Category Archives: recipes

Bouillabaisse, Northwest-style

halibut3Fish stews—bouillabaisse, cioppinochowder, bisque, fish head soup, and so on—are some of my favorite meals. Don’t let the authenticity police scare you into passing on such hearty and satisfying fare. These dishes are meant to be simple, to let the ingredients speak for themselves, even when we gussy them up with pretension.

In Marseilles, partisans have been arguing over the ingredients and presentation of a proper bouillabaisse for as long as anyone can remember. Ignore the guy who tells you you’re doing it wrong if you don’t use a freakin’ rascasse fer chrissakes. (The rascasse, also called a scorpionfish, is a Mediterranean species often used in bouillabaisse…in southern France.) Nor do you need to serve it in two courses, with rouille.

The point of dishes like bouillabaisse or cioppino is to use whatever is fresh and on hand. In fact, I’d bet the origin of these dishes is probably less palatable than many would like to believe. The fish were probably those left unsold by the fishmonger or on the verge of being…shall we say…less than perfectly fresh. Perhaps they were bycatch on the boat, the sort of fishes that wouldn’t earn the fishermen any money. Into the stew pot they went, along with whatever else was lying around: onions, garlic, tomato, maybe a fennel bulb.

Since it’s the 21st century and most of us won’t be cooking this dish on board a fishing vessel at an ungodly hour in between sets, we needn’t worry about making use of deck flotsam. We should try to find the best, freshest fish available wherever we live. I happen to live in the Pacific Northwest, not on the Mediterranean, so it makes sense to use local Puget Sound shellfish and cold-water finned fish from the North Pacific. I was in Cordova, Alaska, last week for opening day of the Copper River salmon season. Instead of bringing home a box full of sockeye or king like everyone else on my Alaska Airlines flight, I nabbed me some halibut, which yielded four beautiful fillets and a carcass begging to be used for stock. (The salmon was too valuable as income for my hosts to give away.)

A mix of fish makes a more interesting bouillabaisse. Along with the halibut, I added Alaskan rockfish, Penn Cove mussels, and shrimp. Other choices in my region might include lingcod, Pacific cod, pollock, flounder, Dungeness crab, manila clams, and spot shrimp. You could use salmon, but the strong and distinctive flavor would overwhelm the other ingredients. My nods to tradition included fennel, saffron, and orange zest, though I didn’t bother with leeks or Pernod (though a licorice fern infusion could have given it that extra touch of anise flavor).

You can use store-bought fish stock or clam juice, but a homemade stock is best—a good excuse for buying that whole fish at the market and saving a bunch of money by filleting it yourself and using the scraps for stock.

Stock

1 (or more) white-fleshed fish carcass (enough to fill bottom of pot)
1/2 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 or 2 celery ribs, chopped
1/2 cup white wine
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme
1 handful parsley, chopped
salt and pepper

Cover fish carcass (in this case, halibut) with water. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add onion, carrot, celery, white wine, bay leaf, thyme, parsley. Simmer together another 20 minutes, until fish flesh is easily separated from the bones. Add more water if necessary. Season and strain. Yield: 1 quart.

Bouillabaisse

2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup white wine (or splash of Pernod)
2-3 cups tomatoes, cut up
1 pinch saffron
1 pinch hot red pepper flakes
2 tsp orange zest
1 quart fish stock (see above)
3-4 lbs assorted white fish fillets cut into pieces and shellfish
1 handful parsley, chopped

In a pot, heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté onion and fennel until softened. Deglaze with a splash of white wine. Add garlic, tomatoes, saffron, pepper flakes, and orange zest. Raise heat to medium-high and cook together a few minutes. Stir in 1 quart fish stock and bring to low boil. Add fish fillet pieces and cook several minutes (depending on thickness). Note: if using a mixture of firm fish and softer fish, add in stages to allow even cooking. Lastly, add shellfish and cover. When the shellfish are cooked, stir in parsley and remove from heat. Ladle immediately over crusty bread (optional: toast bread and rub with cut garlic). Serves 4.

 

Clay Pot Bulgogi with Wild Greens

IMG_4820The other day I scouted some of my early morel spots to see if there might be anything starting to pop, given the ridiculously mild winter we’ve had in the Pacific Northwest. But no, nada. Seems like the fruiting schedule of morels in my area doesn’t vary much more than a week no matter how much snow falls in the mountains, although pickers down in Oregon have been talking about morels coming up two weeks earlier than usual in some of their patches.

Nevertheless, I came away with something nearly as good for my effort: wild watercress. Watercress is one of the first spring greens of the season, and depending where you live, it often has a second act in the fall. No doubt there are patches in Northern California that produce much of winter. As I plucked the tender leafy shoots, I already knew what I’d be making.

I mostly use my Korean clay pot for Soondubu, but after ordering a dish simply called “Beef Stew” at a local lunch joint recently I realized it was time to branch out. Unlike a typical American beef stew that requires hours of slow cooking, the Korean version can be whipped together in minutes if you marinate the meat in advance. And the presentation in the clay pot earns extra points. Like those miniature cast iron skillets you see in restaurants that make such a cool presentation of clams or mussels, clay pots are used for both cooking and serving.

With a little prepping, this bulgogi stew is easy. It’s essential, however, to marinate the beef for at least an hour beforehand (overnight is even better). I’ve used various marinade recipes for bulgogi and kalbi ribs over the years, including Bittman’s simple version. More traditional recipes call for an Asian pear to help sweeten and tenderize the meat, as in this recipe, although other recipes omit the fruit. As it happens, my local butcher sells thin-sliced beef trimmings already marinated.

A typical clay pot bulgogi will have some sort of leafy green vegetable such as spinach stirred in at the end; this one owes its vibrant color to the wild and very nutritious watercress that’s leafing out across much of the country right now.

1/2 pound marinated bulgogi, preferably thin-sliced ribeye (see marinade recipes above)
1/2 small yellow onion, cut into thin slices (add to marinating meat if desired)
1 cup water
1 cup beef stock or dashi
1 handful cellophane sweet potato noodles, about 5 oz
1 green onion, sliced
1 handful fresh wild greens such as watercress, bittercress, dandelions, lambs-quarters
Other optional ingredients: shiitake or enoki mushrooms, sliced carrots, egg

1. Add cellophane noodles to a bowl of warm water and set aside for 20 minutes.

2. Heat clay pot (or conventional pot) over high heat, then add beef and onions and stir-fry a couple minutes until the meat is lightly browned.

3. Add water and stock. If using a clay pot, leave enough room for noodles.

4. Once boiling, stir in pre-softened noodles and cook until tender.

5. When noodles are ready, stir in wild greens and green onion and remove from heat.

Serves 2 with rice.

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.

Shroom

shroom coverA new mushroom cookbook has popped up with the chanterelles and boletes this fall. With its up to date, globe-trotting recipes and solid advice, Becky Selengut’s Shroom: Mind-bendingly Good Recipes for Cultivated and Wild Mushrooms is sure to delight foragers and fungally-inclined home cooks from coast to coast.

Becky happens to be a friend of mine, so I can personally vouch for the food herein (I also contributed the book’s foreword). When you eat at Becky’s place, you marvel at the speed, efficiency, and improvisation that goes so effortlessly into her cooking. Thankfully, she imparts some of those hard-earned kitchen chops here, with guidance on wine pairings, approachable, common sense language (“if you are filthy, take a bath; if your mushrooms are filthy, give them a bath”), and her usual good humor. The headings are a glimpse into Becky’s world: For one recipe, she reaches back to a complicated elementary school art project, when her father, who worked as an engineer, taught her the KISS principle—keep it simple stupid. Never was there better advice for grilling porcini!

The book is organized around the many varieties of edible mushrooms one is likely to encounter at a farmers market or in local woods. An introduction lays out the basics on cleaning, putting up for later, and recommended kitchen gear. Subsequent chapters are helpfully titled after the mushrooms themselves. There are chapters on increasingly popular cultivated varieties such as shiitake and king trumpet, but it is with the wild varieties where the book really shines and rightfully takes its place among favorite cookbooks on mushroom cuisine. Wild varieties include some of our most beloved: morels, chanterelles, hedgehogs, porcini, lobster, black trumpet, and matsutake. There is also a chapter on truffles.

Each chapter (and species) begins with a “fact sheet” with information on seasonality, buying tips, preservation, and cooking notes, followed by five recipes ordered from easy to intermediate to advanced. There are 75 recipes in all, of which two-thirds are vegetarian. “I’m a meat eater working on eating less meat,” Selengut says; this is smart because mushrooms really are a natural meat substitute, with meaty texture and comforting flavors. This book could be a go-to reference for Meatless Mondays.

The recipes, from soups and snacks to large, composed dishes, are keepers. Traditionalists will find a Beef Bourguignon here to put those grocery store cremini mushrooms to work, but it is the more contemporary, culturally diverse offerings that will inspire today’s new breed of urban foragers and kitchen experimenters. Wok-seared Lion’s Mane with Bok Choy, Squid, and Roasted Red Chili Paste? Yes, please! And bring me a side of Hedgehog and Cheddar Grits. Black Trumpet and Poblano Chilaquiles with Crema sound good, too. Oh, and wake me up for a midnight snack of Truffle Gougères and champagne.

Of her Acquacotta Soup with Chanterelles, Selengut writes: “While many of the ingredients in this recipe might seem—at first blush—to be gourmet and expensive, if you were a thrifty Italian who knew the woods where you lived, grew some humble vegetables in your garden, had some stale bread lying around, and kept chickens, this soup would cost you hardly anything.” So true. Other dog-earred recipes in my copy include a Porcini Salad with Pine Nuts and Lemon Salt; Thai Sweet and Sour Soup with Lobster Mushrooms, Lemongrass, and Shrimp; and a Maitake Tikka Masala.

With gorgeous photos by Clare Barboza, Shroom is a welcome addition to any cook’s library, and a necessary resource for fungi fanciers, who should definitely have this new cookbook on their holiday gift-giving lists.

Becky Selengut and I will be teaming up for patch-to-plate slide presentations at Phinney Books in Seattle on October 22 and Slow Food Seattle on November 3.

Wild Berry Scones

scone1

 

 

 

 

 

If you live in the Pacific Northwest and haven’t picked your fair share of trailing blackberries and red huckleberries yet…best hurry up. They’re mostly done at sea level now, and with this heat they’re likely ready to close up shop in the Cascade foothills soon.

wrote about red huckleberryVaccinium parvifolium, earlier this year in Seattle Magazine. Tart and pretty, it’s the first of our huckleberries to fruit in the Pacific Northwest. The trailing blackberry, Rubus ursinus, deserves ink too. It’s smaller and firmer in comparison to non-native relatives such as the ubiquitous Himalayan blackberry, with a more complex taste profile. Unlike other varieties, trailing blackberries don’t grow on upright canes; they snake along the ground and over deadfall  (see photo above), hence their common name.

Together, red hucks and trailing blackberries are a pastry chef’s dream team. Both species are usually present in the same woods and ripen at roughly the same time (generally throughout July in my habitat), which means you can target both in a single outing.

Apparently it’s a poor year for trailing blackberries, at least on a commercial level. Most of the blackberries I put up for winter are non-native varieties, the Himalayan blackberry in particular, because they happen to be plentiful around where I live, but if I wanted to pick a good quantity of the native variety, I’d head over to the Olympic Peninsula and start poking around in old clearcuts. All blackberries thrive in areas of disturbance (e.g., logged or burned forests, along trails and roadsides, in abandoned lots). The patches with more sunlight will produce heavier crops, which is why old clearcuts are a good choice.

*  *  *

I usually rely on my mother-in-law for scones. She mails them to us every now and again in carefully packed boxes. But the other day, while taking a group on a wild food ID walk in the foothills, I couldn’t get the image of berry-laden scones out of my head, so I went back the next day to collect some of the bounty on colorful display, determined to make my own scones.

I wasn’t the only forager in the woods. I see bears in this area every year at about this time, within 20 miles of downtown Seattle. A hiker I met on the trail was concerned about the hand-scrawled warning note (at left). I assured him the bears were too busy enjoying berries to worry about his skinny ass, but he didn’t seem convinced.

Here’s a recipe for scones that I cobbled together from a few online offerings. Since I didn’t have buttermilk, I substituted yogurt whisked with a little milk. If you like sweet scones, add more sugar.

2 cups flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
3 heaping tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick cold unsalted butter
1/2 cup wild berries
1/2 cup yogurt
2 tbsp milk
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp lemon zest (optional)

1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Sift dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, sugar, salt) together into a large bowl.

3. Whisk together wet ingredients (yogurt, milk, and 1 egg) in a medium bowl.

4.  Cut cold butter into small pieces and, using fingers, work into dry ingredients until mealy. Stir in berries, optional lemon zest, and wet ingredients until barely mixed, with a little of the dry flour remaining in bottom of bowl.

5. Remove to a floured work surface. Briefly knead dough so it holds together and forms a disk several inches in diameter and about an inch thick. The dough will be wet and you’ll be reminded of making mud pies as a kid—don’t fret! Cut a dozen or so wedges out of the disk and place on a greased baking pan. You may need to use a pie knife or spatula to transfer wedges from work surface to pan.

6. Whisk second egg and brush egg wash on wedges.

7. Bake until golden brown and cooked through, about 25 minutes. Cool on wire rack.

Halibut with Porcini and Nettle-Mint Sauce

king4The king bolete (aka porcino) is one of the few wild mushrooms that can be served raw, in limited quantities. Fresh porcini, both spring and fall, have a strong floral aroma. Make use of this arresting feature by thinly slicing or even shaving the mushroom over foods. Firm #1 buttons are best.

king6This recipe was inspired by a dish I had earlier this spring at the Willows Inn, where chef Blaine Wetzel  is earning plaudits for good reason. At the Willows I had a course of spring porcini stewed with asparagus and woodruff. My server shaved mounds of fresh porcini over the plate to the point of obscuring everything else underneath. The cooked mushrooms were contrasted by the snappy texture and floral sharpness of the fresh.

For my take, I oven-roasted halibut fillets and plated them with sautéed spring porcini mushrooms and a nettle-mint sauce. The sauce was quick and easy because I already had cubes of nettle pesto in the freezer. To make the sauce I sweated diced shallot in butter, added three cubes of defrosted nettle pesto, and stirred together with a generous splash of chicken stock and a tablespoon of chopped mint from the garden. The sauce was finished with heavy cream.

Once plated, I shaved a nice spring porcini button over the top.

Given the sort of spring mushroom season we’re having in the Pacific Northwest (worst in memory), this might be my last dance with the king until fall.

Wild Tempura Udon

tempura3

 

 

 

 

 

Alas, Puget Sound’s recreational spot shrimp season came and went without me wetting a pot. I dredged the freezer instead and found a frosty package from last May. And you know what? They were still shrimpalicious.

Spot shrimp (Pandalus platyceros) rank among the great delicacies my region is known for. Year-old crustaceans are not optimum, true, yet these spotties retained the sweetness that is characteristic of the species. Tempura battered and fried, they made an excellent addition to udon.

After learning in April just how easy it is to make a killer udon at home, I’ve been enjoying this traditional Japanese noodle soup a couple times a week with a variety of foraged greens and mushrooms. This version is my favorite so far. It has three wild ingredients: spot shrimp, oyster mushrooms, and devil’s club shoots. (Click here for the basic udon soup recipe.)

I’ve played with a number of tempura recipes over the years. In general, I prefer to leave tempura to the professionals (and their fry-o-later equipment), but every now and then I get a yen to make it myself. The key is to make sure the batter is wet and runny, which makes for a light and crispy finish. Too thick and the batter will fry up pillowy. This is a basic recipe that can be adapted. For instance, you could add a dash of rice wine or various spices. Experiment with the oil temperature, too. It needs to be hot enough to fry the ingredients rapidly, but not so hot that they aren’t cooked through before the exterior browns. Slice ingredients such as sweet potatoes thinly so they cook quickly.

1 cup flour, sifted
1 egg, beaten
1 cup water, ice cold
oil for deep-frying
shrimp and vegetables (e.g., zucchini, sweet potato, onion, mushroom, etc.)

1. Heat oil in a wok or deep saucepan. It’s ready when a drop of water sizzles. Adjust heat as you go.

2. Combine flour, beaten egg, and ice water in a large bowl and use chopsticks to mix together. Don’t overmix. It’s okay to have lumps. And make sure the batter is thin, wet, and runny.

3. Batter and fry in batches, careful not to crowd.

4. Remove to rack or paper towels.

The Firtini

fir4I see a three-firtini lunch in my future…

Believe it or not, the new growth of many conifers, even pine trees, is edible. Certain species of fir and spruce are the most sought after for their tender and fragrant tips, and in my woods they’re showing right now.

Simply chopped and sautéed in butter with mushrooms or potatoes, fir and spruce tips bring the forest right into your kitchen, with wafting evergreen aromas and the evocation of cool mountain shade. Infusions are another crowd-pleaser. You can use the pungent tips to infuse stock, cream, or alcohol. At the Herbfarm I’ve enjoyed a champagne cordial infused with a small shot of spruce extract.

For this drink, I first turned to The Wild Table for a quick primer on infusing alcohol with Douglas fir tips. Earlier this year I had the good fortune to be seated next to Connie Green at the Oregon Truffle Fest‘s big dinner. Connie owns Wine Forest Wild Foods in the Napa Valley. Her cookbook collects decades of experience in the foraging and restaurant communities of Northern California. Connie’s instructions for infusing vodka with fir tips appear below.

1 cup Douglas fir tips
1 750 ml bottle of vodka

1. In a blender, combine fir tips with 1/3 bottle of vodka and blend for 2 minutes. Pour into a quart-sized jar. Empty remaining vodka into blender, swirling around to capture fir tip residue and add into same jar. Seal jar, shake, and refrigerate for 1 week.

2. Strain fir-infused vodka, first through a fine mesh strainer, then through a strainer lined with folded cheesecloth, and finally through a coffee filter for maximum clarity. The coffee filter will take a while, but this is how to get the most appealing result.*

3. Keep fir-infused vodka in fridge or freezer.

While the concoction was steeping, I checked in with my friend Andrew who has perfected a number of wild liqueurs and tinctures over the years. He advised me to allow the infused vodka to rest in between steps during the straining process, so that floating particulates can settle on the bottom. “The last step [with the coffee filter] may take several hours,” he said. “But the end result is totally clean.” You’re left with a beautifully translucent, evergreen-tinted final batch. Pour this back into your vodka bottle.

To make a Firtini, add fir-infused vodka to a shaker with ice and a splash of elderflower syrup. Garnish with a tip.

* The photo at top depicts a jar of fir-tip vodka that’s only a day into the infusion process and hasn’t been strained through a coffee filter (I couldn’t wait!), resulting in a more opaque cocktail. You can see the settling of the fir sediment in the jar. When ready to strain, don’t disturb this settled layer of sediment.

Sichuan Pickled Fiddleheads with Ground Pork

fiddle6The fiddlehead window is closing quick. Seems like they were up a week earlier than recent past seasons, and lowland ferns are mostly fronded out by now. I went higher to get my pickling supply, to about 2,000-ft elevation, and filled a 10-pound bag.

Most of these fiddleheads will be pickled either in an Asian refrigerator style that doesn’t require processing (and maintains the bright green color) or this way. That is, once I get around to the odious task of cleaning them.

Some will get cooked too. Simply sautéed in butter is a good strategy. I also like my fiddleheads in Eastern preparations.

I’ve posted a number of Asian fiddlehead recipes over the years, two of my favorites being the above mentioned quick pickles and Sichuan dry-fried. The recipe here combines elements of both. I used Fuchsia Dunlop’s pickling recipe and then stir-fried the pickled fiddleheads with a little ground pork, Sichuan peppercorns, and dried chile peppers (see Land of Plenty).

The result is easily my favorite new fiddlehead recipe.

First, you’ll need to pickle some fiddleheads (a minimum half-pound) in the Sichuan style.

Sichuan Pickled Vegetables

1 quart-sized jar with lid
2 1/4 cup water
1/4 cup rock or sea salt
4 dried chiles
1/2 tsp whole Sichuan peppercorns
2 tsp rice wine
1/2 star anise
1 tbsp brown sugar
1-inch piece of unpeeled ginger
1/3 cinnamon stick
1 lb or more vegetables, such as string beans, slice carrot, daikon radish, etc.

1. Dissolve salt in boiling water and set aside to cool.

2. Add pickling spices to jar and add cooled water. Cover and shake to mix.

3. Fill jar with vegetables (e.g., fiddleheads), making sure brine covers them. Tighten lid and put aside in a cool, dark place for a minimum 24 hours; a week is better. You can continue to replenish the jar with vegetables by adding more salt, sugar, and wine.

Pickled Fiddleheads with Ground Pork

1/2 lb Sichuan pickled fiddleheads (see pickling recipe above)
1/4 lb ground pork
1/2 tsp rice wine
1/2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp peanut oil
3-4 dried chiles, halved and deseeded
1/2 tsp whole Sichuan peppercorns

1. Mix pork with rice wine, soy sauce, and salt in a small bowl.

2. Add 1 tbsp oil to wok over high heat until smoking. Add pork and stir-fry until dry and crumbly, a few minutes. Return meat to bowl.

3. Add 1 tbsp oil to wok over medium heat and quickly stir-fry Sichuan peppercorns and chiles until fragrant, careful not to burn, less than a minute. Add pickled fiddleheads and cooked pork into wok and continue stir-frying another couple minutes. Fiddleheads should remain tightly scrolled; serve before they start to unwind in the wok.

Serves 2 with another dish and rice, or 4 with a few additional dishes.

The other day I stir-fried some fresh fiddleheads in a very different Sichuan preparation, one relying on what is known as a fragrant fermented sauce (based on the mixture of sweet bean paste and soy sauce). This sauce is especially good with a simple stir-fry of beef or pork slivers with thinly sliced bell pepper, a popular dish all over Sichuan Province.

For my improvised version (see above), I stir-fried pressed seasoned tofu cut into cubes along with the fiddleheads, thin-sliced rounds of carrot, and flowering chives cut into 3-inch sections. It was delicious, but now I understand why the fragrant fermented sauce is most frequently encountered with slivers of meat and vegetables. Because of the large and varying shapes of my ingredients, rather than bathed in a comforting brown gravy, they were spotted with oily blots and most of the sauce drained to the bottom of the dish in a dark slick.

At least I have plenty of fiddleheads on hand to continue my experiments with this fleeting taste of spring.