Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Veal Shank with Saffron Cream & Chanterelles

The fall mushroom season here in Washington looked promising back in July and early August. We had a wet spring, there was good snowpack in the mountains, and another "marine layer" summer seemed likely. All that changed by mid-August. The weather turned hot and dry. Chanterelle pinheads—those baby mushrooms barely visible in the moss—either dried up or went dormant. Lobsters called it quits. And porcini never got out of the gate.

We finally got a significant rain the other day, but it may be too little too late. We'll see. In the meantime, there are chanterelles if you hunt in the likeliest microclimates. I got a bucketful at a go-to patch in the Cascade foothills last week, and this week I brought a class, along with Andrew MacMillen of the Kitsap Peninsula Mycological Society, to a patch that had just started cranking out both goldens and white chanterelles. Andrew scouted the patch last week and covered plenty of ground before locating this microclimate in a north-facing gully that was cool and wet enough to produce chanterelles while the rest of the area was bone-dry.

This is what I love about mushroom hunting. It's a game of skill and you need to know how to play all the cards in your hand. In this case, the main cards were meteorology, topography, and tree composition. Tree composition is the easiest and best card to play with Northwest chanterelles: young second-growth Douglas fir. The meteorology card was a little more difficult: we knew we had to take our Bainbridge Island class due-west to the southern Kitsap Peninsula where there was more precipitation. The topography card: shady pockets within north-facing slopes.

Using our knowledge gained from years of chanterelle hunting while wearing the prognosticator's hat led us to this one small ravine where two different species of chanterelle were flushing in profusion. What a treat to watch the students experience the thrill of the hunt. Shouts of "I've got one!" rang out through the woods, and everyone filled their baskets. Back at the kitchen facility we made Chanterelle Duxelles.

The first chanterelles of the season are always my favorite. They're firm and flavorful, without the large, tattered caps that are typical later in the season after multiple rain soakings. I like to save my smallest chanties for meals like the one I made last night: Veal Shank with Saffron Cream & Chanterelles. The recipe came from an excellent new cookbook by Jennifer McLagan, Odd Bits: How To Cook the Rest of the Animal, just out this month.

As you know by now, I'm a fan of nose-to-tail cookery, not just because it makes economic and conservation sense but also because the odd bits often taste best. Shank, though less adventuresome than organs, is one of those bits that's loaded with flavor—and in the case of veal, marrow. It's a rich cut, no doubt, which is why the chanterelles made such a perfect pairing, with their light fruitiness that lifted the dish from its heavy underpinnings of braised meat and cream sauce.

The author recommends a whole shank for this dish; I was only able to purchase a pre-cut section of shank normally used for Osso Buco, but this turned out to be just right for two. Otherwise I used almost the same amounts with a few minor exceptions.

1 veal shank section, about 1 1/2 lbs
salt and pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter, divided
1/2 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp saffron threads
1 heaping tsp tomato paste
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup veal stock
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 lb chanterelle buttons, halved
parsley for garnish

1. Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees. Pat dry shank and season with salt and pepper. In a large, heavy casserole or dutch oven, brown the shank in 1 tbsp olive oil and half the butter over medium-high heat.

2. Remove shank and add remaining 1 tbsp olive oil along with onion, carrot, and celery. Cook until softened over medium heat, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, saffron, and tomato paste, stir, and cook for a couple minutes.

3. De-glaze with white wine. Add the stock (I used Demi-Glace Gold from a package). Return the veal shank to pan with any juices, cover, and cook in oven for 1 hour. Turn shank, cover, and cook for another hour. Uncover and cook for final 30 minutes or so, until meat is tender and almost falling off the bone. Add water to braising liquid if necessary at any point while it's cooking in the oven. When done, transfer shank to a plate and cover loosely with aluminum foil.

4. Strain braising liquid through a sieve, making sure to press vegetables to extract juice. Reduce liquid in a saucepan to 3/4 cup. Stir in cream and check seasoning.

5. Meanwhile, saute chanterelles in remaining butter over medium-high heat.

I plated the veal shank over home-made gnocchi, scattered the chanterelles around the plate, and finished it with a generous pour of sauce and a sprinkling of chopped parsley.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Barter System

Tonight's dinner was the result of ways old and new: the barter system and social networking. Last fall a friend of mine on Twitter, Corky Luster, back-channeled me with a request: might I have some wild mushrooms to trade? As a matter of fact, I did. I set aside vacuum-sealed freezer bags of porcini and chanterelles. In return, he would give me a package of wild duck breast fillets.

Corky, besides being a duck hunter, is also a bee keeper and the proprietor of Ballard Bee Company. In the small-world-that-is-Seattle, his bee's wax was an ingredient in a medicinal balm made from cottonwood bud that my friend Melissa Poe gave to me in exchange for a jar of my Oregon grape preserves. For his part, Corky got some of the cottonwood bud in addition to the mushrooms.

And so it goes. We're physically connected by our diverse appreciation and use of nature's  bounty, and those connections spread out through society and loop back to us with the help of technological connections and associations. Is that too much for some believers in the American mythology of go-it-alone rugged individualism?

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Dylan was thinking about close-mindedness and the social change of the sixties when he wrote those lines to "Ballad of a Thin Man," but we might as well flash-forward to today and consider all the Joneses who scoff at any idea that doesn't fit into their narrow box. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, unknown and unheralded, there are committed folks trying to make their own small repairs to broken institutions such as our food system (corn subsidies, anyone?).

As the world continues to spin off into increased turmoil, I believe it's instructive to examine old ways and make them new again. The barter economy is just one example—and if such a seeming anachronism is nudged back into vogue with a little help from Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and other gizmos of the New New Age, so be it.

Back to those wild duck fillets. They got lost in the freezer for a while, but I found them the other day while inventorying my stash of frozen razor clams and immediately thawed them out. I took Corky's advice and did a quick grilling over high heat. First, I made a teriyaki marinade and sauce.

Teriyaki Marinade

1/3 cup aji-mirin
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/4 tsp hot oil
1 tsp black vinegar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 tbsp garlic, minced
1 tbsp ginger, minced

Bring aji-mirin to boil, then reduce heat to low simmer for 5 minutes. Add soy sauce, sesame oil, hot oil, vinegar, sugar, garlic, and ginger. Simmer for another 5 minutes.

I used about half the teriyaki to marinate the duck fillets, along with 2 chopped scallions and heaping teaspoons of minced garlic and ginger. Next I added a couple teaspoons of corn starch to the remaining teriyaki to thicken it into sauce. This got poured over the grilled duck fillets along with a quick sauté of chopped scallions, chanterelles, and more garlic and ginger.

It was nice to see my boy, with his inherited trait of thalassemia beta minor, devour his iron-rich duck and ask for more. His world will hopefully do a better job of reconciling new ways with old.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Mountain Huckleberries

I ate a bowl of blueberries the other morning, and while a bowl of blueberries is always welcome, it also reminded me why I take the trouble to head up into the mountains and spend a day picking huckleberries. The domesticated blue ain't got nothing over a wild huck. Just saying.

This year isn't looking like a banner huckleberry harvest in the North Cascades, but anything is better than last year. Last year the bears got into all kinds of trouble in town because the huckleberry crop failed so miserably. This year the bears should be a little more content. At least my go-to spot had ripe berries on the bush the other day, if not good quantities. Last year the only reason to go huckleberrying was to find porcini under the bushes.

Per usual, I spread the hucks on cookie sheets and popped them into the freezer for a couple hours. Once the berries were frozen I scraped them into freezer bags. This way we can reach into a bag and grab a handful whenever the need strikes. This need strikes my daughter quite frequently. She's a huckleberry fiend, so I need to get back up into the mountains soon or she's liable to get ornery. You don't want an ornery huckleberry-hankering six-year-old at home. It's like having a bear loose in the house.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Pickled Kelp

Recently I camped out with the family at Deception Pass State Park, one of the true gems in Washington State's park system. While beach combing and fishing for humpies, we came across a six-foot long strand of bull whip kelp (Nereocyctis luetkeana) that had washed ashore. The kelp looked like it was still in good shape (it didn't have the white splotches characteristic of an over-the-hill specimen), so we bagged it up and took it home.

Healthy kelp forests are the old-growth stands of the ocean. A hundred feet or more in length from sea floor to surface, they support a diversity of life. I've seen this diversity first-hand while free-diving in Puget Sound. Lingcod, greenling, and rockfish forage among the kelp forests; sea otters, seals, and other critters seek refuge from predators; and countless invertebrates make their homes there.

Our find immediately put me in mind of Jennifer Hahn and her wonderfully useful and poetic Pacific Feast: A Cook's Guide to West Coast Foraging and Cuisine. Hahn calls seaweeds the "most nutritious vegetables on Earth"—and the only vegetables that dance: "They jump and jerk to the bass thunder of waves. They shimmy and shake to the ebb and flood tide." I just knew she would have a good recipe for the kelp. Sure enough, when we got home I thumbed through my copy and found this recipe for pickled kelp.

I've eaten plenty of kelp pickles over the years but never actually made  them myself. For this recipe, imagine a typical bread-and-butter pickle, with its crunch and spicy sweetness, and add to it a subtle hint of the sea. After tasting these pickles, you'll look at a seaweed-strewn beach in a whole new way.

I cut Jennifer's recipe in half since my strand of kelp was on the small side, and I probably could have cut it in half again.

2 cups kelp rings
1 1/2 cups white vinegar
1 clove garlic, diced
1 1/2 tbsp pickling spice
2 tsp turmeric
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1/2 red onion, cut in crescents

1. Make the brine. Mix vinegar, garlic, spices, and white sugar in a sauce pan. Set aside.
2. Cut the kelp into foot-long sections. Peel each section with a potato peeler.
3. Slice each peeled section into 1/4-inch rings.
4. Add the kelp rings into the brine and set aside for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
5. After brining for 2 hours, boil contents for 5 minutes.
6. Spoon kelp rings and juice into canning jars and process in hot water bath for 10 minutes.

The pickles cure in three weeks, although we couldn't wait; after just a week in the jar they tasted darn good and brought back fine memories of a sunny long weekend at the beach.

Note: check state and local regulations before harvesting seaweeds. In Washington it's only legal to harvest beached bull whip kelp; cutting a living kelp stipe is illegal.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

High Tide Soup

Recently I had the pleasure of hanging out with a couple mad scientists of the kitchen in Washington's San Juan Islands. Eric (besides being an '80s pop aficionado and rapper-in-training) is a sous chef at Blueacre Seafood in Seattle and Scott is a software developer by day and the proprietor of the restlessly inventive Seattle Food Geek blog the rest of the time. It was my job to supply these two gastronomic alchemists with foraged wild foods so they could do their culinary magic.

If you're a regular reader, you know I'm mostly about comfort food, the kind you can make in your own kitchen without an arsenal of specialized tools and exotic ingredients. I don't pretend to be a trained chef or a molecular gastronaut. But I like to eat, and I'm open to all forms of eating. On Lopez Island Eric turned me on to a soup he likes to call High Tide because it evokes the sea with all its shifting flotsam and jetsam.

Despite the "high concept" appearance, this dish is right in my wheelhouse. First of all, it takes the principles of nose to tail eating, which we generally associate with landed livestock, to the oceans, where most of our prey is still wild yet diminishing. The backbone of the soup, so to speak, is the backbone of a salmon, the sort of leftover piece that usually gets chucked in the trash if not used for crab bait. Not in my house. It was the backbone of a silver salmon that supplied the meat for the risotto Hank Shaw made at my house, and my Salmon Head Soup distinguished itself enough to be included in the Foodista Best of Food Blogs Cookbook.

This time around the salmon was a pink, or humpy, as it's also known, and its backbone was the key ingredient in a satisfyingly complex salmon broth. A quick word on pinks: at one time, when the rivers of the Northwest teemed with salmon, the pink was reviled in comparison to its more toothsome cousins, the chinook, sockeye, and silver. Now it's the most plentiful wild salmon species in Puget Sound and demands our gustatory attention. Though not as versatile as its fattier relatives, pinks are still worthy with the right preparation.

The "meat" of the soup was entirely vegetarian—and terrestrial at that. Looking like weird sea creatures washed in by the tide, the leek bottoms and carrot tops, like the salmon backbone, are the sort of things that usually get tossed away. Shaved red cabbage completed the picture. I butter-poached these vegetables in clarified butter for a good 20 minutes or so, until the carrots were tender and the leeks and cabbage slightly caramelized with hints of brown.

It's impossible to overstate how impressed I was by this soup. The tidal broth was a hit of umami—not too fishy, with an earthy balance of leek flavor—while the sea creatures within absolutely bursted with flavor from the butter-poaching. The carrots tasted like the best sort of stewed carrot and the leek bottoms had a toastiness that was almost as unexpected as the chewy texture of the tentacles...err...roots.

This will be a dish that I serve at the next dinner party.

The Tide

2 small to medium salmon backbones (or 1 large)
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 celery ribs, diced
1 tbsp olive oil
3 leeks, just green tops, chopped
1 handful parsley, chopped
1 quart water
salt and pepper, to taste

Saute the onion, carrot, and celery in olive oil until softened. Add water and heat to a low simmer. Add the salmon backbones, leeks, and parsley. Do not allow to boil. Cook at least 2 hours. Adjust seasoning. Strain soup through colander and again through fine mesh and cheesecloth, until clear. Return to pot. Add thinly sliced rounds of leek bulb and keep warm until ready to serve. Cooking the broth at low heat will prevent it from being too fishy, while the leeks—both the green tops and white slices—will balance the flavor, amplifying the wonderfully comfortable umami.

The Sea Creatures

1 stick butter
3 leek bottoms, with roots, rinsed
4-5 carrot tops, with green nub
1 handful shaved red cabbage

Clarify the butter, then in a small sauce pan butter-poach the leek bottoms, carrot tops, and red cabbage for 20 minutes or so, until the cabbage is starting to brown at the edges and the carrots and leeks are tender. Use tongs to turn the vegetables periodically.

Plate the butter-poached vegetables in bowls and ladle broth. Serves 2.

This was just one of 10 courses that Eric prepared with Scott's help in the islands. I'll be posting more on this extraordinary feast in the future, when the video treatment is edited.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Mountain Morels

Morel season is over, but at the Perennial Plate my new friends Daniel Klein and Mirra Fine have captured on video the thrill of the hunt and the lip-smacking toast of success that is a fruitful morel foray in a truly beautiful place. Check it out!

The Perennial Plate Episode 69: Mountain Morels from Daniel Klein on Vimeo.