If you want to get serious about foraged foods, a big ol’ freezer is pretty much indispensable. Mine is packed with crabs, clams, nettles, mushrooms, berries, smoked salmon, shad, assorted heads, various stocks, and so on. Such a freezer full of foraged foods comes in handy for a party. Never mind that Marty tried her best to sabotage the whole affair by leaving the freezer door open for 18 hours a few days before. Most of the packages were still frozen, if sweating on the outside, and the clearly defrosted stuff got whipped into shape for the party, including stinging nettle pesto, Columbia river shad, and porcini mushrooms.
Look, Mom, no bones!
The shad in particular was a thing of genius. Several of the vacuum-sealed packages were flimsy, the once frozen shad now thawed and bendy. There was no way those things were going back into the deep freeze. As anyone who’s ever processed these largest members of the herring family knows, shad are bony critters fit for deboning by the same jailbirds who punch out New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” license plates.
Normally I have most of my Columbia River shad catch smoked and canned at Tony’s, but I always keep a few fillets on hand to smoke myself or bake in the Low-Country style. This time I wanted a croquette I could serve at the party with a spicy New Orleans remoulade. I baked the shad for 30 minutes, spent 15 minutes picking as many bones as I could, and then buzzed the pile o’ fish in the Cuisinart. To this pulverized mass of shad I added sauteed onions and red pepper, Worstcester sauce, lemon juice, an egg, some flour, cayenne pepper, and a bunch of fresh herbs from the garden, including tarragon, basil, chives, and parsley. I added more of the herbs than you might think; the more the better, in fact. Shad is a rich, strong-tasting fish, and the fresh herbs help to brighten the flavor and temper it at the same time. Hank Shaw has posted a similar recipe here, minus the sauteed veggies and lemon.
Once made, you can refrigerate the shad for a few days until party time. It has a consistency similar to well-mixed tuna fish salad. Or you can plow ahead and make the croquettes ahead of time and then freeze. I took the latter path, forming little hockey pucks of about the same diameter as a fifty-cent piece. These I dredged generously in panko and placed on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper. Into the freezer they went for a couple hours until solid enough to be removed to zip-lock bags. An hour before the party I arranged them once again on a cookie sheet to defrost and fried in oil minutes before the guests arrived. The fried shad croquettes were then topped with the red remoulade (although an aioli would be good too).
I took this one from John Sundstrom, the chef/owner of Lark restaurant in Seattle. The prep is really quite simple: chopped porcini mushrooms roasted in olive oil with fresh thyme and rosemary. It’s a little depressing to see all that beautiful fresh porcini lose half its volume by the time it comes out of the oven, but that’s the nature of this fungal beast. Thinly sliced baguette is lightly toasted, rubbed with garlic, covered with a blanket of good ricotta, and topped with the porcini (and a generous sprinkling of salt).
Slow-roasted Tomatoes with Nettle Pesto Garnish
The last canape escaped the intrusions of paparazzi. Tomatoes were cored, chopped, and placed in a glass dish with olive oil to slowly roast overnight in a 225-degree oven. These got spooned on squares of baked polenta and dabbed with stinging nettle pesto.
Next time Marty better conspire to leave the freezer door open a little longer, ’cause we gotta clean out that sucker once and for all this winter.