Monthly Archives: January 2015

Smoked Salmon Candy

candy2Last week I was forced to play the bi-annual standup freezer defrosting game. My freezer cost me zero dollars to haul away from some guy’s basement, but you get what you pay for, and in this case it has a couple dents in the upper left corner that prevent a perfect seal when the door is closed, and though I solved this problem with stick-on insulation strips, over the course of a year or two, ice gathers in this corner until it overwhelms the whole freezer ecosystem and the entire thing begins to accumulate a layer of snowy frost.

The defrosting requires multiple pots of boiling water to steam out the ice and a little chiseling with a claw hammer. Meanwhile, all my wild food waits patiently in four coolers before it can be re-stacked in the freezer.

This is a good opportunity to take stock. I found frozen packages of stinging nettles from 2010; into the trash they went, sadly. The half-quart tubs of salmon stock went happily in the trash; frozen salmon stock is nasty, friends, and the fresh stuff isn’t much better, I’ve decided, with only limited applications.

Speaking of salmon, I’ve got more than a hundred pounds of kings, silvers, and pinks in the freezer, mostly kings from some very successful fishing trips on the Oregon Coast this summer. I went through my vacuum-sealed packages and found a few with air pockets and less than ideal seals. These had developed some frost inside, and I could see the beginnings of freezer burn. Time to make smoked salmon candy.

5 lbs salmon collars, bellies, or fillets cut into strips

Dry brine:

1 cup pickling salt (or regular, non-iodized)
4 cups dark brown sugar

Glaze:

1/4 cup maple sugar
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup Grand Marnier

1. Mix the dry brine. My standard brine is a 1:4 ratio of salt to brown sugar for a 12 hour brine. Often I’ll add a whole head of chopped garlic and fresh ground pepper to this, and sometimes other spices as well. For salmon candy, I keep it simple: just salt and dark brown sugar.

2. Prepare the salmon. Remove pin bones with pliers and cut fillets into strips (with a large chinook, my strips are 2 to 3 inches wide).

3. Pack the salmon pieces with dry brine in a non-reactive (e.g., Pyrex) dish, skin up for a single layer. If stacking fish in more than one layer, place first layer skin down and second layer skin up, so the fish is flesh to flesh, why the dry brine packed between. Brine overnight or 12 hours. The brine will be soupy by the end.

4. Remove salmon pieces from dish and rinse with cold water under tap. Place skin down on wire racks to dry for 2 to 4 hours. Don’t cheat on this step. It’s important to let the fish dry and firm up; the exterior should be tacky, not wet. A pellicle forms, which helps retain moisture and flavor during the smoking process. I speed up this step up with an electric fan, but it still takes at least a couple hours.

5. Smoke the salmon in your usual way, low and slow if possible. I use a Weber Bullet, which is a hot smoker, meaning the heat from the fire and not just the smoke contributes to the cooking and smoking process, so I try to keep my bed of coals fairly small and heavily damped down. The temperature ranged from 125 to 150 degrees for the first three hours, and then 100 degrees for the last two hours. Cherry or apple wood is good (I used apple this time). A long, low smoke is preferable, especially for candy. While the fish is smoking, brush on glaze periodically, once an hour or so.

 

Abalone Sushi

abs6Happy new year, everyone. As you can see, FOTL has taken a vacation since early November. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t been out there, reveling in the wild bounty.

As in past years when the days turn dark and rainy, I made tracks for the promised land. This time, unlike previous trips in recent memory, the promise was fulfilled: what an extraordinary winter fungi harvest in California. Just add water! as they say. The beleaguered mushroom hunters of the Golden State, pummeled by drought, are seeing the sort of season mostly remembered by old-timers, and all it took was a well-timed spot or two of precip.

I suppose this is the new normal in our era of climate weirding.

I was fortunate enough to join fungus seekers in the Woodlands of Mendocino, a quiet camp among the redwoods about 10 miles inland from the Pacific, where members of the Mycological Society of San Francisco and other local mushroom clubs hold an annual weekend-long foray. And the timing couldn’t have been better. The mushrooms were (and are) popping with abandon. Even now, a couple months after my trip, friends continue to text me photos of enormous matsutake hauls. Porcini started fruiting on the coast as early as September, and black trumpets are having a banner season (not to mention the beautiful specimen of western grisette, Amanita pachycolea, pictured at left). I guess the mushrooms figured they better sporulate while the opportunity presented itself. Collectors in camp brought back queen boletes, oysters, hedgehogs, golden chanterelles, even candycaps, another early pop.

But this post is about snails. After the Woodlands Foray, I joined my friends Curt and Carol on the coast for a night of eating from the sea. Earlier that day they had donned wetsuits to wrangle up some abalone and lingcod. This was my first time really getting serious with abalone. After pounding the meat, Carol sliced it thinly and served a first course of sashimi. The second course was an amazing ceviche. For the third course, strips of abalone were sautéed in a creamy sauce with capers and lemon. The final dish was lingcod broiled with tomatoes and garlic.

As a parting gift, they gave me a coveted chunk of ab. Into my mushroom bucket it went, covered in ice for the 14-hour drive back to Seattle. Once home, I prepared a simple sushi dinner. This is a taste that isn’t exactly easy to come by, especially outside Northern California, and I wanted to let it stand on its own. Abalone are carefully regulated by California’s department of fish and wildlife, with good reason; they’re easily overfished, and poachers continue to be a problem. The flavor is mild, slightly sweet, with a butteriness that’s unusual in shellfish. Served raw as sushi or sashimi is a perfect way to allow the subtle taste to fully express itself.

One of these days I’ll have to slip into the chilly waters of the North Coast myself and pry an ab from the rocks. Eat a few slices of abalone and you’ll understand why divers take their chances in waters patrolled by the great white shark.