Salmon (or any fish) in Saffron Broth with New Potatoes

Salmon worked wonderfully in this easy yet exotic meal, but halibut would also shine as would walleye, rockfish and most other fillets.

Saffron, the dried stigmas of crocus flowers, imbues food with a rich yellow-orange color and distinctive flavor that goes especially well with fish. Since it only takes a healthy pinch of the crumbled filaments, it’s not as expensive to use as you might think. We’ve been using Spanish coupe grade saffron from Penzeys Spices and have been very happy with it.

Crocus sativus, the saffron crocus – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Saffron8.jpg

This is our take on a recipe we found in a recent addition to our cookbook collection, The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen. Their recipe calls for hake, chorizo and clam juice. Along with a few other minor changes, we substituted salmon fillets, thick-cut bacon and fish broth made from salmon and added a bit of powdered chipotle, cayenne and mesquite to emulate chorizo’s spicy smokiness. With most of the fat rended from the bacon, and the cooked bacon then pressed between paper towels, this is a healthful, satisfying one-bowl dinner. Add hunks of crusty rustic-style bread, and while you can seldom go wrong with salmon and Chardonnay, try pairing this dish with a Riesling that has a hint of sweetness to it.

Salmon in Saffron Broth with New Potatoes

Ingredients

  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sweet onion, chopped fine
  • thick-cut bacon, fried, pressed between paper towels and cut into small pieces
  • garlic cloves, minced
  • saffron
  • fish stock – clear, preferably homemade from fresh fish as we’ve found it difficult to obtain quality fish stock otherwise. Or use clam juice.
  • water
  • dry white wine
  • small red or yellow potatoes
  • seasonings: bay leaf, marjoram, soy sauce (or sea salt), chipotle powder, cayenne pepper,   and mesquite (for additional smokiness)
  • salmon fillets, skin removed and fillets patted dry (We felt that almost any type of fish   would work well in this dish.)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • chervil or parsley
  • fresh lime juice

Directions

This works best in a sauteuse pan. You don’t need a lot of broth in this dish – perhaps a cup or so per serving. The potatoes and fish should rest in the broth, not be completely covered by it.

  1. Sauté the onions in olive oil. When they just begin to caramelize, add the minced garlic and crumble in the saffron. Cook for about 30 seconds, just till the garlic releases its aroma.
  2. Stir in fish stock and wine.
  3. Add potatoes and the seasonings – just a little of each as you can always add more if you need to. Give the broth a taste. If the flavor of the fish stock or clam juice is too strong, add a bit of water.
  4. Keep heat fairly low, at – or preferably just below – a low simmer. Cook until potatoes are tender – almost ready to serve. Taste broth and adjust seasonings as desired.
  5. Season the salmon fillets with freshly cracked pepper. Create space in the pan and position the salmon fillets skinned side down in the broth. Cook at or just below a low simmer for 7 to 12 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillet. With salmon, you’ll see white albumin form on the fillet when it is cooked through. You can check with a thermometer – 140° F for fish.
  6. Remove pan from heat. Gently stir in a little lime juice and a sprinkle of chervil or parsley.
  7. Serve in shallow bowls, spooning some broth over the fillet.

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!

Nobu West Comes North: Paper-Thin Salad with Wild Alaska Sockeye Tataki

Crisp, paper thin vegetables and a tangy, spicy jalapeño dressing accent flash fried Sockeye salmon in this fusion salad from chefs Nobu Matsuhisa and Mark Edwards. 

For the first time this summer, yesterday was downright cool. We rode our Hondas 25 miles over a combination of paved road and then ever narrowing dirt and gravel to see the falls on the Tazimina River, northeast of Newhalen. Our jackets were zipped against the fall-like chill in the air. With most of the fireweed going to seed, the Sockeye run long over and Barbra due to begin her school year later this week, I wanted to prepare a dish that might capture a sense of summer’s fleeting final days in a land where autumn comes early. A bottle of Sauvignon Blanc was already chilling in the refrigerator.

I found what I was looking for in the cookbook Nobu West, a joint effort between Nobu Matsuhisa and Mark Edwards. The key to this salad is to use a mandolin to slice the vegetables as thin as possible and then to soak them in ice water to make them as crisp.

Salmon Tataki with Paper-Thin Salad (from Nobu West, by Nobu Matsuhisa & Mark Edwards)

Ingredients

Vegetables

  • small red beet
  • carrot
  • zucchini
  • summer squash
  • red radish
  • cucumber
  • other vegetables as desired

Jalapeño Dressing

  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeds removed, diced fine
  • 6½ tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp garlic chopped fine
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 cup grape seed oil (or extra virgin olive oil, etc.)

Salmon Tataki

  • sashimi grade salmon fillet(s), skin removed, seasoned with coarsely ground black pepper
  • bowl of ice water
  • stainless steel or cast iron pan and cooking oil with a high smoking point (such as avocado oil)

Directions

1.  Vegetables: Prepare two bowls of ice water. Use a mandolin to slice vegetables lengthwise as thin as possible. Immerse slices in ice water for an hour to make the vegetables crisp. Do the beets separately, using a separate bowl, to keep them from coloring the other vegetables. (You might want to wear nitrile gloves to keep the beets from staining your fingers.)

2. Jalapeño Dressing: You will need a stick blender or food processor for this.
– Place diced jalapeño, vinegar, garlic and sea salt in food processor (or in a narrow container suitable to a stick blender). Purée ingredients.
– Continuing to process ingredients, slowly drizzle in olive oil. (If the ingredients separate, whisk together just before serving.)

3.  Salmon Tataki:
– Place cooking oil in a frying pan and heat on medium-high.
– When oil is ready to sizzle, sear salmon fillet, frying for about 5 seconds on each side. Outside of salmon should be white where cooked.
– Plunge seared salmon into ice water to stop cooking and to firm up flesh. Pat dry with paper towels and refrigerate till ready for use.
– Just before serving , cut salmon fillet into thin strips, about ¼ inch thick. Do this at the last moment so that the salmon remains flavorful.

4. Serving the salad:
– Pour jalapeño dressing on serving plates so that it covers the plates.
– Arrange salmon strips on plates.
– Place vegetables on salmon to form a mound.

Serve immediately while vegetables and salmon are still chilled.

 

 

Wild About Wild Mushrooms – Lentil and Wild Porcini Pâté

Wild Alaskan porcini mushrooms star in this pâté recipe – the perfect snack or appetizer served on rice crackers, summer squash or zucchini. 

Many years ago, Jack and I took a mushroom foraging class from a park ranger in Oregon. With the help of our instructor, we learned about local mushrooms and actually found one King Bolete mushroom. At the end of that experience, I had more fear of “false mushrooms” that could make me sick or even kill me than anything else. Since then, I’ve been on countless hikes and found countless mushrooms I wouldn’t dare eat – even though they look perfectly safe. When we moved to Newhalen and began fishing and foraging for berries, we began noticing mushrooms the color of browned bread. Big ones. As usual, Jack and I wondered if they were edible. After one quick wondering, we resigned ourselves to knowing our mushrooms would come from a store and went back to the task at hand.

We were delighted to learn that one of the locals here in Newhalen is an expert on mushrooms. She volunteered to take a few of us out a couple of weeks ago and teach us about Newhalen fungi. Turns out, all those big mushrooms we had been seeing are types of boletes (otherwise known as porcini) and are not just edible, but are delicious!

Many people dry these mushrooms. We also heard that they can be frozen. After a bit of experimenting, we decided to vacuum-pack them and freeze them for the winter. Of course, we’ve kept out a few for now. Many have already starred in our recent evening meals – sautéed with garlic in olive oil to serve over pasta and atop Swiss mushroom burgers. Mmmm. Both of us are alive and kicking and now armed with confidence to continue foraging for these delicious beauties on our local hikes.

I came up with this mushroom pâté recipe a couple of years ago with store-bought ingredients. It was created with an intent to mimic one of my favorite Jewish foods – chopped chicken liver. This recipe not only tastes surprisingly like the delicious spread from my memory, but it brings it into the category of good for you, not just tasty. Traditional chopped chicken liver recipes are loaded with flavorful, but not so healthy fats. The chicken liver itself is low in fat but is high in cholesterol. You can use store-bought crimini, button, or shiitake mushrooms. But if you have access to wild porcini or other wild mushrooms, they will up the flavor of this pâté. Also, don’t save this recipe for a special occasion. This scrumptious mushroom and lentil spread is packed with flavor, is low in fat and cholesterol and high in fiber and protein, which makes it a go-to for a pre-run snack or a mid-afternoon pick-me-up.

Nutrition Info Lentil Wild Porcini Pâté

Wild Porcini Mushroom and Lentil Pâté

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cooked lentils, any color
  • 2 cups chopped wild porcini mushrooms
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp honey
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • salt to taste
  • extra olive oil, needed

Directions

  1. In a large sauté pan, heat 4 tbsp olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Add onions and sauté until translucent.
  3. Add garlic and sauté for 2 minutes.
  4. Add mushrooms and cook until they are soft and cooked through. Remove from heat and set aside.
  5.  In a large bowl, combine almond flour, lemon juice, soy sauce, rosemary, thyme, sage, honey, and cayenne.
  6. Stir in mushroom mixture.
  7. Using a stick blender (or food processor), purée the mixture.
  8. Add in cooked lentils.
  9. Purée the mixture until smooth.
  10. If the mixture feels too thick, thin it with additional olive oil.
  11. Salt to taste.

The Bounty of Newhalen, Alaska

Start with greens from a friend’s garden. Layer on chopped summer squash, zucchini and roasted beets from the Farm Lodge. Add slices of tomato and avocado from same-day-Costco-delivery. Sprinkle with feta cheese and squirts of lemon from Fred Meyer mail order. Top off the salad with local hand-picked blueberries and cedar-plank grilled wild sockeye salmon from the Newhalen River. Serve with homemade onion focaccia and a glass of lightly chilled, deliciously buttery chardonnay. Now that’s a meal!

Jack and I have moved a few times. Well, many times compared to the average American. According to a quick search, several articles agree that the average American moves just over 11 times in their lifetime after the age of one. Defining moving as leaving one residence and occupying another for over three months, our most recent move puts Jack’s count at 21 and my count at 18. It’s a good thing that, generally speaking, we both enjoy moving.

As for our moves together – eight in all, we’ve always looked forward to figuring out where to relocate, learning about unfamiliar places and embracing the opportunities that come with new. This last move was different though. This time moving wasn’t a choice. That put a huge damper on our normal excitement. In fact, it was the most difficult move we have experienced together. We didn’t want to leave Chignik Lake. I didn’t want to leave my students or my school. They are a terrific group of kids supported by a wonderful group of parents and a great community. We didn’t want to leave the little wilderness village surrounded by stunning mountains. We didn’t want to leave the lake and the adjoining river that serves as the main highway – by skiff – in a mostly roadless landscape. We didn’t want to leave the salmon, the birds we were documenting, and the charismatic megafauna like wolverine, wolves, foxes, moose, otters and brown bears that were regular parts of our lives there.

Last spring, when the school enrollment was hanging steady at two fewer than the state-required ten, the school board voted to close the school and move me to another site. The site with said opening was in Newhalen, Alaska. (See Where in the world is Newhalen, Alaska?) Last April, I had a chance to come visit Newhalen and scope it out. It was during that trip that this lovely village began courting me. I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful flight from Chignik Lake to Newhalen. The sky was clear and blue. The portion of the flight over Lake Iliamna was stunning – imagine a huge multi-hued blue lake rimmed by snow-capped mountains. “Wow!” I mouthed to myself as we landed in nearby Iliamna. It wasn’t Chignik Lake, but it sure was beautiful. During my visit, I learned several appealing things about the Newhalen area that made the location very attractive. It would be easy to bring our truck and fishing boat over. I found out that there were many nearby places to hike and boat. All the people I met were very welcoming and seemed happy we would be joining the community.

Back home in Chignik Lake, as the process of packing and shipping continued and the cloud of leaving our home hovered, the memory of the blue-hued lake faded along with all the appealing details.

Then, in June, we moved. As we began settling into our new home, Newhalen took up courting where she had left off back in April. As promised, Sockeye salmon began their run in earnest up the Newhalen River in July. In a matter of a few easy outings, armed with flies we had tied, Jack and I filled our freezer with our goal of 100 pounds of filets. Those days were mostly sunny, clear and warm. The scenery at the new fishing hole at the Newhalen Rapids was astoundingly beautiful.

As the salmon finished their run, it became time for berry picking. We’ve lived in the bush long enough to know not to ask where to pick berries. People always have their secret spots and obviously are not keen to share that specific knowledge. Turns out the best spot to pick blueberries in Newhalen is Anywhere! I had heard that there were lots of berries, but brother, lots of berries is an understatement. Oh, Newhalen, you are really working your magic.

The bounty of Newhalen is not just about what naturally occurs in this locale. Many people garden around here. We have already been lucky enough to be the beneficiaries of fresh strawberries and salad greens straight from the garden onto our plates! We were happy to learn that the Farm Lodge will regularly deliver its greenhouse fare to us in Newhalen, as it did to Chignik Lake. The icing on the cake turned out to be same-day delivery of produce (and anything else we need) from Costco in Anchorage. Did you read that? Same. Day.

As bonafide foodies, we are now officially in hog heaven. Newhalen continues to do her magic. We will always have an abiding love for Chignik Lake. But if you can’t be with the one you love, love the place you’re in. 😉

Thank You Molly! Cloudberry Sorbet Recipe

Thanks Molly! Here’s the recipe for cloudberry sorbet. It’s one of our favorites! We sure do miss picking cloudberries. (But, we think we found a “secret patch” for next year!)

Years ago, we were introduced to cloudberries in Point Hope. I was immediately smitten. Looking back over our blog recipes, I could see how my imagination was fired up with these fragile salmon-colored beauties. I turned out cloudberry jams, syrups, cakes, cookies, scones and our very favorite – cloudberry sorbet.

In the late summer, we would pick these jewels out on the Arctic tundra. They grew in soggy marsh atop small, rounded knolls. North of the Arctic Circle, berry picking was always wet and cold and sometimes mosquito-infested. Looking across the tundra, I would first see the dark plants hugging the ground on bumps of land. As soon as my eyes adjusted, bright orange berries seem to magically appear. In spite of the cold or the thrum of mosquitoes, I loved berry season and the stillness and quiet of the open tundra toward summer’s end. And I loved dreaming up ways to use these berries. My berry picking method? One, two and three for the bucket and one to sample for inspiration. Repeat until container is filled.

Our first cloudberry-picking session was the inspiration for this recipe. We had gone out on a frost-chilled morning. As we were sampling the cloudberries, Jack remarked that the berries tasted just like sorbet. I agreed and was determined to make that morning’s catch into just that, sorbet.

We had heard rumors that cloudberries grow somewhere around our new home by the shores of Lake Iliamna. As we’re getting to know our surroundings here, we’ve been on the lookout for these little treasures. The good news is that we’ve come across quite a few plants. The bad news is that we missed them this year. But maybe we found a place… It’s something to look forward to next year!

Cloudberry Sorbet

Ingredients

  • cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 cups fresh cleaned cloudberries

Directions

  1. Mix water and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook mixture until the sugar is fully dissolved to make a simple syrup.
  2. Remove pan from heat.
  3. Add cloudberries to the simple syrup.
  4. Using an immersion blender, blend the mixture until smooth.
  5. Strain half of the mixture through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth to remove the seeds.
  6. Discard seeds.
  7. Repeat with the second half of berry mixture.
  8. Cover and refrigerate 2 to 3 hours, or overnight.
  9. Using an ice cream maker, pour chilled mixture into frozen freezer bowl. Turn machine on and let it do its magic. It will take about 20 minutes to thicken. Sorbet will be soft and creamy.
  10. To store, transfer sorbet to an airtight container and keep in the freezer.
  11. To serve, allow sorbet to thaw for about 15 minutes before scooping and enjoying.

Really Ugly – But Pretty Tasty: Baked Moose “Empanadas”

Moose meat hand pies on a borrowed plate and a bit wonky looking. Maybe the beautiful Chignik Woodblock Mountains in the background will distract you. They are gorgeous!

We’re about one week out from the big move. That means almost all of our household goods are either waiting for us in Newhalen or they are en route care of the good ‘ol postal service. It also means there is one cook in the house who is longing for all of her mailed kitchen equipment. (Jack is being a much better sport about this.)

With what amounts to a random selection of pantry items that need to be finished and mostly borrowed kitchen items to get us through the next few days, we need to be either very creative or not think about it and just eat. Like I said, Jack is being a good sport. He has been creatively transforming the case of macaroni and cheese boxes we have for our remaining lunches by adding ingredients like rehydrated mushrooms, roasted Brussels sprouts, cans of diced tomatoes, and even the last bit of chorizo. This morning, he created a delicious hot breakfast out of the last bag of cous cous, bacon, cream cheese and toasted pecans.

With our very last pound of ground moose meat thawed in the fridge, I decided to take a turn at being cheery with this challenge and see what I could create. I thought it would be tasty to make turnovers inspired by Mongolian Khuushuur. Under a variety of local names, this type of meat-filled pastry seems to be found the world over. Our southern neighbors make a delicious version called empanadas.

Time to get to work. Yeast? Nope, mailed that. All-purpose flour? Yeah, that’s gone, too. What in the world do I have left? I gathered whole wheat flour, an egg, butter, salt, ground moose meat, Jack’s spicy seasoning mix, and a can of green chilis. Khuushuur and empanadas are both traditionally fried and are made with a bread type dough. No oil. These pastries would be baked. Based on my ingredient list, the dough was going to be of the savory pie variety. I whipped up some pie dough and stuck it in the fridge while I cooked up the filling.

When it was time to make the little meat hand pies, I realized I had no rolling pin, no parchment paper, and no pastry brush. Ugh. A greased cookie sheet did the trick sans parchment paper. And did you know that a skinny bottle of olive oil can double as a rolling pin? I didn’t either. The only disappointment was that wadded up paper towel does not really work as a pastry brush. It definitely wasted too much egg. Any ideas on that one?

At the end of the day, our hand pies were not pretty but we did wind up with a delicious dinner.  I’m still not yet as cheery and creative as Jack. Just wait till we get our kitchen set up again, that’ll cheer me up!

Baked Moose Meat Hand Pies
Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp cold unsalted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 6 tbsp cold water
  • 1 egg, beaten for brushing
Directions
  1. Whisk together flour and salt.
  2. Grate cold butter (with cheese grater) into flour mixture. Mix butter and flour together with hands or a fork. Stir in egg. Stir in water. Continue stirring until shaggy dough forms. You may need to add additional water if the dough won’t come together.
  3. Break dough into 8 pieces. Create small balls of dough and place balls in fridge while you are making the filling.*
  4. Roll the dough balls out into small thin circles.
  5. Place meat mixture in center of dough circles. Fold dough over meat filling and close up edges by using tines of a fork.
  6. Brush the tops with egg wash for a nice golden top. Cook at 375 for 18-24 minutes depending on the size of your empanadas.
  7. Serve with slices of avocado and your favorite salsa.

*I sautéed ground meat with one can of green chilis. I added a spice mix and salt to taste. Any type of filling would work inside these hand pies. See what’s in your pantry for inspiration.