A great read,* a hot bowl of soup, memories of last fall and dreams of summer…
A cold snap has fallen on Chignik Lake. Middle March, and once again our our world in this remote corner of Alaska is blanketed in snow. This morning we woke to find our lake glassed off with ice, the flocks of Goldeneyes and Scaup that had gathered in the view out our window gone to find open water. Now and then our resident family of otters appears on the ice to take advantage of new fishing opportunities in mid-lake openings, happy to bask in the late morning sunshine. The silver bright salmon of last autumn have long since spawned and died.
As recently as January there were still a few late-run salmon clinging to life in feeder streams. Even those fish are gone by now, returned to gravel stream beds, becoming nutrients in the web of life their offspring will soon depend upon. Even the char have disappeared, huddled together somewhere in deep water, waiting for spring.
March is a month for tying flies and sorting through gear, a month for evening games of Scrabble and tucking into a good book. March is a month when the next generation of salmon are stirring in their redds and you imagine those tiny fish and even though the water is covered with fresh ice, you think to yourself, “Spring is coming.”
March is a good time to make big pots of soups and big plans for summer. This soup is one of our favorites. I prepared the salmon sausage without using eggs and I added chorizo to give it some zip. I seasoned the sausage with an Italian herb blend and added additional ground fennel, which came through nicely. It’s soup, so experiment with ingredients to make it your own.
White Bean & Butternut Salmon Sausage Soup
- 6 cups white beans (3 16oz cans)
- 1 butternut squash, roasted or steamed until tender, rind removed, cut into cubes (or used canned pumpkin or squash)
- 6 cloves of garlic, sliced thin
- 1 shallot, sliced thin (or substitute a small sweet onion)
- 3 cups chicken broth (enough broth to thin the bean & squash mixture)
- 1 or 2 lbs salmon sausage (see recipe here). Or substitute any sausage.
- sea salt
- 1 tablespoon of a favorite spicy mix featuring powdered chipotle (See “Jack’s”)
- olive oil
- Add a tablespoon or 2 of olive oil to a frying pan and heat over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic and sauté until soft. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Using a stick blender, food processor or conventional blender, purée the beans, squash, garlic and shallots, adding chicken broth as you do this to create a thick soup.
- Add the purée to a large pot. Add additional chicken broth to achieve desired consistency. Stir in seasonings, bring to a simmer and cook for a few minutes. Taste to determine how much salt is needed and if additional seasoning is required.
- Add the salmon sausage and gently stir in. Allow to simmer for a few more minutes.
- Ladle into serving bowls, drizzle with a favorite olive oil, and serve piping hot.
*A River Never Sleeps, Roderick Haig-Brown, 1946
Roasted Beets & Goat Cheese
Almost ten years ago, I went on a fabulous California North Coast honeymoon with my honey. As I’m sure you can imagine, that get-away was filled with culinary delights. We ate and drank at wonderful restaurants and Jack grilled us fabulous meals on the balcony outside our honeymoon suite. One of our favorite memories is of a dinner at the River’s End restaurant in Jenner, California. The chef included locally sourced food, some of which came from a garden right on the grounds outside the restaurant.
We’d just completed a fantastic run along a trail on a bluff looking out over the Pacific Ocean, and we were famished. We began our meal with oysters on the half shell and a crisp amber ale. Next, Jack and I ordered two entrées to share along with what proved to be a wonderful bottle of old vine Zinfandel from a California winery. Jack opted for roasted elk while I went for duck prepared three ways. While we were waiting for our entrées, we tucked into a pair of beautifully presented stacked beet salads. What a revelation! Growing up, I’d always been served canned, pickled beets. I developed a disdain for those beets. But roasted, fresh beets? Wow, who knew? River’s End’s creation featured three colors of perfectly roasted beet discs atop garden-fresh greens. In between each of the discs were crumbles of creamy goat cheese. A garnish of chiffonade basil and a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette completed the presentation. The combination of flavors and textures were perfection.
Earlier this fall, beets showed up in our Farm Lodge vegetable box. With a lovely memory of our honeymoon meal, I set out to recreate this delicious salad. My version came out just as good as my memory. The combination of the earthiness of a roasted beet, a curl of basil, creamy goat cheese and tangy vinaigrette can’t be beat.
Roasted Stacked Beet Salad
- two portions of salad greens
- two medium-sized beets
- extra virgin olive oil
- a few sprigs of basil
- 2 tbsp goat cheese
- 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 425° F.
- Coat beet roots in olive oil.
- Wrap beets in aluminum foil.
- Roast for about an hour.
- Beets are done when easily pierced with a knife.
- Let them cool enough to handle. Using a paring knife, skin the beets.
- Slice the beets while warm. Set aside.
- Prepare the vinaigrette by mixing vinaigrette ingredients well.
- Place greens on plates. Top greens with one slice of roasted beet. Sprinkle beet slice with goat cheese. Continue with remaining beet slices and cheese. Repeat this process on another plate with the second beet.
- Roll up basil leaves and slice into thin strips. Sprinkle strips atop each salad plate.
- Drizzle each salad with vinaigrette dressing.
- Serve with freshly baked bread to sop up every crumb and delicious drop left on the plate.
Airy and light, but packing a powerful raspberry punch, this raspberry mousse is a delightful dessert after a rich meal.
Two of my favorite culinary pastimes are making jams and ice creams. We love to pick local berries. The usual varieties around Chignik Lake are blueberries, cranberries, crowberries, currants, and raspberries. Unfortunately, this year was a terrible year for berries. Our usual spots are yielding small amounts or no berries at all. Except for the raspberries. Years ago, someone planted a garden of raspberries and currants. The raspberries, as raspberries do, have spread out from their original patch to a nearby hill. Last year, this hill was crazy with berries. This year, it was the only place we could find a decent amount of berries of any kind. So this winter portends many creations featuring the delicious raspberry.
Today’s recipe stemmed from my other joy – ice cream. Many of our favorite ice creams are the custard type, requiring several egg yolks. This tends to leave us with quite a bit of leftover egg whites at times. What to do? Omelets are good, up to a point. I’ve made batches of meringues, too. But this time, I wanted to do something different. What about whipping the egg whites into a foamy mousse?
This is a simple recipe that can be made in minutes and is best whipped up right before it’s eaten. The first time I made it, I whipped up heavy cream to top it off. That was good, but a little too heavy for this airy-light dessert. Today’s version is topped with a whipped topping made from nonfat powdered milk and ice water. It, too, must be made just before serving. Drizzled with a little raspberry jam, this mousse makes for a light and delicious dessert fit to end a beautiful feast.
Light and Airy Raspberry Mousse
- 1/2 cup egg whites (or whites from 4 eggs)
- 4 tsp granulated sugar
- 4 tbsp raspberry jam
- whipped topping
- Whip egg whites until stiff peaks are formed.
- Add sugar to whites and continue to whip until well mixed.
- Fold in raspberry jam.
- Divide egg white mixture into two parfait glasses.
- Top with whipped topping.
The Carolinas meet California in a Po’ Boy that combines a favorite from each coast. Served up with our home-brewed hefeweizen.
True, po’ boys originated in Louisiana, but the fried oyster sandwiches of my youth were served up in family-run seafood shacks on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. You had to remember to ask for unsweetened iced tea in those Southern establishments, shoes were optional – even the waitresses often went barefooted -, and a proudly displayed Department of Health rating of “C” was a guarantee that the seafood would be fresh, authentic and delicious.
A warm, soft bun slathered with tartar sauce or rémoulade, a wedge of lemon, and sides of fries and ‘slaw are traditional and tough to improve on. Some folks add lettuce, tomatoes, or pickles (or even the ‘slaw) for a little crunch, but when we chomp down on an oyster po’ boy, all we want is soft bun and even softer, deep-fried, juicy oysters. The crispy coating on the oysters is crunch enough. But how about a few slices of creamy avocado?
Oh, The World’s Best Bar Snack? That’s what Bill Briwa, Chef-Instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, calls deep-friend parsnips. These are a cinch to make, and, yeah, they just might be the World’s Best Bar Snack. Get the recipe here.
- Mix the above ingredients together.
- Allow to sit for a few minutes so flavors come together.
Deep Fried Oysters
- a dedicated deep-frying pot or a good stainless steel pot. For safety, the pot should be large enough so that the oil (see below) does not fill it more than half full.
- cooking thermometer that attaches to the pot so you can monitor oil temperature
- a slotted steel spoon or wire mesh (spider) for removing the oysters from the oil
- cutting board or platter on which to rest oysters after they’ve been rolled in crackers
- platter with paper towel to rest and drain fried oysters
- a gallon-sized sealable plastic bag
- 1 pint fresh oysters (The only way we can have fresh oysters in Bush Alaska is to freeze them. Happily, they freeze well.)
- approximately 50 ounces cooking oil that withstands high heat Canola or peanut oil are good choices.
- 3 eggs, well beaten in a bowl with fairly steep sides
- 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1/2 tbsp Cholula or similar hot sauce
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tbsp chili powder mixture, preferably one with chipotle, divided into two equal portions
- 1/4 tsp salt
- cracked pepper
- 2 cups crushed saltine crackers (we use salted saltines)
- Drain oysters and set aside. You might want to gently roll them in paper towels to remove excess moisture.
- Add canola oil to a large pot and heat over high heat to 360° F (180° C). Keep an eye on the temperature, lowering burner heat as necessary. You can test the oil’s readiness for cooking by dropping in a pinch of crushed saltines. They should immediately sizzle.
- Meanwhile, add soy sauce, Cholula, and half of the powdered chili mix to the beaten eggs and whisk together.
- Add the flour, half the powdered chili mix, salt and pepper to the gallon-sized plastic bag, seal and shake well to mix. Pour the mixture into a shallow bowl or onto a plate.
- Place the crushed saltines in a shallow bowl or on a plate. A good way to crush them is to put them in a gallon-sized sealable plastic bag. Seal the bag, but leave a small opening so air can escape. Use a rolling pin to crush the crackers in the bag.
- Arrange items on your counter in the following order, leading toward the frying pot: oysters, flour mixture, egg mixture, crushed crackers, board/platter for resting oysters.
- Using tongs: Place an oyster into the flour mixture and thoroughly coat but give it a shake to let excess flour fall off. Then place the oyster in the egg mixture, thoroughly coat it, but hold it above the bowl for a moment to let excess egg drip off. Next, roll it in the crushed crackers, making sure it’s completely covered. Finally, set it on the board/platter to rest. Repeat till all oysters are ready to be fried.
- Hopefully you or your sous chef have been keeping an eye on the temperature of the cooking oil. 360° F is about right. Use tongs to carefully add oysters one at a time – no splattering. Keep adding oysters, but don’t overcrowd the pot. Try to keep them from touching each other – better too few oysters at a time than too many. Using tongs, gently turn the oysters to ensure that all side are evenly cooked to a golden brown. This will take 1 to 3 minutes. Don’t overcook them.
- Use a steel slotted spoon or a spider to remove fried oysters. Place on platter with paper towel to drain. You can keep them warm and crisp on the center rack of a warm oven, or loosely cover them with a towel.
The Po’ Boy
- It can be nice to toast the sandwich roll.
- Spread both sides with rémoulade. Arrange the fried oysters and give them a squirt of lemon juice from a lemon wedge. Top with slices of avocado. Drop the lemon wedge into your hefeweizen and dig in.
For lunch or dinner, on a cold winter’s day nothing beats a bowl of agreeably slippery udon noodles served in piping hot miso soup. The trick is finding the right bowl.
Ramen, soba, udon – we are big fans of Asian noodles. In Mongolia our apartment came ready with two perfectly-sized bowls for serving up this kind of fare. Back in America, finding the right bowls proved to be much more of a challenge than we anticipated. The average soup/cereal/pasta bowl isn’t big enough, and the average serving bowl is too big.
With a bit of persistence we found just what we were looking for. Mrs. Lin’s Kitchen carries beautiful karakusa swirl noodle bowls in classic white and classic black. These bowls are made in Japan and reminiscent of higher-end noodle shops there. Karakusa is a traditional arabesque design of repeating swirls popular in Japanese ceramics. The bowls are simultaneously elegant and sturdy. Best of all they’re large enough to fill up with a true noodle soup meal.
And the people at Mrs. Lin’s know how to pack fragile items. Here in Chignik Lake, our post office is just a two-minute walk from our house – but it can be a treacherous walk, especially on days such as yesterday when the road and footpaths were covered in hard ice. On the return trip, my feet went up and I came down – hard – as did the box containing our brand new noodle bowls. I was fine, but I dreaded what I might find when I opened the box. We needn’t have worried. In fact, we don’t think we’ve ever seen anything packed quite so well.
Tender roasted moose, caramelized onions, potatoes, parsnips and mushrooms pulled together with moose gravy, topped with a flaky, golden-brown crust and served with our home-brewed Nut-Brown Ale. That’s how we do it in Alaska.
This has been a good year for moose hunting in Chignik Lake, and while I’m not sure we’d know what to do with a twelve-hundred pound bull, anytime a friend offers up a few pounds, we’re in. This moose pie is a long-standing favorite recipe, easily adapted for other wild game or beef. Start with a pound of tender roast, toss in your favorite vegetables, add time-tested seasonings and a little gravy, top with a savory pie crust and bake at 375° F for about 25 minutes. Serves four Alaska-sized appetites.
Rustic Moose Pot Pie
- 1 3/4 cups beef broth or moose broth
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
- 1 2/3 cups potatoes, cut into 1/2″ cubes, skin on
- olive oil
- 1/3 cup flour
- 1 pound roasted moose meat, cut into 1/2″ cubes
- 1/2 cup sweet corn
- 1/2 Brussels sprouts, quartered
- 1/2 cup carrots, sliced into discs or chopped coarse
- 1/2 cup parsnips, sliced 1/4 inch think x 1/2 inch
- 1/2 onion, cut into slices and caramelized
- 1/2 cup mushrooms, chopped coarse
- 1/2 rounded teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried sage
- 1/2 teaspoon thyme
- several generous grinds freshly cracked black pepper
- salt, to taste
- Place a baking sheet on the center rack of oven and preheat to 375 °F (190° C).
- Place broth in a pot, add bay leaf. Taste to determine if salt needed.
- Add potatoes. Simmer potatoes till just tender, but do not overcook. Save broth and remove potatoes to a large bowl.
- Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, add olive oil to cover bottom and bring to sizzling hot over medium/medium-high heat. Brown the mushrooms, remove and set aside. Add onions. Season with salt and pepper and cook till caramelized. Remove onions and set aside.
- Add additional olive oil to frying pan as necessary and continue heating over medium heat. Add Brussels sprouts, parsnips and carrots. Season with salt and pepper. Cook till Brussels sprouts are browned and all vegetables are just tender, stirring occasionally. Remove vegetables from pan and add to bowl with potatoes.
- Over medium-low heat, place approximately 4 tablespoons olive oil into a small frying pan. When oil is heated but not sizzling hot, briskly stir in flour a little at a time. Continue stirring until mixture thickens. Remove from heat.
- Heating beef broth over medium heat, stir in oil and flour mixture. Combine thoroughly. Simmer till reduced to a thick gravy.
- To the bowl that already has the potatoes and vegetables, add the moose meat, mushrooms, gravy and the remaining seasonings and mix together. (There are a number of ways to make a thick gravy. Try using a dark ale to deglaze the pan you used for roasting the moose.)
- Pour meat and vegetable mixture directly into a deep pie dish. Cover with a crust. Be sure to make holes in the crust to allow steam to escape. Brushing on a beaten egg will help create a golden brown crust.
- Place on baking sheet and bake at 375 °F for 25 – 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown.
Although a full-bodied red wine such as an old vine Zinfandel, Malbec or Cabernet is a classic choice with this dish, a full-bodied ale pairs equally well.
A hint of thyme compliments the delicate flavor of wild char, one or our favorite fish. No wild fish available? Look for Arctic Char at the fish market. They get high marks for being responsibly farmed and are delicious.
There’s something about wild char and trout that calls to simplicity. Among all species of fish, they are among the most demanding of unspoiled environments. Where streams, rivers and lakes are clean and lightly trammeled, these species often thrive, both their numbers and the setting they inhabit evoking bygone times. It is in such settings that light harvest of a few fish is sustainable.
When presented with such fish in the kitchen, the most basic ingredients are all that is wanted. Salt and butter, perhaps a little pepper or a pinch or two of an aromatic herb. A little lemon can be nice, too. Root vegetables such as potatoes, parsnips or rutabaga roasted or pan fried in olive oil and soy sauce make the perfect accompaniment on the serving platter.
Broiled Char or Trout for Two
- 1 char or trout of about 16 to 18 inches (40 – 45 cm) (between 1 and two pounds, dressed)
- fine sea salt (we use Grey Sea Salt in all of our salmon and trout recipes)
- two light pinches of dry thyme (or about double that if you have fresh)
- 1 lemon cut into thin slices, peel cut away
- butter, sliced into thin pats
- olive oil or canola oil
- broiling pan. We use a Swiss Diamond cast iron griddle for this kind of broiling.
- Place a broiling pan near the top shelf in the oven and preheat on broil. You want the pan to be very hot when the fish is placed on it. This prevents the fish from sticking. Do not oil the pan yet.
- Rinse the fish in cold water and dry with paper towels. Make sure the gills and viscera have been removed.
- On a cutting board or platter, position the fish with its it’s open belly toward you.
- Using a very sharp knife, cut shallow, oblique slashes spaced about an inch apart (2.5 cm) down both sides of the fish. You want to break the skin without cutting all the way through to the body cavity.
- Rub fish inside and out with fresh lemon juice.
- Salt the fish inside and out. Sprinkle a little thyme inside the cavity on the sides.
- Place a few thin slices of butter inside the cavity and on top of the fish’s side.
- Place pieces of lemon on top of the fish’s side.
- Spread olive oil on broiling pan. A basting brush works well for this. Return pan to oven for about a minute to ensure that oil is very hot.
- Place fish on broiling pan or griddle. The fish should really sizzle when it hits the pan. Once the fish is on the pan, do not move it. (Moving a fish just after it hits a pan can cause it to stick to the pan.) Return to the oven and broil for 5 minutes.
- Remove pan from oven and gently flip the fish. Do this by rolling the fish on its back using spatulas. This will prevent the cavity from draining. Place additional pieces of butter and fresh slices of lemon on the up side of the fish and return to the oven. Broil for 3 or 4 more minutes.
- The fish is done when the slashes have opened, the skin is golden brown, the tail is crisp and the eyes are opaque.
- Serve with roasted root vegetables on warmed plates. Compliment with a light Chardonnay or a crisp ale.