place of sugar and sake.

3/4 cup dashi *
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp aji-mirrin
2 tsp kosher salt
2 small skeins salmon roe

* For making homemade dashi, see my post on Oyster Mushroom Udon.

1. Peel open egg skein with fingers. Separate salmon eggs from skeins by rubbing the open end of the skein across a wire cooling rack.

2. Mix curing ingredients together in a bowl and add the eggs. Refrigerate overnight, curing from 12 to 24 hours.

3. Drain. Ikura will keep in a refrigerated glass jar for several days.

I've eaten variations of salmon caviar and ikura made from every species of Pacific salmon. They're all good. Chum salmon eggs are especially beloved in Japan, but pinks have their own merits. The briny goodness of cured salmon eggs popping in your mouth is one of the great culinary delights—and a good reason to go catch a salmon.


Monday, July 6, 2015

Rock 'n' Roll

Seattle is bursting at the seams. Growing pains are being felt in all sorts of ways. Besides the traffic, an increase in fishing pressure is not just the stuff of grumbling old salts at the local. Take crabbing. According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's web site, "Catch estimates for Puget Sound as a whole show that recreational [crab] harvest more than doubled from 1996 to 2005." I can only imagine what the last ten years show.

The good news is that lots of people are getting outside and connecting with their natural heritage; the bad news is that this means shorter seasons, smaller bag limits, and increased competition. Fish and Wildlife manages the fishery carefully so that the tribes, commercials, and sports all get a piece of the action. In part, the agency depends on ever more accurate data to effectively balance the quotas, which is why crabbers now must purchase a crab endorsement (it cost me $8.75 the other day) in addition to a license and return a crab catch record card at the end of the season, just the way you would for salmon and steelhead. Then the number crunchers take over.

Summer crab season opened this past week for much of Puget Sound. I suppose I should feel lucky that I got a few. My usual spot was swarming with scuba divers. Every year their numbers increase. Out beyond the scuba crowd, a phalanx of small boats was busy dropping pots. On shore, guys were using spinning rods to cast miniature crab traps (the traps, about the size and shape of a suet bird feeder, are baited and rigged with loops of fishing line to snare the crabs). It was crabpalooza out there!

Meanwhile, a free diver such as myself just has to hope he can find some crabs in between the scuba crowd and the bank anglers.

It wasn't easy. I had to get resourceful. I only nabbed a single keeper Dungeness (a couple others were just shy of the 6 1/4-inch size limit and got tossed back). For the first time ever I decided to keep some good-sized rock crabs (pictured above and below). The size minimum is 5 inches across the carapace and these measured 6 inches, which is decent. Rock crabs have less meat than Dungeness, but they have large claws and their meat is sweet and delicious. And while rock crabs aren't as good as Dungies for a West Coast crab feed—their shells are thicker and require more effort to pick—they're still really tasty.



New England has the Lobster Roll. Out here on the Left Coast, we have the Dungie Roll—unless you want to take advantage of an underutilized seafood and treat yourself to a Rock 'n' Roll.

3 large rock crabs, shelled
4 soft French rolls or hot dog buns
1 cup shredded lettuce
1 thinly sliced tomato
1 dollop mayonnaise
1/4 cup diced celery tops (the leafy parts)
1 green onion, thinly sliced
1 heaping tbsp chopped parsley
squeeze of lemon
seasoning, i.e. paprika, white pepper, salt

Gently mix together the crab meat, mayonnaise, diced celery, green onion, parsley, lemon juice, and seasonings. Lightly toast French rolls or hot dog buns, slather with mayo, and assemble with shredded lettuce, sliced tomato, and dollops of the crab salad. I had to use hamburger buns from the Columbia City Bakery because they were sold out of hot dog buns and potato rolls—my bad for waiting until 4 p.m. on July Fourth to go bread shopping.