Salmon Cheddar Bisque with Morels

Salmon Cheddar Bisque with Morel Mushrooms

I’ve been making A. J. McClane’s Lobster Cheddar Bisque for quite a few years. The original recipe appears in my all-time favorite book on cooking fish, McClane’s North American Fish Cookery. Although by now I’ve strayed from the original recipe, spending time in the kitchen with an icon whose books and articles influenced me to seek the life I’m now living is invariably pleasant.

In addition to the connection with one of my personal culinary and angling heroes, I enjoy creating this bisque with ingredients that are in their own right touchstones. The Tillamook cheddar I use takes me back to the years I spent on the Oregon coast; the Coho salmon I used to catch in those days is replaced in this current iteration with Chignik River Sockeye. In Oregon, a friend’s gift of a large paper bag filled with freshly picked chanterelles inspired one version of this soup; the morels we recently came into from interior Alaska have inspired another.

The last time I published the recipe for this soup, I used lobster mushrooms. You can check out that recipe at: Salmon Cheddar Soup with Lobster Mushrooms

Here’s how I made it this time around.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound pan-fried Sockeye salmon, boned, skinned and flaked or cut into bite-sized pieces
  • *1¼ cups or so of morel mushrooms, cut so that a slice of morel and a chunk of salmon might both fit in a soup spoon
  • soy sauce
  • part of a red bell pepper, diced fairly fine. (I used a little over a tablespoon of Penzeys dried bell pepper.)
  • ¼ cup shallots, diced fine (I used Penzeys dried shallots.)
  • 2 tablespoons flower as a thickening agent. (White rice flower works best for this as it imparts very little flavor. But regular all purpose flower is fine.)
  • 1 tablespoon each olive oil and butter (for sautéing the mushrooms)
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1¾ cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 or two tablespoons Better than Bouillon lobster base (optional). This is salty, so if you use it, be sure to taste as you go.
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon smokey mesquite seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika

*When sautéing the mushrooms, a splash of Sherry or Chardonnay and a dash of soy sauce can be nice. It’s up to you.

Directions

  1. Heat olive oil and butter in the pot or sauteuse pan you will use to make the bisque. Medium heat.
  2. When the butter mixture begins to bubble, add the sliced mushrooms and toss to coat. Sauté the mushrooms for about two minutes. Add the shallots, bell peppers, a splash of white wine and soy sauce to finish. Lower heat.
  3. Vigorously stir in flour. Add milk, seasonings and lobster base. Stir till mixture begins to thicken. Keep it hot, but don’t let it boil.
  4. Add salmon and cheddar cheese. Taste the soup and add additional seasonings as necessary.
  5. Garnish with a pinch of paprika. Serve piping hot with a favorite bread.

Provided the soup wasn’t allowed to boil, it refrigerates well.

Abundance

Alaska subsistence gathering natural abundance

Freshly picked wild blueberries, wineberries, and a perfect King Bolete mushroom…

Mid-August in The Chigniks. The river and its spawning tributaries are filled with hundreds of thousands of salmon, its shores thickly blanketed in shades of green rivaling and perhaps surpassing images of Emerald Isles elsewhere. In meadows and bogs a profusion of wildflowers continues to bloom, progressing with the seasons from the irises, chocolate lilies, violets and lupine of spring to the fireweed, cotton grass, goldenrod and yarrow of late summer, yellow paintbrush and wild geranium overlapping the seasons. Salmonberries, their orange and red hues evoking the colors of spawning Sockeyes and Chinook, are nearly over now, gallons carefully vacuum-packed and tucked away in the freezer for the coming winter. Meanwhile, the skies are filled with birds. Our finches – redpolls, siskins and Pine Grosbeaks – apparently had a banner nesting season as did The Chignik’s Golden-crowned and Fox Sparrows. They’ve recently been joined by flocks of canary-colored yellow warblers in the midst of their annual late-summer migration through the Chigniks.

Coho are beginning to trickle into the river. They’ll begin arriving in force later this month, just as the feral raspberries and red currants around the village are ripening. Startlingly brightly colored Red-backed Voles seem to be everywhere, their abundance a boon to the Rough-legged Hawks which nest on a riverside cliff and managed to successfully rear and fledge four chicks this year. Bears continue to amble along the river and lakeshore, but most have moved upstream toward the headwaters of salmon-rich spawning grounds. There are even a few caribou around, moose, and the other evening we watched a porcupine meander up the lakeshore. Now and then a Harbor Seal or River Otter pops its head above the water’s surface to check out whomever might be strolling the shore. Families of teal and wigeons have been taking advantage of thick patches or water crowfoot growing and blooming in the cove near our home. Yesterday morning we were startled awake by the cry of a loon out on the lake.

Blueberries now. A skiff ride across the lake, a short hike along a disappearing trail, now nearly overgrown in salmonberry stalks, fireweed, cow parsnip and willows. We crest a hill carpeted with lowbush cranberries and descend into a wide, open area – a remnant of the boggy tundra that not so very long ago predominated this ever-changing landscape. The bushes are low, only inches above thick, spongy mats of lichen we kneel in as we pick. The berries out here on the Alaska Peninsula are not large – no “lunkers” of the size we picked last year in Newhalen. But lots. And lots. Mushrooms, too. Good ones. They and a few coveted wineberries are added to the gathering. Though we are not far from the village, the only sounds are berries making satisfying plunks in our containers, birds chattering and calling, and, yes, the occasional whine of mosquitoes. In the quiet of the natural world, our minds drift into zen-like states. As we fall asleep that night, blueberries will play on our eyelids like a movie on a screen.

Picking finished for the day, hiking back out, backpack of berries, our skiff anchored along a rocky beach we come to a surprised halt when we see a family of three Sandhill Cranes there – mom and dad in rich, russet-colored feathers, their nearly grown chick in drabber gray. Perhaps they are working the shoreline for caddis larvae. We hate disturbing them, but it’s time to go. As we draw near to the skiff, we see our owls perched in alder and cottonwood snags on the bluff near Otter Creek. All four, the adults and their two offspring whiling away the day till nighttime. The young are still in creamy-white down, their “ear” tufts barely emerging, but they are fully fledged now and capable of strong flight. Again, we hated to bother them. They flew off a short distance and watched us load our skiff, start the engine and cruise home.

Slices of boletes sautéed in butter and garlic on zucchini pizza for dinner, a game of Scrabble, a favorite TV show downloaded from the Internet, twilight and outside our windows the nearby whistling cries of hungry Great-horned Owls siblings waiting for a vole or two from their parents.

 

 

Hot off the Grill: Two-Cheese Alaska Salmon Burgers

Wild Alaska Salmon on pan toasted homemade English muffins, wild Alaska blueberries and a big mug of coffee – a wild way to start the weekend.

This is easy. Take a wild salmon fillet, remove the skin, chop up the fillet and put it in a bowl. Add equal parts grated mozzarella and crumbled goat cheese. Sprinkle in a spicy seasoning – something with smoked chipotle is especially nice. No salt needed as the cheese should be salty enough. That’s it. Now shape the mixture into burgers and fry in olive oil, flipping once.

Served on English muffins that have been pan toasted in olive oil, these make for a terrific weekend brunch. Or put the burgers in traditional hamburger buns. Try them with a little Dijon mustard. Bon appétit!

Point Hope Aerial, 2013

Point Hope, Alaska, February 22, 2013

One of the great privileges in our life was to live for three years in the Inupiat village of Point Hope, Alaska. Lying 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle and still deeply connected to a whaling-based subsistence culture, it is said that the Tikigaq Peninsula has been inhabited for some 9,000 years, making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited sites in North America. It is a place of aqpik berries and caribou, snowy owls and arctic foxes, fierce winds and frozen seas, a full month of darkness and the most magically soft pink, gold and orange morning and evening light we’ve ever seen. One day in early fall we hiked out to the end of the peninsula, stood on the beach, and watched in wonder as thousands upon thousands of murres, puffins, auklets and other seabirds streamed by on their way to the open ocean to spend the winter, their nesting season complete – surely one of the planet’s greatest migratory events. We endured a mid-winter three-day blow of hurricane force winds that forced most of the village to huddle together in the school which had its own generating system and could offer warm shelter and hot meals. Polar bears sauntered through the village right past our house and there were nights when the Northern lights danced above our heads in electric greens, pinks, purples and reds.  And it was a place of friends, some of the toughest, most generous people we’ve ever known. Tikiġaġmiut – the people of this peninsula in the Chukchi sea.