hank shaw dinner at castagna: wild

I had the pleasure, recently, to attend a foraging dinner at Castagna in Portland, in honor of hunter, angler, gardener, and cookbook writer Hank Shaw.  Hank is currently on tour for his new book, Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten FeastHank’s blog, like his book, is a rare find, a must-read for anyone interested in wild foods and foraging. The blog has been nominated for the James Beard Foundation Award twice, for good reason. His recipes are unusual and creative, and his chef background and intimate knowledge of ecosystems converge like stars made of abalone and sea beans.

Hank is maintaining a crazy schedule of foraging dinners and book engagements for the entire summer, but I knew he’d be a great speaker for Eugene, so I contacted him and met him in PDX.  I’m happy to report that we’re fortunate to have him come to Eugene in November, for the last date on his tour.  (I’ll tell you the details later, since we’re just beginning to organize the visit.)

But you want to hear about Castagna!  This was kind of a poignant dinner for me, in retrospect, seeing that Chef Matt Lightner is leaving the restaurant for (boo!) New York.  I hope other young chefs take up his torch.  Hank and Chef Matt share affinities for foraged food, and we ate some of the finds of their foraging trip in the woods the day before.  It was an eight-course dinner, accompanied by Brooks wines.

Above: chicken mousse liver, Oregon grape, poppyseed, rye cracker.  This was one of four amuses bouches.

And here are three others, from top to bottom.  Brown butter bits garnish butter for the rye rolls (also served with lardo).  White asparagus look like rather silly worms wearing onion flower leis, waiting for a dip in the tarragon-mossed lemon sabayon pool.  Black sesame cookies with a butter-sesame glaze and rose hip jam.

For all his experimental visuals and molecular experiments, Matt’s flavor palate is really quite light, his color palate muted with whites and darks accented by a single bright burst.  The sixth course, morels stuffed with rabbit sausage with pine nut gravy over spinach and under sea beans, illustrates both aspects of his palate.

The smoked cured black cod raft held a scoop of frozen cod powder and more unfrozen cod powder around it.  The green strawberries and pine tips provided a needed contrast, perhaps even too mild to balance the cod.

Our main course was a barbecued collar of lamb, a succulent, almost lacquered chunk of tender meat.  It was served with what I thought was the best part of the entire meal: toasted grains dressed with wheatgrass puree.  The little leaves are oxalis, wild licorice, violets, and other edibles collected on the foraging trip.

And dessert?  It was a bit of a jumble of gingered tidbits.  Wild ginger ice cream, marshmallow, meringue, foam, and tuile cookie.  We got some figging relief with a dill frond and chewy bits of rhubarb, candied and dried.

Not bad for a trip to the woods, eh?  I was so excited to meet Hank, and hope we can have just as much fun in Eugene when we see him in November.

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