This dish features a classic summertime herb along with garden vegetables and our favorite Autumn fish for a recipe to hold off winter for at least one more evening. While a California Chardonnay would pair well with the rich cream and Coho Salmon, we went with a Willamette Valley Pinot Gris, a lighter wine that let the dill shine.
Dill, dill, dill. What to do with dill? It’s not a seasoning I often use, but thanks to our friends up the Alaska Peninsula at The Farm Lodge in Port Alsworth, we found ourselves with an abundance of this pleasantly aromatic herb blooming in a glass jar on a windowsill. How about using it in a cream sauce to bring together fillets of freshly caught Chignik River Silver Salmon, farfalle pasta, and some of the last zucchini and summer squash we’re likely to see for awhile?
Salmon with Creamy Fresh Dill Sauce for Two
- 2 fresh wild salmon fillets, skin on, pin bones removed, rinsed and patted dry
- 2 cups farfalle pasta
- 1 cup or a little more diced fresh tomato
- 2 leaves of kale, cut away from the stem and cut into smaller pieces
- 1 cup or more yellow summer squash, sliced into circles and then cut into smaller pieces
- 1 cup or more zucchini, sliced into circles and cut into smaller pieces
- 1/2 cup carrot sliced julienne style
- other fresh vegetables, as desired/available
- 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, sliced julienne style
- 1 shallot, sliced thin to make about 3/4 cup
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 tbsp butter
- olive oil
- sea salt
- juice from 1/2 lemon
- a loose 1/2 cup of dill leaves and flowers (or use a smaller quantity of dried dill)
- sherry (or white wine)
- black pepper
- 1 cup or more deepwater Alaska shrimp shelled, deveined and patted dry (optional)
- 1 tbsp corn starch mixed into 2 tbsp cold water
- Prepare pasta.
Directions for the salmon
- Turn on oven broiler and preheat heavy broiling pan on middle rack for the salmon. Nothing works better for this than seasoned cast iron.
- Sprinkle the salmon with sea salt. Our favorite is large grain gray sea salt.
- When the broiling pan is sizzling hot, pour on a little olive oil, place the salmon skin side down on the oil and broil for about 9 minutes.
- Remove salmon from broiler, place on cutting board or plate and cover loosely with a bowl or foil to rest.
Directions for the cream sauce
- Put some olive oil in a fairly large skillet or sauteuse pan over medium heat.
- When the oil is hot, add kale, a little sea salt, and a tablespoon or two of sherry. Stir and sauté until kale just begins to wilt. Next, place in zucchini, summer squash and julienne carrots, which will not take as long to cook. Add a little more salt and sherry, stir and sauté until vegetables just begin to soften. At this point, add the cream and mix together.
- Meanwhile, place butter in a separate skillet. When it’s hot, add shallots, a sprinkle of salt, and cook till they’re soft. Add garlic and a healthy splash of sherry, stir and cook till garlic begins to release its odor and soften. If you’re including shrimp, add them and a sprinkle of salt when you add the garlic. It takes only about 2 minutes to cook shrimp through.
- Add the shallot mixture to the vegetables, a few grinds of black pepper, the lemon juice, mix together and taste. To thicken the cream sauce, slowly stir in the corn starch mixture. Serve immediately.
Place the pasta on large plates or in pasta bowls. Spoon on the vegetable cream sauce. Place the salmon on top, add a little more cream sauce and another grind of two of pepper. Garnish with fresh dill and pair with a chilled Willamette Valley Pinot Gris.
Left: Dolly Varden Char caviar served on avocado and rice crackers. Right: the same roe on goat cheese and garnished with dill. A not-too-sweet Riesling or a crisp Sauvignon Blanc makes for a good pairing.
While cleaning panfish such as Yellow Perch, Bluegills and Crappies after springtime fishing trips in western Pennsylvania, we’d set aside the egg sacs – a pair of plump, tightly joined yellow, beige or light orange orbs. Salted, peppered, rolled lightly in cornmeal and fried in butter, the salty creaminess was absolutely delectable. From an early age, I was a caviar man.
As my fishing skills developed, I began trying the eggs of other species. Pennsylvania’s harvesting season for bass opened well after spawning, so those eggs rarely came into play (they can be prepared the same way as bluegill eggs), but occasionally a springtime Rainbow Trout or a fall Brook Trout came with roe skeins. Frying these did not work well. They’re too watery. But the roe of American Shad was a revelation. Sautéed in butter, garlic and a splash of soy sauce, it is truly a gourmet food. And if you’re lucky enough to bring home gravid Speckled Seatrout, their roe ranks in same class as shad roe.
It wasn’t until I started catching salmon and curing their eggs into Japanese-style ikura that I figured out what to do with the eggs of trout and char. Provided you have a pair of fairly ripe skeins (Dolly Varden, abundant in the Chigniks, are perfect for this), the process is pretty straightforward. The result is a caviar that is much smaller and somewhat lighter in flavor than salmon roe, but quite tasty and attractive.
Trout Roe Caviar
- fresh roe sacs of any species of trout or char
- fine-grain sea salt
- small jar(s) with tight lid (We use canning jars.)
- colander for draining eggs. Ideally the holes will be just smaller than the eggs, allowing connective tissue to easily drain away.
- large bowl into which the colander will fit
- small bowl for finishing eggs
- nitrile gloves (You’ll be using very hot water.)
- canning funnel, if you have one
- Remove roe sacs from trout, rinse in cold water. They can be refrigerated for up to 48 hours prior to use.
- Place large bowl in sink, colander in bowl. Fill bowl with hot tap water close to 125° F (50° C). 10° F (6° C) cooler or hotter is OK.
- Place roe skeins in hot water. Don’t worry if they begin to turn opaque. This is normal. Peel away connective tissue to separate eggs.The riper the eggs, the easier this is. As you do this, it can be helpful to use a small strainer to scoop away impurities, most of which will float above the eggs. You can begin placing separated eggs into the small finishing bowl. Discard eggs that are overly difficult to separate.
- Drain water from eggs remaining in colander and add these to the finishing bowl. Using cold water, thoroughly rinse clean the colander and large bowl to remove any broken eggs and connective tissue.
- With colander in large bowl, fill with cold water. Place separated eggs back in colander and gently swirl to allow any unwanted material to drift free from eggs. Again, you can scoop some of this away with a small strainer.
- Drain as much water as possible from the eggs. Place them in the finishing bowl.
- Add sea salt, a little at a time. Use a spoon or rubber spatula to gently mix eggs and salt. Taste. Repeat as necessary till the eggs are agreeably salty. This process will bring a translucent color to the roe and toughen them a little as some liquid is pulled out of the eggs.
- Let the roe rest a few minutes, then drain off the liquid that has gathered. Wipe the finishing bowl clean, return eggs and taste again.
- If the eggs taste good, they’re ready to jar. A canning funnel can make this step easier.
The cured eggs will keep for about 6 days in a refrigerator. They can be frozen for several months.
For us, late summer in Alaska means harvest time. This is the time of year for berry picking and fishing for Sockeyes and Silver Salmon in the Chignik River system. Only a short walk away from our home, there is a lovely patch of feral raspberries with plenty of ripe berries. And not so far away in the other direction is a place we call the blueberry bog, where, as you’ve already guessed, we can pick low bush blueberries to our hearts’ content.
Now that I’ve finally mastered the Buttery Flaky Pie Crust (a culinary goal checked off last winter), I am confident when Jack requests pie for dessert. Today’s request – Alaskan Wild Blueberry Pie. Jack and our houseguest Isabel knew what they had to do while I was busy teaching my students. Armed with bear spray and berry collecting containers, they hiked the mile or so to the bog. Their efforts were rewarded with fresh slices of pie topped with scoops of extra rich homemade vanilla ice cream.
Alaska Wild Blueberry Skillet Pies
(Makes 2 6-inch skillet pies)
- 1 double pie crust
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup cold water
- 5 cups fresh blueberries, divided
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- In a saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar, cornstarch, salt and water until smooth. Add 3 cups blueberries. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened and bubbly.
- Remove from the heat. Add butter, lemon juice and remaining berries; stir until butter is melted. Cool.
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
- Cut four circles out of of pie dough. Each dough circle should be about 1/2 inch larger than the mini skillet you’re using as your guide. Place the dough circle into the skillet, being careful not to stretch the dough. With a knife trim off any excess dough.
- Ball up all of the extra dough and roll it out on a lightly floured surface. Cut out four more circles large enough to cover the top of a mini skillet.
- Next, evenly divide the blueberry filling among the skillets. Top each with approximately 1/2 tablespoon of cubed, cold butter.
- Cover each skillet with a piece of dough. Using your fingers, crimp the edge of dough all the way around to seal. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Place skillets onto a cookie sheet for baking.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes or until crust is golden and the filling is bubbly. (If the top crust starts to get brown before the inside is hot, cover with aluminum foil.)
- Cool before serving. Top with ice cream.
Ocean-bright and full of fight, Barbra’s 12-pound Coho today is the first and only salmon we’ve put on the bank this year… so far.
In each our previous six years in Alaska, our fish for the coming months were long ago caught, cleaned, freezer-packed or smoked and canned and put away.
Not this year.
Like a lot of salmon runs around Alaska, here on the Chignik River its been a mere trickle of fish compared to other years. In fact, for a few weeks in July fishing was closed altogether. Still, we were confident upon returning from our bike trek in Hokkaido that we’d be able to get the couple of dozen or so fish we need.
That was nearly a month ago. Admittedly, it’s not like we’ve been hitting the water every day. But the few times we’ve been out, it’s been discouraging. When lots of salmon are around, so are bears, eagles and seals, and we can generally see lots of jumpers – salmon fresh from the sea and full of energy spontaneously leaping for whatever reasons salmon spontaneously leap. But it’s been eerily quiet; the usual eagle roosts have been empty.
Even in this down year, hundreds of thousands of Sockeyes ascended the river, and there will undoubtedly be thousands of Coho as well. It felt great to finally get one. Pasta with fresh salmon is on the menu tonight.
Sixty-six days on a bike, 1,300 miles pedaled, more miles walked, hiked, climbed, and canoed. Before we knew it, we were back home with thousands of photos and a lifetime of stories to prepare for publication. What better way to transition back from the world of bicycle trekking to our home in Chignik Lake than baking? I can’t think of one.
I arrived back home to my patiently waiting, full, lovely pantry. Translucent jars of raspberry jam caught my eye on from the shelf where they’d been stored. With this year’s fruit quickly ripening, it’s time to use up last year’s stores. What a great excuse to bake with one of my favorite flavors – raspberry. Jack “I-don’t-have-a-sweet-tooth” Donachy’s secret weakness is custard desserts. For no better reason than pure love (of custard and raspberry), this little baby was created. Wait… I’m not saying that little baby Jack was created just to eat custard. I’m saying that this dessert… never mind.
A crust infused with almonds. Then a creamy vanilla custard topped with a smooth, delicious layer of homemade jam – I prefer raspberry. I set it out to photograph, and it was gone in a flash.
For those of you following along, we will have plenty of photos and stories coming from our bicycle trek around Hokkaido. Jack is up to is elbows in the sorting and editing process as well as catching the last of Chignik Lake’s migratory birds before they head south. Stay tuned. For now, sit back and enjoy a slice, or two, of this delicious tart.
Raspberry Vanilla Custard Tart
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup finely chopped almonds
- 3 tbsp granulated sugar
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 tbsp cold water
- generous pinch salt
- 1/4 cup cold unsalted butter
- In a large bowl, whisk together flour, almonds, and sugar.
- In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks and water.
- Grate butter into flour mixture. Toss butter so that it is fully coated. Use two sharp knives (I used steak knives) to chop the butter into smaller pea-sized pieces.
- Pour egg mixture into flour mixture. Stir with fork until dough comes together. It should be shaggy looking. If it’s too dry add tiny amounts of cold water until it comes together.
- Turn dough out into a 9-inch springform pan or tart pan with removable bottom.
- Press dough into bottom of pan and up the sides of pan (about 1 inch) with fingertips.
- Prick dough with fork. Freeze for 20 – 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Bake crust for 35 minutes. It will be golden brown when finished.
- Let cool completely. You can store the crust at room temperature if it’s tightly wrapped in plastic.
Vanilla Custard Filling and Raspberry Topping
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 tsp vanilla paste
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 4 tbsp cornstarch
- pinch salt
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup homemade raspberry jam (here’s a good recipe for quick jam)
- Bring milk and vanilla to a simmer in a medium pot. Remove from heat.
- While heating milk mixture, thoroughly whisk together egg, sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium bowl.
- Slowly, while whisking, pour milk mixture into egg mixture.
- Pour custard back into the medium pot.
- Continue whisking mixture over medium heat. Mixture should begin to bubble and become thick. Remove from heat.
- Whisk in butter, one tablespoon at a time.
- Transfer back to medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap so that wrap is against surface of custard.
- Cool completely in refrigerator.
- To assemble, whisk cooled custard until smooth.
- Pour custard into cooled crust.
- Spread jam evenly on top of custard.
- Serve immediately.
Recipe adapted from Bon Appétit Magazine.
Gray Heron, (aosagi), Abishiri campground, Hokkaido, Japan.
One of the reasons we chose Hokkaido for our first bicycle trek were the reports that wildlife viewing on this northern Japanese island can be quite good. We’ve not been disappointed. Almost every morning we’ve woken to the songs and calls of birds, and our rides this summer have taken us through mile upon mile of gently rolling farmland, forested hills, river valleys and along coastlines. To date we’ve identified over 60 species of birds and have encountered bears, deer, foxes, mink, seals, porpoises and small whales. Some of the highlights have included:
- 9 Brown Bears
- over 20 Red Foxes
- Dozens of Ezo Deer
- 32 Red-crowned Cranes
- Over 20 White-tailed Eagles
- 2 Blakiston’s Fish Owls (and nighttime voices of other species of owls)
- the world’s largest breeding colony of Rhinoceros Auklets
- 3 species of cuckoo
- 4 species of woodpecker
- 2 species of snakes
- Ezo Red Squirrels (and Siberian Chipmunks)
- Peregrine Falcons
- Dall’s Porpoises
- over 100 seals
- more butterflies and moths – and more different kinds of butterflies and moths – than we’ve ever before seen anywhere
Wildflower viewing as well has been fantastic. When we return to Alaska, we’ll post more detailed articles about Hokkaido wildlife.
A few days ago we were in Rausu, Hokkaido at a bed and breakfast where Blakiston’s Fish Owls can be seen. From head to toe and wing tip to wing tip, these are the world’s largest owls – and one of the rarest. We had hoped to get a look and maybe some photographs.
In the stream that flows in front of the property, the minshiku owners have created a small pool which they keep stocked with trout. Most nights this time of year a breeding pair of fish owls take turns showing up at the pool to forage for themselves and their chicks. We got some nice photos of both the female and the male owl which we’ll include in an article at a later date.
In addition to the owls, minks – a species introduced from America – are occasional nighttime visitors to the pool. In wintertime, bears follow spawning salmon up the stream. One afternoon I was watching the pool, camera in lap, when a Thick-billed Crow landed in a nearby tree. I knew right away what he had in mind, so I focused on the pool and waited. What I wasn’t prepared for was the short work he made of catching this trout.