Category Archives: recipes

Wild Ramp Aioli

ramp1Every year for Memorial Day weekend our family goes camping with several other families in a beautiful canyon in the rain shadow of the Cascades, where we have a decidedly better shot at some sun.

The food is always over the top. In past years we’ve barbecued a whole pig, grilled Copper River salmon over the fire, dug holes in the ground for Dutch ovens to make Chicken in the Dirt, and prepared all sorts of appetizers and dinners with our foraged morels and spring porcini.

But the dish that everyone seems to clamor for most is an elaborate concoction of smoked baby potatoes with black garlic vinaigrette and wild ramp aioli. (Ramps are a type of wild leek that grows east of the Rockies.) For years I thought my friend J had invented this carnival of flavors, but it turns out the Danish expat by way of San Francisco picked up the recipe during his Bay Area years, from a little joint you may have heard of called Bar Tartine.

I don’t normally have the patience to put all those pieces together into a single dish. Instead I wait for its fireside appearance each spring, knowing J can’t go without. The ramp aioli by itself, however, is right in my wheelhouse, so when I got a message from my mushroom hunting pal David saying that some fresh ramps were coming my way, compliments of his employer Earthy Delights, I knew just what to do.

ramp4This wasn’t my first brush with ramps. I’ve seen plenty while picking morels back east. Ramps are beloved in the Appalachians, especially in West Virginia where nearly every little mountain town has a ramp festival, and in the northern woods of Michigan. On my last visit to the Upper Peninsula I picked ramps with friends from Marquette. But that was a while ago, and if there’s one wild food I wished was native to the Pacific Northwest, the ramp would be near the top of the list.

To make this wild ramp aioli I used pickled ramps. The recipe is a conflation of Earthy Delight’s version and Tartine’s. You can use fresh ramps, too, and in a few weeks I plan to update this post after using ramps that are currently fermenting in my basement, which is the method that my friend J and Bar Tartine prefer.

ramp23 pickled or fermented ramps*, with tops**
1/2 tsp dried mustard
1/2 tsp peppercorns
1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 tsp lemon juice
1 egg yolk
1/3 cup grapeseed or canola oil
2 tbsp olive oil
salt to taste

1. Place food processor bowl and blade in freezer for 15 minutes if possible.

2. Chop ramps. (I used previously pickled ramp bulbs and fresh tops—see notes below.)

3. Add chopped ramps, dried mustard, peppercorns, cider vinegar, lemon juice, and egg yolk to food processor and process until well mixed together, about 30 seconds.

4. Combine oils and slowly add to processor. Ingredients should thicken to a mayo-like consistency. Continue to add oil. Add salt to taste and more lemon juice or vinegar if necessary.

5. Refrigerate in a tightly sealed container.

Makes enough to fill a 6-oz jelly jar.

The ramp aioli will have the rich flavor and creamy consistency of a typical aioli or mayonnaise, but with the added garlicky bite of wild ramps. Using just the yolk and not the egg white will give it more body. For a chunkier aioli with flecks of bright green ramp tops, don’t over-process (unlike mine pictured above).

* Pickled Ramps recipe:

1lb ramps
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp coriander seed
1 tsp fennel seed
2 tsp mixed peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp salt

1. Cut off root tips from ramps and trim leaves, leaving just a little green. Reserve tops for another use. Rinse ramps.

2. Blanche trimmed ramps in a pot of salted boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove and quickly shock under cold tap. Pat dry and place in a pint-sized canning jar.

3. Combine pickling ingredients in saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour over ramps and set aside to cool. Seal tightly and refrigerate up to two months.

** If using fresh ramps for the aioli, cut off the tops (the green leaves) and then blanche the tops in boiling water for 30 seconds, shock under cold tap, and squeeze out excess water before adding to food processor.

Candy Cap Custard

candycap3This winter, mushroom hunters in California are crying Hallelujah! Unless they happen to live below Oroville Dam

The Golden State hasn’t seen rain like this in several years, and the fungi have responded in kind. But with so many storms rolling in off the Pacific, the mushroom patches have also taken a beating, so timing is still everything.

I was able to thread the needle earlier this winter, sneaking into Santa Cruz for a week of sunshine right after a major pummeling that washed out roads near where I was staying in the hills. The weather turned again just as I was leaving.

My destination was the Santa Cruz Fungus Fair, one of the great myco events on the West Coast, but I also managed to get into nearby woods to pick a year-plus supply of candy caps.

candycap4I’ve written about candy caps before. It’s a complex of species in the milk cap genus, Lactarius. Candy caps are noteworthy for smelling intensely of maple syrup once dried, effectively putting mushrooms on the dessert menu. The two species of candy cap I encountered on this trip were L. rubidus and L. rufulus. The latter grows with oaks and is quite mild, but the former—if dehydrated at a low temperature (I think we set our dryer to 95 degrees)—is wonderfully fragrant. We found hundreds of them growing among a stand of old Monterrey pines.

Though candy cap cookies are my usual go-to recipe, the first thing I made when I got home with my bounty was an egg custard, adapting a very simple recipe that I typically make with huckleberries. The candy caps gave this creamy and satisfying dessert a pungent aroma of maple syrup, which paired well with the huckleberries on top.

candycap11 small handful dried candy caps
1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup water
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup huckleberries
fresh nutmeg or cinnamon, grated to taste

1. Pulverize dried candy caps to dust in a spice grinder or food processor. Pass through wire mesh sieve to remove any large pieces. Cover mushroom dust with 1 cup warm water and set aside for 20 minutes.

2. Pre-heat over to 325 degrees. Combine milk and mushroom water in a small saucepan and bring to boil. Remove from heat.

3. Mix egg yolks, sugar, salt, and vanilla together in a bowl.

4. Slowly whisk in hot milk-water mixture until frothy. Pour into 4 ramekins.

5. Place ramekins in an oven-proof dish or tray filled with warm water. Bake for 40 minutes. Carefully place a small handful of huckleberries atop each custard and bake another 10 minutes. Test one for doneness with a knife tip; if it comes away clean, the custard is done. Sprinkle with fresh nutmeg or cinnamon. Serve hot or cold.

Wild Mushroom Bread Pudding

pudding1I’ve been cooped up this fall, finishing a new book. (More on that later.) Meanwhile I get the usual texts and emails from friends in the patch, scoring hauls of chanterelles and porcini, sparassis and matsi. So it was a relief to finally get out the other day.

Hopeful forecasts for a good ski season seem to have some merit. Above 1,500 feet the thermometer was in the low 30’s, and above 4,000 feet there was a nice dusting of snow. I went up to some of my higher elevation patches anyway just for a look—and it didn’t take long to see that many of the high country mushrooms are done for the year in the North Cascades, although matsutake continue to plug along. But down around 2,000 feet I found kings, hedgehogs, chanterelles, more matsi, and lots of gypsies. So I have not gone without my annual infusion of Matsutake Sukiyaki.

As for the others, I chopped them up for a bread pudding served with a roast chicken. Normally I make a typical stuffing for the bird, but this totally un-fussy bread pudding is now my go-to. It really shines with wild mushrooms.

4 – 6 cups stale country bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 tbsp butter, divided (plus more if needed)
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
1 lb wild mushrooms (e.g., chanterelles, porcini, hedgehogs, etc.), rough cut
3 large eggs
2 cups half and half
1 heaping cup grated Gruyère cheese
handful parsley, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

1. In a large skillet, sauté onions in 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat until caramelized. Add more butter if necessary and reduce heat so that onions are nicely browned and not burned. Remove from pan.

2. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

3. In same pan, melt another 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat and sauté mushrooms. Cook off any liquid released by mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Remove from pan.

4. Beat eggs in a large bowl with half and half. Mix in grated cheese and parsley. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add bread, onions, mushrooms, and stir together.

5. Grease an 8-inch baking dish and dollop in bread pudding. Cover and bake for 20 minutes. Remove lid and bake another 20 minutes, until pudding begins to brown on top and is cooked through.

Chokecherry Jelly

chokecherry1Last week Martha and I spent a couple days mountain biking near Winthrop, Washington, not far from North Cascades National Park. On our way home we couldn’t resist stopping off at a few roadside patches bursting with fruit. Elderberries were already ripening, and chokecherry trees hung heavy in the sun.

The chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) is a shrub or small tree native to much of North America, mostly above the Mason-Dixon line. Here in Washington State, as in much of the Western U.S., chokecherries prefer drier habitats (in our case, rain-shadow terrain east of the Cascade Crest), such as arid canyons, gullies, and scrubby benches above lakes or streams, where you’ll sometimes find them clustered with elderberries and serviceberries. Named for their astringency, chokecherries get sweeter as they darken, but if you wait too long the birds and other critters will nab them first.

Martha and I grabbed plastic grocery bags repurposed just for such an occasion (I always keep a few handy in the car) and started pulling bunches of fruit from the trees as cedar waxwings and robins voiced their disapproval from above. Martha tasted one off the vine; her mouth went into an instant and involuntary pucker. Though it was a little early, we scouted for trees with the ripest fruit, knowing this harvest would need some sugar at home. It didn’t take long to amass several pounds between the two of us.

Jelly is probably my favorite use for chokecherries. I’ve also had them in a chunkier form preserved in sweet syrup. This was on the Umatilla Indian Reservation during the First Foods ceremony last spring. Along with a variety of roots, huckleberries, venison, and, of course, salmon, the chokecherry is revered by the Umatilla as one of their original food staples, and no wonder. They grow in profusion throughout the drier parts of the Pacific Northwest, and with a little processing that involuntary pucker becomes a lip-smacking grin.

We washed and rinsed our chokecherries at home and then covered them with water in a kettle. The kitchen soon filled with a distinctive cherry aroma as they simmered on the stove. After processing the fruit we had two quarts of fuchsia-colored juice. One quart got put up for a future jelly-making session and the other went back into the pot. The resulting jelly is easily one of the most beautiful for its luminous color, right up there with Rosehip Jelly. It’s pink and doesn’t look like anything you’d expect to find in nature. Even with added pectin, the jelly is soft and smooth, barely holding together, which is just how we like it.

This recipe is for 4 cups of chokecherry juice. It’s on the tart side. If you like your jelly sweeter, or you have less juice, adjust accordingly. You’ll need to add a commercial pectin because chokecherries are low in natural pectin.

4 cups chokecherry juice
5 cups sugar
1 package (1.75 oz) dry pectin
1/2 cup lemon juice

1. Cover chokecherries with water in a non-reactive stock pot and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes, occasionally mashing softened chokecherries with a potato masher. Allow to cool, then strain juice through cheesecloth or jelly bag.

2. Return 4 cups chokecherry juice to pot along with pectin and lemon juice. Bring to boil and add sugar, stirring. After a minute of hard boiling (careful not to foam over), reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring.

3. Remove from heat and skim foam. Ladle into sterilized canning jars, leaving 1/2 inch head room, and secure lids. Process jars in hot water bath for 10 minutes.

Pasta with Oyster Mushrooms and Smoked Ham Hock

oyster_pastaMy 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.

Saffron Milk Caps

milkcap3The 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

Wild Mushroom Strudel

strudel4A 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.

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 braisepickle, 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

Ikura

ikura1With 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.

Rock ‘n’ Roll

rock3Seattle 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, e.g., 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.