Rustic Reuben with Righteous Rye and Robust Russian Dressing

reuban from scratch b nBursting with flavor, this satisfying from-scratch version of an East Coast classic was delicious to the last caraway seed!

Jack suggested we make reuben sandwiches with the gorgeous purple kraut I’d just created. For this menu request, I would need my freshly baked righteous rye bread, corned beef, Russian dressing (see below), Swiss cheese, and butter. I already had all these items on hand except for the corned beef, and since this year the majority of the protein in our freezers is fish, that was going to be a challenge.

I wrinkled up my nose at Jack’s suggestion that we walk to the Native Store to see if they had any canned corned beef. Lo and behold, they did. “Premium” canned corned beef – it even had a little key on the side with which to open the can. This was new to me. I have had canned tuna and chicken, but neither of those items came with a key. I stared at this can turning it over and over to try and figure out how to open the darn thing. Thanks to YouTube, I now know how to open a can of corned beef!

Fortunately the homemade elements of this reuben added enough to the premium canned corned beef to make it a terrific, bush-style sandwich. Had this sandwich been made with homemade corned beef, or corned caribou, it would have been fit for Food and Wine magazine! Sounds like I have a new goal as soon as I can trade for caribou (or wild mountain goat, Bixlers, if you’re reading this)!

For this phenomenal reuben sandwich you need:

  • 2 thick slices of rye bread
  • Russian dressing
  • corned beef
  • sauerkraut
  • swiss cheese
  • butter or olive oil


  1. Generously spread butter on one side of each slice of bread.
  2. On the opposite side of bread, generously spread Russian dressing.
  3. Place enough corned beef to cover one piece of bread.
  4. Add a layer of Swiss cheese.
  5. Add a layer of sauerkraut.
  6. Cover sandwich with second piece of bread.
  7. Place sandwich in heavy skillet on stovetop over medium heat.
  8. Press sandwich down while cooking, about 5 minutes on one side.
  9. Flip sandwich.
  10. Press sandwich down on second side, and cook for another 5 minutes. Cheese should be melting out of the sandwich.
  11. Slice sandwich diagonally and serve with a dill pickle.

The Russian dressing is taken directly from Zingerman’s deli recipe which was posted on Food Network’s website. The only adaptations I made were to use my own homemade mayonnaise and to omit parsley.

Russian Dressing


  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • generous 1/4 cup chili sauce
  • 2 tbsp sour cream
  • 1 1/2 tbsp minced shallots
  • 1 1/2 tbsp minced dill pickle
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp grated horseradish
  • 1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce


  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well.

Whole Fish Salted and Broiled: Easy, Elegant, Delicious!

dolly varden shioyaki_n

This Chukchi Sea Dolly Varden Char was liberally salted, broiled and served with roasted Peruvian potatoes and garlic cloves. Salt grilling or broiling brings out the natural sweetness of species ranging from porgy and snapper to trout, char and salmon. 

When a friend recently presented us with two harvested-from-the-ocean-this-morning char, we knew immediately what we wanted to do with one of them: shioyaki. Although Japanese cuisine is better known for sushi and sashimi, far more fresh fish on Japanese tables is served well salted and then broiled or grilled.

The Japanese eat a lot of fish, and it is for good reason that shioyaki fish is weekly fare in most households. It’s quick, it’s easy, and fish prepared this way are deliciously savory and sweet. This is also an excellent method for preparing freshly caught trout while camping. Simply clean the catch, skewer it lengthwise, cut a few shallow slashes into the skin, rub salt on the fish and roast it on an open fire or over a grill. Brook trout served this way make for memorable camp fare, as do Japanese iwana (char).

dolly varden side by side_n

This pair of sea run Dolly Varden char have all the characteristics of fresh fish: bright, clear eyes, firm, nicely colored flesh, and no evidence of bruising. 

Because the fish are seasoned only with salt (and perhaps the smoke from a grill or fire), it is imperative that it be absolutely fresh. When you’re purchasing fish, look for a healthy shine, bright colors and clear, bright eyes. The scales should be intact and the gills, if any remain, should be bright red. Don’t be shy about giving a fish you’re considering purchasing a whiff. It should smell clean. Fish does not smell fishy; it is bacteria growing on poorly cared for or old fish that carries the unpleasant smell often called “fishy.”

Salt-Broiled Whole Fish

  1. Start with a clean, fresh fish. If it is a salmon, trout or char, it need not be scaled, but all traces of gill and viscera should be removed. Rinse the fish in cold water and pat dry inside and out. (Fish, such as porgy, snapper and rockfish should be scaled.)
  2. Preheat broiler to high and position a broiling pan a few inches from the heating element. (You may have to experiment to find the right position in your oven.)
  3. Use a very sharp knife to cut shallow diagonal slashes about an inch apart down the length of the fish.
  4. Rub a generous amount of salt into the fish. Let rest for a few minutes up to half an hour. Coarse grey sea salt from France (Celtic sea salt) is perfect for this recipe.
  5. When the broiler is hot, coat the broiling pan with oil by either brushing on or spraying with a pump spray. Canola oil or light olive oil work well.
  6. Place the fish on the pan. It should sizzle. If it doesn’t, it will stick to the pan.
  7. Cook for approximately 8 to 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Do not move fish during cooking. (On a grill, you will want to turn the fish once to ensure even cooking.) The fish is done when the tail and fins are crisp, the eyes are opaque and clear juice is no longer bubbling up through the slashes. With a fat fish, you will see some white fat in the slashes. This is good.

This dish requires no further adornment and is delicious with a glass of cold sparkling water, a craft ale, or a fine daiginjyo sake.

Cedar-Planked Portabella Mushrooms Stuffed with Smoked Salmon and Manchego Cheese

mushroom 1_n

Simple and elegant, cedar plank cooking has been part of the Pacific Northwest since early native Americans first discovered this method. Food such as these these stuffed Portabella caps lend themselves to leisurely evenings complimented with good wine and good friends.

The most difficult thing in cedar plank grilling is remembering to soak the planks before you’re ready to fire up the  grill. Aluminum foil is the solution. Although it’s best to soak the planks hours in advance of cooking, they also work perfectly well soaked just a short time prior to going on the grill provided they’re placed in a shallow aluminum foil “boat” with a little liquid added. Fold up the corners of the foil, pour in a little water or water and white wine, and you’re ready! Grilled on cedar, salmon and other foods come out wonderfully moist and take on smokey, woodsy flavors.

mushroom 6_n

Grilled over charcoal, caramelized corn on the cob and pineapple rings go well with stuffed mushrooms.

cedar planked salmon_nRight: A split, whole king salmon self-bastes on cedar planks over hot charcoal.

Although cedar is popular, alder, hickory and boards from fruit trees work well too. Thoroughly cleaned, the boards can be used multiple times. Since plank cooking creates a barrier between the coals and the food, cooking time will be a little longer. In addition to preserving moistness and imbuing food with more complex flavors, planking typically results in more evenly cooked food than straight charcoal grilling.

Cedar-Planked Portabella Mushrooms Stuffed with Smoked Salmon and Manchego Cheese


  1. Cut out the Portabella stems, chop course and place in a bowl. Add shredded or finely cubed Manchego cheese, finely chopped sweet onions, finely chopped garlic, tarragon, freshly cracked pepper, extra virgin olive oil, a small amount of sherry or white wine, and soy sauce or sea salt to taste. Mix thoroughly.
  2. Break up smoked salmon, cedar planked salmon, or any previously cooked salmon into small pieces and gently fold into the above mixture.
  3. Spoon mixture into mushroom caps and place on a cedar plank that has been well soaked. If desired, fashion a shallow aluminum foil boat slightly larger than the cedar plank and place 1/2 cup of water and white wine in the foil to help keep the plank moist.
  4. Grill over medium to medium-high heat for about 20 minutes, until a fork passes easily through the mushroom.

An Italian Amarone – a full-bodied red wine with lots of cherry – pairs especially well with a cedar-planked feast.

A Great Brine and Smoke – Soy Sauce, Brown Sugar and Seasonings for Salmon, Trout and other Fish

smoked salmon in rows_n

For the past couple of years, our brining and smoking method for salmon, trout, sturgeon and other fish has been the most popular article on our blog. Here it is again, with updated notes and photos.

If you’ve ever looked at those electric smokers sold in sporting goods stores and wondered if they did the job, the short answer is, “They do.” Our favorites are the Big Chief, Little Chief and Mini Chief models made by Smokehouse in Hood River Valley Oregon. Inexpensive, easy to use, easy to store and efficient, these smokers come with complete directions and a useful booklet that details the how-to of smoking and provides a number of recipes for fish, shellfish, poultry, meat, cheese, and even noodles, soup and breads.  My own most recent experiment with smoking was sea salt. It came out… smokey!

smoked salmon fillet_nTo obtain the best smoked fish, start with high-quality fish. Fresh fillets from bright fish make for a far better product than poorly cared for fillets from a badly handled fish. Also – and this is important -the method we use is not designed to kill parasites. It is recommended that fish be frozen at the lowest freezer setting possible for at least seven days before smoking them in order to ensure that they are parasite-free. You can read NOAA’s full recommendations here.

Below: A double batch of sockeye salmon in side-by-side Big Chief smokers.

smoking salmon double batch_n

For salmon, trout, sturgeon and similar fish with fairly firm meat, we marinate fillets in a wet brine for roughly six to 10 hours depending on the size and thickness of the fish or fillets. The fish can be brined in non-reactive glass, plastic or stainless steel (not aluminum) pans in the refrigerator or in a bucket or cooler with a couple of sealed Ziplock bags of ice thrown in to keep the mixture cool. Following are the step-by-step instructions we use for whole small trout and the fillets of salmon and other fish. The recipe can easily be modified to add other flavors or to finish the smoked fish with a sesame seed glaze.


Ingredients: For eight pounds of salmon, trout, sturgeon or other fish

  • 8 to 10 pounds fillets, skin on, rinsed, patted dry, cut into small pieces. A good size is about 3″ x 6″, but smaller or slightly larger is fine. Small trout can be cleaned and smoked whole.
  • 8 cups water
  • 2 cups soy sauce (Kikkoman is our favorite)
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sea salt or kosher salt (Do not use iodized salt. It will impart an unpleasant flavor.)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp granulated garlic
  • 1 tbsp ginger


  1. Mix brining ingredients together in a large bowl.
  2. Pour mixture over fillets, making sure they are covered, or until they float.
  3. Cover containers and marinate for about 8 hours (or overnight) in the refrigerator.
  4. Remove fillets from brine, pat dry with paper towels, and arrange on racks to dry for about an hour – until a glaze forms on the surface of the fish.
  5. Smoke fish according to your smoker’s directions with alder wood, mesquite, fruit tree or hickory chips. Check occasionally, keeping in mind that air temperature will influence smoking time. Typical smoking times range from 6 to 12 hours. A slightly wet product is best suited for many of the recipes we enjoy and for canning. For straight snacking, a drier product may be preferred.

Sautéed Salmon Roe

salmon roe sauteed_nOn the East Coast, shad roe is a celebrated springtime delicacy. In the Pacific Northwest, a similar side dish or an amuse bouche can be made from the immature eggs of ocean-caught salmon.

Fresh roe from ocean-caught salmon has a creamy texture and taste with an essence as fresh as the sea. At this stage the small, unripe eggs are firmly held together inside two separate egg sacs and lend themselves to being sautéed over low heat.

Once the egg sacs have been removed from the salmon and cleaned, preparation is easy. We like to keep it simple so that the delicate flavor of the eggs comes through: a little olive oil or butter, garlic clove sliced fine and a dash or two of salt is all you need. Keep the heat low so that the eggs don’t pop and cook the eggs through till they become opaque. Add a dash of sherry or white wine if desired.

A glass of Champagne, a sparkling wine from California, or an Italian Prosecco along with an amuse bouche featuring sautéed roe make an elegant start to to a special dinner. Larger roe sacs can be presented as an entrée similar to the manner in which shad roe is often served.

For an easy method for curing ripe salmon roe into beautiful, sushi-grade ikura, see Ikura: Curing Salmon Eggs

Eat Wild! Sautéed Fireweed Shoots and Fiddleheads with Freshly Caught Fish

fireweed and fiddleheads w rockfish_n

Lightly sautéed in olive oil with a pinch of salt, these tender fireweed shoots and fiddlehead ferns compliment fresh rockfish on a bed of pasta. 

With the beautiful warm weather we’ve been enjoying this summer in Seward, spring flew by before we knew it. So we had to do some climbing to harvest the purple-colored fireweed shoots and young fiddleheads we wanted for the rockfish dinner we had planned.

fireweed shoots_nEleven hundred feet up Mount Marathon, near the last patches of snow at the edge of the timberline where the cold had extended spring we found what we were looking for. We filled our stainless steel water bottle with a couple handful’s worth of these delicacies, added clear, icy water from a rivulet to keep the shoots cool and hiked back down the mountain.                                                             The perfect time to pick fireweed is when the young shoots are still purple. 

Mount Marathon mid June _n

                                                                              Right: The town of Seward is a nearly vertical drop below the timberline of Mount Marathon. The day was sunny and shorts-and-t-shirt warm and even with a bit of haze in the air the view of mountain-rimmed Resurrection Bay was spectacular.

Below: This well concealed nest added to the sense that we had turned back the clock a few weeks to earlier in spring.

fox sparrow nest mt marathon_nBack aboard Bandon that evening, we poured out a little bourbon into a couple of tumblers, seasoned a fillet from a rockfish we’d caught the day before, and panfried it along with the fiddleheads and fireweed.

There is something incredibly satisfying about harvesting one’s own dining fare – whether from sea or river, garden or mountainside. If you are lucky enough to live where you can gather wild plants, we hope you will. Keep your best spots secret, leave plenty to sustain regeneration and a healthy population, and maybe pick up a little bit of the litter less considerate people have left behind on your way out. Bon appétit!

yelloweye rockfish_n

Bourbon and Vodka Vanilla Extract from Scratch: Do Not Open till Christmas!

vanilla w bourbon_n

Quality Madagascar vanilla beans, bourbon in one bottle and vodka in the other, and the experiment begins. If all goes well, in six months we’ll have two excellent bottles of double-strength vanilla extract for our Christmas pies and confections.

Even when perfectly good store-bought products are available, we are fascinated by how various foods are actually made. For excellent vanilla extract, we know of no better than Penzeys Spices double strength. But we wanted to give making our own a go.

vanilla beans bourbon and vodka_n

We purchased our Madagascar vanilla beans from Penzeys. For the bourbon and vodka, we went with two well-known makers – a bourbon we enjoy sipping and a vodka that’s fine in our bloody Mary’s.

vodka pouring into bottle_n

There’s really nothing to creating your own vanilla extract. We had 15 long beans which we cut in half, split down the middle, and placed in old-fashioned bottles with tight seals.

Whether the subject is sherry for cooking or bourbon for vanilla extract, an oft-repeated axiom is “Don’t use anything you wouldn’t drink.” That’s good advice, on par with adding seasonings “to taste” in recipes. On one hand, this isn’t the place to use the finest bourbon one might drink; on the other hand, in our own experience we noticed a marked improvement in our sauces and sautés when we moved away from lower end sherries and upgraded to more drinkable varieties.


bourbon pouring into bottle_new

Once the vanilla beans and alcohol have been combined and sealed tight, it’s helpful to give the bottle a gentle shake from time to time to ensure mixing and full extraction. For the richest, most flavorful extract, allow six months to go by before opening.

For this batch, that means we’ll be able to break the seal for Christmastime chocolate orange meringue pie, pecan pralines and extra rich vanilla ice cream.

Lemon Vanilla Biscotti (with Ports, Sherries, Muscat and Roasted Grouse)

fortified wine_n

Light, crunchy and mildly sweet, Lemon Vanilla Biscotti (see recipe below) was the perfect accompaniment to an evening of sampling Port Wines, Sherries, Madeira and Muscat.

Lesson 8 in the wine appreciation course we’ve been taking this summer focused on fortified wines – ruby Port, tawny Port, fino Sherry, Amontillado, Madeira and Muscat. We wanted something sweet but not overly so to finish an evening that began with roasted wild grouse, squash risotto, Brussels sprouts and the sweet wines.


Baked three times, biscotti has a satisfying crunch. This lemon vanilla version could be drizzled with icing, but we enjoyed ours unadorned. 

Although served on a warm Alaskan June evening, the meal took us to visions of late fall evenings and Autumn-colored forests where wild grouse thrive. The grouse and the squash risotto (one of the best we’ve ever enjoyed) were courtesy of our friends Bix and Krystin at Alaskagraphy.

Lemon Vanilla Biscotti


  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1  1/2 tsp lemon zest


  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
  3. Combine flour, sugar and baking powder in medium bowl. Set aside.
  4. Whisk eggs, vanilla and zest in a medium bowl.
  5. Add flour mixture to wet mixture and stir until combined.
  6. Scrape dough onto parchment-lined baking sheet.
  7. With floured hands, shape dough into a flat rectangle (about 10 in. x 5 in.).
  8. Bake for 50 minutes.
  9. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes.
  10. Slice into 1/2 inch long pieces with a serrated knife.
  11. Lay the slices on their side and bake again for 15 minutes.
  12. Remove from oven and flip the biscotti to the opposite side and bake for 15 more minutes.
  13. Cookies should be lightly golden and crunchy on each side.

Grilled Halibut with Puréed Olive and Garlic Filling: s/v Bandon’s First Fish of 2013

halibut grilled w olive and tomato bell peppers_n

Finished with a roasted tomato and bell pepper sauce, freshly caught halibut charcoal-grilled atop Peruvian potatoes and lightly filled with a purée of olives and garlic provided the plat de résistance in a meal celebrating three days of terrific sailing and an evening tasting champagnes and sparkling wines.

The opportunity to grill and serve a halibut in the whole doesn’t come along every day, particularly in waters where 50-pound fish are more commonly caught than five-pounders. But I could feel the characteristic thumping of a halibut 130 feet below Bandon, and I knew the metal jig I was fishing might have found just the fish we were looking for. Barbra expertly netted the five-pound flatty and everyone aboard gave a little cheer as the first fish of the trip hit Bandon’s decks.

bandon racing 3 - Version 2_n

Earlier in the week we did a little casual (very casual) racing in Resurrection Bay. Crew from the sailing vessel Carpe Ventos shared this photo of our Island Packet 350 under sail.

We were on our way back to Resurrection Bay after a three-day sojourn around the cape with our friends Krystin and Bixler from Carpe Ventos. The weather had been beautiful and the sightseeing excellent as usual as we encountered seals, sea lions, otters, Dahl porpoises, whales, eagles, oyster catchers, puffins and a dozen other sea birds near Alaska’s mountainous, glacier-scarred shoreline.

halibut in foil on grill_n

Right: We grilled our halibut on a deck overlooking Resurrection Bay, but this dish could easily be prepared at anchor on a propane grill. 

Although we continued fishing (and came back with limits of rockfish as well as a second halibut), we knew we’d already scored the fish we wanted for the centerpiece of an evening in which we planned to sample six different champagnes and sparkling wines – Lesson 7 in the Everyday Guide to Wines course we are taking this summer.

halibut whole in foil_n

A bed of sliced heirloom Peruvian potatoes, herbs de provence, a little Chardonnay, butter, lemon juice and olive oil provided the liquid for steaming this fish. Kept whole, the halibut was essentially filleted without entirely removing the meat from the bones. A thin layer of paste made from puréed olives, olive oil and garlic was spread inside the openings created by the semi-fillet technique as well as in the stomach cavity. 

After about 40 minutes over fairly low heat on the grill, the halibut was came out flakey, moist and enhanced with a smokey, charcoal flavor. A nice-sized summer flounder from the East Coast or a Japanese hirame would serve equally well, and this dish could easily be prepared in the oven.

As to the champagne… After years of drinking what we all regarded as fairly good California sparkling wines, all four of us became instant méthode de champenoise fans. With finer bubbles creating an elegant mousse, lots of well-balanced fruit and a toasty, creamy finish, the bottle of Marie Weiss Brut was the perfect wine for this meal.

champagne toast a_n

Smelt Smoked or Fried (Eulachon, Hooligan or Candlefish)

hooligans in cooler_n

Eulachon are packed with oil when they begin their spawning run – roughly 15% of their body weight. Dried, they can be lit and will burn like a candle, which is why early explorers in North American called them candlefish. The term eulachon is derived from the Chinook language. 

When the hooligan are making their spring-time run in the Pacific Northwest, dip-netters from Oregon to Alaska gather along the banks of their natal streams and rivers to scoop up a few pounds for the pan and the smoker. An anadromous species, these members of Osmeridae (the smelt family) spend most of their lives in the ocean and ascend the rivers of their birth to spawn and die. At this time, they don’t feed, so dip-netting is the best way to harvest them.

hooligan krystin b_n

Our friend Krystin scoops up a netful of hooligan from a small stream near Seward. 

Fiddlehead ferns, fireweed shoots or asparagus lightly sautéed in olive oil and finished with a squirt of lemon make a fitting accompaniment for a meal of freshly caught smelt. One of our favorite cooking methods for the fish themselves is to roll them in cornmeal, wrap them in bacon, fry them whole and serve them wrapped in a crisp leaf of Romain lettuce – a lettuce-smelt taco. (See Bacon-Wrapped Smelts for more on this recipe.)

hooligan by hand_n

Right: When the fish are in, it can be possible to catch them by hand. It took Krystin a few minutes to grab these fish one at a time.

Another great way to enjoy hooligans is to smoke them, and that’s the way our friends Bixler and Krystin recently prepared them. They use a commercially prepared dry rub, but making your own is easy enough. Typical dry rubs feature about one cup of non-iodized salt to four cups of brown sugar. Garlic, ginger, cloves, nutmeg and allspice are among seasonings commonly added to give brines more flavor. Simply pack the fish in the brine in a glass baking dish, place in the fridge for a day or so, rinse the fish, pat the fish dry with paper towels and smoke for about eight hours. (See Alaska Fast Food: Smoked Hooligans at Alaskagraphy.)

The bones of cooked or smoked smelt are soft, and many people (including us) eat them whole from head to tail. Gravid females (those with ripe roe) are our favorites.

hooligan zaru soba_n

Zaru soba – cold buckwheat noodles – is a perfect dish for the hot weather we’ve been having lately. Topped with a smoked smelt from the refrigerator, this dish can be garnished with salmon roe, nori or served as is. You can used a store-bought noodle dipping sauce or make your own with a little rice vinegar, a little soy sauce, a little brown sugar, ice-cold water and a sprinkling of sesame seeds.