Category Archives: Shellfish

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

Razor Clam Ceviche

The second annual Razor Clam Hootenanny, in association with the Bainbridge Island Parks & Rec outdoor program, was a huge success. Twenty eager students gathered last weekend at a sprawling house on Mockrocks Beach to dig clams and feast on the bounty. Because of the spring tide change, we were able to bookend an evening dig on Saturday with a Sunday morning dig for maximum limit action. Many of us nabbed clams on Friday evening as well. A three-dig limit of 45 mossbacks makes for a full bag o’ clams!

The digging on Saturday evening was a little more challenging than either Friday evening or Sunday morning. Heavy surf meant the clams weren’t showing like usual, and regular rogue waves had clammers scrambling for high ground. Still, we got our clams, and some of us learned that it’s not always like shooting tuna in a can. I welcome these tough conditions because they force the clammer to hone her abilities and develop a sharp eye for even the most cryptic of shows.

Saturday night’s feast was epic, with two varieties of New England Clam Chowder (one, my grandmother’s recipe, with bacon, thyme, and a thin milky broth; the other thick and creamy with celery); a ceviche with razors, cod, and shrimp; panko-fried razors; and a hearty Pasta alle Vongole. We had the kind folks from Treveri Cellars on hand pouring their excellent bubbly and John Adams of Sound Fresh Clams & Oysters was shuckin’ and jivin’ as he produced platter after platter of Skookum Point Olys, Kumamotos, and Pacific oysters.

It was a boisterous, fun-loving crowd, and the pre-dawn wake-up call for one more dig on Sunday morning was not without its difficulties.

***

While in New York City recently I had a good meal at a new place in Soho called Charlie Bird. One of the standouts was a razor clam ceviche. The Atlantic razor clamEnsis directus, is very different in appearance from our beefy West Coast variety, Siliqua patula, and more deserving of the name. They’re smaller, and quite long and thin—like the straight razor of old. The ceviche came prepared on several clam shells. It was unmixed, with each ingredient—pickled peppers, onion, and so on—in colorful little piles. You were meant to slurp it all together in one bite like an oyster.

Such a presentation is difficult with our big local razors (see top photo), since it’s more than a mouthful, but there’s no reason why we can’t use the shell as a serving dish, or even mix up the ingredients at table right in the shell.

 

I don’t see West Coast razors as ceviche often, whereas it seems to be all the rage right now on the East Coast. Maybe this is because of the presence of domoic acid, a naturally occurring marine toxin in the Pacific (and the inspiration for Hitchcock’s The Birds) that can cause shellfish amnesiac poisoning and even death in high doses. The thing is, this toxin can’t be cooked out of razor clams, so there’s no difference between fried razors and ceviche with regard to domoic acid. Thankfully, state fish & wildlife departments carefully monitor the health of our shellfish.

This recipe is Japan Goes South of the Border. I use only the clam siphons as I prefer to save my diggers (the razor clam’s tender foot) for fried clams; besides, the siphon has a snappiness that’s perfect for ceviche. The amounts below are estimates; depends on the size of your clams and vegetables, and besides, with a little common sense it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out the right proportions. You can easily halve it for a smaller batch.

1 dozen razor clam siphons, cleaned and diced
2-3 cloves garlic, diced
1 small red pepper, diced
2-3 jalapeño peppers, diced
1/2 small red onion, diced
large handful cilantro, chopped
2 limes
aji-mirin
rice vinegar
tortillas, warmed
avocado, sliced
salt and pepper

1. Squeeze limes and mix juice with diced razor clams and garlic in a small non-reactive bowl. Season with salt and pepper plus a good splash of aji-mirin to taste and set aside. A general rule of thumb for ceviche is 1/2 cup citrus juice per pound of fish.

2. Cover diced red onion with rice vinegar and set aside. Chop together jalapeño pepper and cilantro if presenting ceviche unmixed.

3. Refrigerate at least an hour, preferably several hours.

4. Serve, mixed or unmixed, in razor clam shells or a small bowl with warm tortillas and avocado. Serves 4.

I have to say, this was easily one of the best ceviches I’ve ever had. Razor clams have a pleasing al dente texture. Steeped in the acidic lime juice, their flavor mellows, and aji-mirin adds a perfect finish. I’ll be making razor clam ceviche after every dig from now on.

Soondubu Jjigae with Spot Shrimp

Jjigae is Korean for hot pot or stew. Soondubu means silken tofu. This is Korean comfort food at its best, even more than the Bibimbap of an earlier post.

The key is finding quality Korean pepper flakes. I also like to goose mine with an added jolt of pepper paste, gochujang. Look for both at a Korean market such as H Mart, along with the extra soft and silky tofu that comes in a tube-shaped package. For the stock you can make your own with onion, kombu, and dried anchovies, or take a short cut with a store-bought variety (I like the heartiness of beef stock, with a splash of fish sauce added at the end).

Spot shrimp, cooked whole in the shell, add good flavor to the broth. As I mentioned in my previous post about shrimping in Puget Sound, the heads make a killer stock—while the tails are one of the true culinary delights of the Pacific Northwest. It’s a rare case of: heads, you win; tails, you win, too!

5-6 fresh spot shrimp (or other large shrimp in shell)
1 10-12 ounce package of extra-silken tofu (soondubu)
1/4 lb pork or steak, sliced thinly across the grain
5 shiitake mushroom caps, sliced into strips (if using dried shiitake, reconstitute in warm water for 20 minutes first)
1 large handful chopped vegetables (bok choy, napa cabbage, etc.)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 tbsp Korean coarse hot pepper flakes (gochugaru), or to taste
1 tbsp Korean pepper paste (gochujang), or to taste (optional)
1 cup meat, vegetable, or fish stock
1 handful other seafood (optional): clams, mussels, squid
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
3 green onions, 2 cut into 3-inch sections and 1 thinly sliced for garnish
2 eggs
2 tsp sesame oil, plus more for serving

Note: Many of the ingredients above can be found in any Asian supermarket in the U.S., though a Korean market is best if you have one nearby. I use H Mart, where I bought my clay pots, gochugaru, gochujang, and soondubu, among other things. Clay vessels are traditional for Korean hot pot; they can be used on the stove top and then as serving dishes, and they keep the food hot! Also, you’ll benefit from searching out Korean-made coarse hot pepper flakes (gochugaru), made from sun-dried peppers, which will be more colorful and have a greater depth of flavor.

1. Combine garlic and sesame oil in small bowl (and pepper paste, if using).

2. Heat cooking oil in clay pot or other soup pot over medium heat. Add sliced beef or pork and sauté until edges begin to brown but meat is still rare. Remove to bowl and set aside.

3. Saute shiitake mushrooms a few minutes until starting to brown and then remove to bowl.

4. Add vegetables, green onions, and mixture of garlic and sesame oil to pot and stir until fragrant, 30 seconds.

5. Sprinkle pepper flakes (gochugaru) and stir another minute, careful not to burn.

6. Pour in stock. Bring to boil.

7. Spoon in tofu, then add seafood, including shrimp. Boil together another few minutes.

8. Remove from heat and season with fish sauce, soy sauce, and salt, if necessary. Crack eggs into pot and stir.

9. Ladle into bowls. Garnish with sliced green onion and sesame oil to taste.

Serves 2, with rice

Spot Shrimp on the Menu

Puget Sound’s recreational spot shrimp season opened earlier this month. If you’ve read Fat of the Land, you know how I approached this hotly anticipated fishery in my younger, stupider days. I’ve taken some grief for the canoe thing, and I’ll admit it’s not the safest way to get a limit of sea insects—in fact, it’s downright dangerous. This year caution got the better part of valor. I joined a friend on his new boat.

It was a beautiful day to be on the Sound. We took the Current Obsession on its maiden fishing trip and loaded up on shrimp with the aid of a very civilized Brutus Plus 40 pot-puller—a technological advancement on my previous experiences pulling in 400 feet of line hand over hand.

Pandemonium reins on the opening day of spot shrimp season. A quarter-mile-long conga line of trucks and trailers waited to launch boats at the public ramp; vessels of varying seaworthiness hustled back and forth through the chop scouting likely shrimping grounds and secret spots; channel 16 was an ongoing chatter of near-misses and at least one pan-pan distress call.

As in all fishing, a certain amount of patience is required. The goopy bait of ground fish heads, cat food, and other smelly products needs to do its work, oozing from the pot in an intoxicating cloud that the shrimp just can’t resist. We couldn’t exactly keep our grubby paws off the pot either. After barely 45 minutes of soaking we pulled the first one to see if this maiden voyage would be properly christened: a couple dozen spot shrimp scrambled around in the cage, several of which became ebi within minutes.

The fact of the matter is that most recreational shrimpers will spend—after factoring in bait, fuel, and an amortization of pots, buoys, and rope (never mind the cost of the boat!)—about what a landlubber at the fish market will shell out for the privilege. But trust me on this: few tastes equal a fresh spottie pulled from the sea. It is one of the great delicacies of the Pacific Northwest.

Spot shrimp are the largest shrimp on the West Coast, and many restaurants, fish markets, and anglers refuse to call them shrimp at all, using prawn instead. One key point to keep in mind when harvesting spot shrimp is that the head contains an enzyme that can turn the meat to mush. Prevent such a catastrophe by immediately decapitating and rinsing. And don’t toss those heads! They make a phenomenal stock or bisque.

I ate up all my shrimp fresh, not bothering to freeze any. My go-to preparations are designed to be simple and highlight the sublime sweet flavor of spots. The smaller ones get transformed into ebi sushi, with a very light steaming of the shrimp so that they remain raw inside yet cooked enough on the outside to be easily removed from the shell, while the larger specimens get butterflied and very lightly sautéed in a little butter.

Seemingly sane individuals are known to lose all common sense in the presence of fresh spot shrimp. One bite and you might be commandeering the nearest canoe too!

Razor’s Edge

One of the great pleasures of my foraging workshops is seeing the moment of recognition: that instant when a student uncovers nature’s banquet for the first time. Such moments were repeated many times over this past weekend on Washington’s storm-tossed ocean beaches, as fifteen of us plied the razor clam flats.

I can’t remember back-to-back digs of such abundance. The shows were everywhere, the clams of good size, with a few mossbacks in the mix (clams old and big enough to have dark mottling on the shell and a greenish hue). I managed several approaching six inches, including one just a hair under at 5 7/8. A Pacific razor clam of that length has more meat on it than a quail.

I had to keep explaining to everyone that it wasn’t usually this easy. The sun was out; on Saturday clammers were even walking the beach in t-shirts; and the clams were begging for discovery, with dozens of shows in an area not much larger than a bath tub!

This was my first razor clam class. We rented a house at Seabrook near Pacific Beach for two nights so we could get in two digs and cook up a feast with our catch. The menu included Fried Razor Clams, Razor Clam Chowder, and Pasta alle Vongole, among many other treats.

Digging razor clams is pure fun—and the meal that awaits ain’t bad either. When I got my haul home and fully processed, I decided to try something new. The clam’s siphon has a texture similar to the mantle of a squid, while the foot—or digger, as it’s known—is considerably more tender. A quick stir-fry with some veggies seemed like a worthy departure from the tried-and-true comfort recipes, and it was.

Chinese Stir-fried Razor Clams

1 cup razor clams, cut into 2-inch strips
1 small red bell pepper, cut to match clams
3 – 4 celery stalks, cut to match clams
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 tbsp ginger, fine dice
1 tbsp garlic, fine dice
2 tbsp peanut oil
2 tbsp sambal olek (pickled chili sauce) *

Marinade
1 1/2 tsp Chinese rice wine (or dry sherry)
1/2 tsp salt

Sauce
1 1/2 tsp white sugar
2 tsp Chinese black vinegar *
1 tsp Chinese rice wine (or dry sherry)
1 1/2 tsp corn starch
3 tbsp chicken stock

 available at most Asian markets and some conventional grocers

1. In a bowl, combine clams with marinade and set aside.

2. Whisk together sauce ingredients in a small bowl.

3. In a wok or large saute pan, heat oil over medium-high heat until not quite smoking. Add sambal olek and stir vigorously, 30 seconds. Add ginger and garlic, continuing to stir until fragrant, about a minute.

4. Add sweet red pepper, celery, and clams. Stir thoroughly, coating with red oil, about 2 minutes. Add sliced green onions. Give sauce a stir and add to wok. Stir well another minute and serve immediately with rice.

Pimentón Clams and Pig Face

This post is a shout-out to my peeps in the shellfish dept. One of the benefits of helming FOTL is the opportunity to share my experiences with others keen to forage and cook wild foods—a recipe for good times in the outdoors, with fun people.

My shellfish classes, in particular, have escalated (perhaps as word has gotten out and each subsequent class is intent on besting the previous one) into veritable bacchanals. There’s something about working up a sweat on the tide flats and then whumping together a feast over campstoves that encourages plenitude: folks show up with champagne, beer, cheese, salumi, cookies, and other treats. We’ve had basement apple wine, home-cured sausage, and empanadas. There’s almost always a fillet or two of smoked salmon and recently someone brought bento boxes packed full of potstickers, barbecued pork, and candied almonds.

On the trail to the tidelands – (c) Susan Choi

The blueprint is simple. Everyone meets at the beach, where we make introductions and go over some key points of identification, biology, habitat, foraging technique, regulations, and precautions. Then we hit the shellfish beds to gather our limits of clams and oysters. The rest of the day is spent hanging out back at the picnic shelter, cooking our catch.

My co-leader, John Adams, manages Taylor Shellfish‘s Dosewallips facility. As a third-generation shellfish farmer, he also has his own family business, Sound Fresh Clams & Oysters, where he’s been making a name all over the Pacific Northwest and beyond for his Skookum Point oysters. Recently a writer from Bon Appetit dropped by to sample John’s stuff.

An oyster bed for bivalve dreams – (c) Susan Choi

John and I are fortunate to have Jeff Ozimek, outdoor programs coordinator at Bainbridge Island Parks & Rec, in our corner. Jeff is the mastermind behind all this fun, and Seattle Parks & Rec (if they ever have a budget windfall) would be smart to look across the pond to see what Jeff is doing to get his community outside interacting with the natural world.

For my part, after the clams have been dug and the oysters picked, I get to relax a little bit. Delegation carries the day as the students do the prepping and cooking. Usually there are a few who lead the charge. This past weekend Team France made Steamed Clams with Wine and Herbs while Team China filled a wok with Spicy Black Bean Clams. I watched, offering the occasional advice and encouragement. We all slurped oysters until we could eat no more.

We usually get a few “repeat offenders” at each class. This time around we were pleased to have back photographer Susan Choi, who graciously provided most of the photos for this post.

Even the rain couldn’t put a damper on the proceedings. John built a fire, the canopies went up, and we continued the feast. Finally, well past dark, the park security detail had to shoo us out. Everyone went home with plenty of shellfish.

Picking the right oyster: Does it have a deep pocket? – (c) Susan Choi
***

Pimentón Clams and Pig Face looks back to my new year’s resolution to cook more improvisationally. It’s a variation on Pasta alle Vongole, and a keeper. The pig face of the title, smoked jowl, is a lot like bacon, but try to find the jowl if you can because its mix of succulence and crispiness can’t be beat. Combined with the clams, smoked paprika, sweet red pepper, and some white wine, the resulting sauce makes for a distinctively Iberian way to dress up pasta.

I’ve made steamed clam dishes that hail from all over the world. Italian clams and Thai clamsMexican clams and Japanese clams. This riff on Spanish clams turned out so good that I expect the recipe below to take its place in the inner circle of my go-to clam dishes.

Linguini with Clams, Pimentón & Smoked Pig Jowl

10 oz linguini
1 tbsp olive oil
1/3 lb smoked pig jowl, diced
1 small yellow onion, diced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 large red bell pepper, diced
1 tsp crushed red chili pepper flakes
1/4 tsp semisweet (or sweet) smoked paprika
salt, to taste
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 dozen manila clams
2 handfuls wild watercress, dandelion greens, or arugula, torn
parsley, chopped for garnish

1. In a large, deep-sided saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-low and slowly cook diced jowl, rendering fat until the meat is crispy, about 30 minutes of mostly untended cooking with occasional stirring.

2. While the jowl is rendering, bring a pot of water to boil and add linguini. Cook until not quite al dente, drain, and set aside.

3. When diced jowl is crispy, raise heat to medium, add onions, and cook in pork fat for a minute before adding garlic and red pepper. Cook together for another 2 minutes. Stir in crushed red pepper flakes and paprika. Salt to taste.

3. Raise heat to high, de-glaze with white wine, and allow to bubble for 30 seconds, stirring, before adding clams and covering.

4. When clams begin to open, mix in greens and linguini. Continue to stir, coating pasta and reducing liquid if necessary. Serve and garnish with chopped parsley.

Serves 2.

Drinking wine, working the wok – (c) Susan Choi

A Forager’s Thanksgiving

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we’re lucky to have a climate that allows for foraging year-round, even during the dark, wet days of late fall and winter. If you’re hoping to include a few wild foods in your Thanksgiving feast, keep reading…

Wild Mushrooms

By late November, those of us in Washington need to think more strategically about our mushroom hunting spots. The bread-and-butter golden chanterelle harvest is mostly done by this time, the surviving specimens oversized, floppy, and waterlogged. Skiers own the mountains now and even many low-elevation habitats should be ruled out because of recurring hard frosts. Head for the coast or the southern Olympic Peninsula and look for microclimates where fungi can persist. Search out those hardier winter species such as yellowfoot chanterelles and hedgehogs. Hint: they prefer moist, mossy forests and plenty of woody decay.

If you’re willing to travel, make tracks for southwestern Oregon where kings and matsutake are still available. My favorite this time of year, though, is the black trumpet, which is just starting to fruit and can be found in mixed forests with oak. Sautéed in a little butter, it tastes just like fall.

Shellfish

We’re coming into the high time for shellfish. The summer spawn is over and the clams, mussels, oysters, and crabs are putting meat back in their shells, rather than using their fat reserves for reproduction.

Many a Nor’westerner likes to give a regional twist to the Turkey Day dinner, including a shellfish course of soup or stew, or simply a mess of Dungeness crabs on the table to kick off the proceedings. I try to dive for my crabs when I can, though the seafood market is a dry alternative. One year I made a Dungie crab bisque for twenty. It was time-consuming peeling all that crab—I’d recommend shelling out (pardon the pun) for lump crab meat instead—but oh so decadent and delicious. Unfortunately, by the time the labor-intensive bisque was ready, I think many of us were too deep into a Northwest wine tasting to fully appreciate it.

An elegant, tomato-based shellfish stew in the Italian tradition is a great way to charm your guests and add European flair to the American meal. I make one chock full of clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops, and squid (note: Seattle’s public fishing pier is host to a multi-lingual party of midnight squidders this time of year that is not to be missed). You can find my shellfish stew recipe in Fat of the Land. Or try a simple New England-style Clam Chowder, of which I have a couple recipes, here and here. Steamed littleneck clams can be easily gathered and prepared in minutes. A splash of white with a few sprigs of parsley and couple smashed garlic cloves is all it takes, or you can add a bit more prep time for Clams with Herbed Wine Sauce. Don’t forget crusty bread for dipping.

The South Sound and Hood Canal are good options for digging littleneck clams and picking oysters, while razor clam digs on the sandy ocean beaches are a time-honored way to stock the larder. In Oregon, Tillamook and Netarts bays are popular with clam diggers. Check the state Fish & Wildlife web sites for information on beach openings and limits.

Greens

Some of our spring weeds reappear in fall with the cool weather. One of the better bets is wild watercress, which can be gathered in quantity and tastes so much better than its domesticated counterpart. Spice up your green salad with watercress, pair it with wild mushrooms in a stuffing, or make a soup or side dish with it.

Berries

We’re lucky to have a dozen varieties of huckleberry in Washington and Oregon. Our late ripening variety is the evergreen huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum, and it’s often available right around Thanksgiving. Of all the huckleberries, it’s one of the easiest to pick, with sweet berries that can be pulled off the branches in bunches, so get your fill, though be warned: as with our fall mushrooms, this is not a good evergreen huckleberry year. Should you find some, there’s nothing better than a huckleberry pie or cobbler to put an exclamation mark on a wild Thanksgiving meal.