digging your own gravlax

I’ve been trying lately to include food that is high in protein in my breakfasts.  I’m always trying to have delicious noshes in my refrigerator for cocktail hour.  It was inevitable that I should run smack into gravlax.

Gravlax is the most delicious, silken, salt-cured salmon served in Scandinavia.  It’s a less salty, less aggressive, dill-tinged, slightly sweet lox, which is cold-smoked, and much more subtle than the smoked salmon you find at your local bagelry.  And it’s wonderful with PNW salmon. Definitely don’t use Atlantic salmon, which is always farmed, and tastes muddy and yucky once you’ve dipped your toes in the sweet Pacific.  Save your Chinook/King salmon for the grill; gravlax is better with the stronger flavors and leaner meat of Sockeye or Coho.

Plan ahead — you’ll need to freeze fresh salmon for 3-7 days to ensure any parasites are killed, or use commercially frozen salmon.  All the recipes I’ve seen have called for skin-on fillets, but my fishmonger suggested she skin it, so I went with that.  It was just fine, and more convenient.  Look for a fillet that’s not too thick at the center, rather more even in thickness for most of the fillet.

For us, 1-1/2 lbs. is plenty, so really think about how much you’ll be eating.  It’s better to make less more frequently, since storage alters the flavor and it’s not something that keeps for a very long time.  You can freeze it, which dries it out, or keep in the refrigerator for about a week.

My recipe is based on several sources, including the base recipe and comments in this long, comprehensive post from Cooking for Engineers.  It’s very much worth the read for debates about how long to freeze and store, whether or not to weigh down the fillet, add-ons, etymology, and parasitology.

Mark Bittman published a collection of recipes that alter the ratio of salt to sugar and feature different spices, including citrus and a Moroccan-inspired rub.  He prefers a 2:1 ratio of sugar:salt, but I like 1:1 with my limited desire for sugar.  Next time, I’ll surely opt for a traditional splash of Aquavit (or most likely Herbsaint, which I have on hand right now) with the cure.

Simple Gravlax with Dill

Serves 4-6, or more.

  • 1.5 lb. fillet of wild Pacific salmon, a less fatty variety like Sockeye or Coho, skinned
  • 3 tablespoons coarse salt
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons chopped dill or fennel fronds

Prepare the salmon by feeling the fillet for small pin bones; remove with tweezers.  Freeze salmon for at least 3 days to kill any parasites.

Combine salt and sugar in a small bowl.  Chop dill.

On a piece of plastic wrap or aluminum foil that is large enough to wrap the salmon, sprinkle half of the salt/sugar mixture.  Place the salmon, dark-fleshed (skin) side down, atop the mixture. Add the rest of the salt and sugar to cover the fish, and sprinkle the dill on top evenly.

Wrap the fish well in the plastic or foil, and then wrap it again in another piece of foil.  Place fish in gallon-sized Ziploc bag to reduce smells, and lay out the package on a baking sheet that fits the fillet without bending it.

Refrigerate for 48 hours, flipping over the package every 12 hours or so.

Unwrap the salmon and cut a piece off to make sure it is cured through the middle (it should be an even color).  Taste some. If it is too strong for your preparation, rinse off the cure, but you may opt to leave it on. Dry, then slice as thinly as possible on the bias.  Serve with brown bread and cream cheese, or in scrambled eggs with crème fraîche and scallions, as I did above.  Breakfast of champions.

meal of the week: portland izakaya shigezo

Unbeknownst to me, my partner in crime Retrogrouch had bought tickets to a concert in Portland this past weekend, so we journeyed up there for one last fling before school started.  Concert was not great, but we did enjoy our meal of the week at Shigezo, an izakaya (Japanese pub) that apparently is the Japanese chain’s first U. S. location.  I didn’t find it chain-y at all.  We enjoyed the sushi and robata grill tsukune (meatballs), homemade bacon, and ume shiso chicken breast skewers.

But the nicest stuff?  The cold apps.  We noshed on hiyakko dofu (cold tofu with ginger and bonito flakes), a wonderful dish of quick pickles, an octopus/cucumber and a seaweed sunomono (vinegared salads) over a tall cool Ninkasi on a wonderfully warm evening.  And I got to look at my handsome husband, who makes hipsters seaweed green with envy with his stylish ways.

back to school, with new and improved dining options!

Happy first day of school, everyone!  Those of you reading who aren’t from these parts probably think I’m a little late, but we’re on the quarter system at the University of Oregon, so school starts at the end of September.

And just to make things a bit more challenging, tomorrow will rainy and construction is still going on near the university.

But rest assured that if you make it, you’ll be able to eat on campus.

Eugene was recently chosen as one of the ten best college dining towns by a group of people who have not been to very many college towns, evidently.  (Eugene over Berkeley?  Are you kidding me?!)

Anyone who has been stuck on campus on a regular basis and has been to other college towns will protest, I am sure.  True, it’s hard to do much with only a few blocks, and we haven’t even maximized that.  Indeed, we’re trying as hard as we can to make 13th a nightmare with the new which-end-is-up, parallel back-in parking arrangement.   But we do have some new dining options that improve the your post traffic jam/bike accident meal.

Choose from not one but TWO new decent pan-Asian restaurants in the block of 13th Ave. that’s next to campus.

Noodle Head offers Thai, Korean, Japanese and more, but stick with the Thai noodles and rice bowls, since the owner hails from Thailand and it’s clearly her specialty.  I had a passable pad ka prow and good but oily gyoza, and a friend had good drunken noodles. The dishes are cheap as heck and will prove a popular lunch.

Banzai Sushi Bar and Grill isn’t quite as good, but they’ve thankfully thoroughly modernized the old space that held Sakura for years and an Indian buffet for a few short months.  They’ve added a section for traditional seating (on pillows on a tatami mat).  The owners are nice, and it’s their first place, so they’re being extremely conservative and giving us what they think we like, e.g., all those deep-fried multi-fish sushi rolls that I dislike so much.  But there’s promise.  The owners are Korean and Japanese (and hail from Hawaii, so you can get your spam musubi fix at Banzai) so they serve Korean food as well as Japanese.  I opted for a perfectly acceptable tempura udon with two pieces of shrimp thicker than average and some vegetables added to the broth.  The spicy tuna roll was average.  I’d probably choose, on a return visit, the katsu dishes or Korean specialties, including two rather nice-sounding traditional entree-sized salads with spicy sauce, raw fish, and fish eggs.  I’m a fan of cheap, traditional, standard Japanese food, I’ll just say it now, so I’m glad to see a Japanese place in that locale again.

The bad news?  We lost both of the Indian places, situated inexplicably next to each other.  But given what they were like, that’s probably a good thing.

More cheap ethnic food around campus, please!  A Cal-Mex style burrito place that’s not a chain, a Vietnamese pho house, another nice place to take visitors besides Excelsior, and an Ethiopian restaurant would be nice, Santa.

There are also not one but two newish yogurt places, if you’re into that kind of thing.

come on down to earth: fermentation demo today!

Down to Earth says:

FERMENTATION ROCKS!  The next talk we’re having in our food preservation series is covering fermentation. From dairy to veggies, beverages, soy, sourdough and of course sauerkraut, there will be plenty of information to share. This free talk is hosted by master food preservers from the OSU Extension Service this Saturday 9/24 from 1:00-3:00pm @ our Olive Street store. Stop by with any questions you may have and or share your own fermentation story.

One of those Master Food Preservers is me!  We’ll be discussing fermentation and safety, and serving up radish kim chi, sauerkraut, and more at this free demo.  Stop by and see us this afternoon.

Also:  if you haven’t voted yet in Eugene Weekly‘s Best of Eugene annual reader poll, this is the last weekend to do so!  There’s an entry for best blog, hint, hint…

benefit dinner at rabbit serves up boondockers and creative growers

Lovely fundraiser dinner for WFFC last night at The Rabbit. I got a chance to catch up with my friend and fellow Master Food Preserver Amy, of WFFC and Eugene Local Foods fame, and her husband Matt.  I met a tableful of new people, too.  I’ve been feeling a bit too cloistered, so it was nice to get out and talk to people from the community.

We started out with rabbit pâté bonbons, a fat cube of pâté frosted with foie gras, goat cheese, and some kind of delicious crunchies that may very well have been cracklins.  I am not ashamed to admit I ate about six of them.  Because seriously, WFFC dinner guests, I was NOT going to let those go back to the kitchen if you weren’t gonna eat them.

The tuna was seared and placed atop a nice little salad.  It wasn’t as good as, say, the silky watermelon gazpacho I had last week (and Chef Gil is letting me post the recipe — on to do list).  But it was bright and had enough nice acid to hold its own against the fresh albacore.

The Delaware chicken and Ancona duck were from Boondockers farm.  I had the pleasure of talking to Evan and Rachel, the farmers, and was really blown away by the conservation work they’re doing with the heritage breeds.  They actually breed the ducks on their farm instead of buying ducklings, and they’ve received a grant for an incubator and stock from venerable breeders.  Go ducks!  It’s really impressive and industrious.  They have been also working on other poultry species, including the chicken our chef served in a gallantine with an absolutely beautiful verjus mayo-ish concoction made with verjus, oil, and xanthan.  I was so happy to see the bed of red sweet and sour cabbage with the gallantine, what with my Eastern European fetish and all.

The duck was surrounded by small, jeweled vegetables from the other farm featured that night, Creative Growers, who provided most if not all of the produce.  I liked the addition of the slightly glazed chanterelle — it was like watching summer turn to fall right before our very eyes.  And don’t think we didn’t notice the various gizzardy bits in the sauce.  Pretty sneaky, delish!

The lamb, from Anderson Ranch at Long’s, was also delicious, a swirl of smoked jus jealously lurking around the real star of the show: a blackened, thick, smoked eggplant paste that set off the lamb perfectly. Oh, and the wines were really terrific, too, especially the Riesling matched with the gallantine.  The Lemelson was nothing to sneeze at, either.

And dessert was my fantasy, for the most part.  The pale rose caramel and glazed walnut were the only hint of sweetness.  A walnut cake and underripe seared peach were served with a peeled, marinated (I think) cherry tomato, like a full stop.

Thanks, Rabbit, Boondockers, and Creative Growers!  It was a wonderful meal and I so appreciate your efforts to improve the Eugene dining scene.  You’re doing fantastic work.

meal of the week: garden tomato caponata and puttanesca

I like the Food for Thought on KLCC “meal of the week” feature so much I think I’m going to start posting images of my own meals of the week.

Here’s last week’s, a delicious appetizer of caponata, the eggplant spread with my own garden tomatoes, basil, onions, and dehydrated tiny grapes; and a main course of pasta puttanesca, made all the more delicious with a fresh tomato sauce and marjoram.

The tomatoes in both are ‘Amish Paste,’ an amazing paste tomato that grew much better for me this year compared to last year.  Several of the tomatoes are near 1-pounders!

Want the recipes?  The caponata is Mario Batali’s Sicilian interpretation made deep and thick with balsamic and cocoa.  Use the version in the comments that is from his cookbook (more tomato sauce and oil, and I’d omit the sugar completely since it’s already too sweet). The puttanesca was inspired by a New York Times article.  Fresh tomatoes and high quality anchovies are key.

last jam of summer: prune plum

Prune plums, also known as Italian plums, Fellenberg plums, and quetsche, are in season, fleetingly.  With this year’s weather problems that affect stone fruit set in the orchards ’round these parts, they’re small both in size and number.  But if you can get your hands on them, they’re a great beginner jam, and make a beautifully colored jar of late summer.

Prune plums grow quite well in Western Oregon (when our weather cooperates), and you might even have your own backyard tree.  A beautiful black-blue with a significant bloom, the Fellenberg is a delight; a local varietal, the Brooks prune plum, is almost as good. The flesh is relatively firm in these sweet, dense little nuggets.  Don’t substitute regular round, juicy plums in this recipe, as it will be too liquid to set.

The natural sugar (and apparently, this includes sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that digests more slowly than glucose) is very concentrated, so you don’t need to add much for a safe, tasty jam.  And no pectin is necessary, either.  You can opt to cook the jam quickly and just until the gel point, or cook it down more slowly, which will deepen the flavor and thicken the jam to a paste similar to the Eastern European lekvar, which uses the same type of plum. We’ve been switching back and forth from lekvar I brought back from Prague and my fresh prune plum jam with abandon, and it tastes like two completely different fruits.

I like to add a bit of slivovitz, the notorious plum brandy that also hails from the East.  It highlights the plummy flavors in the same manner kirsch does for cherries, instead of providing a boozy flavor of its own.

Linda Ziedrich‘s recipe — and I trust her technique all the more when it comes to prunes, having grown up among prune plum orchards — calls for cooking the fruit first a bit before adding the sugar.  This will help soften the skins.  My version just chops up the pieces smaller, since I like the little bits of skin in the jam.  You may adjust the recipe accordingly.

The fennel seeds are just now plump and green and ready for drying, absolutely at their prime.  I’m sorry if you can’t get fresh ones for the jam because they’re best if you can crush them to a little green pulp.  Consider replacing the slivovitz with absinthe or Pernod, perhaps, and pretend you’re in Alsace.

Prune Plum Jam with Fennel Seed

Makes 4 half-pints.

  • 2 lbs. prune plums, pitted
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon fresh fennel seed, crushed to release flavor (or substitute aniseed)
  • 1 tablespoon slivovitz (optional)

Pit and cut prune plums into small pieces.  No need to peel, but if you’re patient and bored, go for it and adjust the recipe so you include a couple more plums to make up for loss of volume.  (You might, if you’re peeling, make lekvar, a long-cooked version of this jam — prune butter, really — that’s popular in Eastern Europe.  Just cook it down, stirring constantly, until the fruit pulp is concentrated into a thick paste.)

Add sugar, lemon juice, and fennel seed to bowl.  To maximize flavor and help with floating fruit, let sit on the counter for a few hours, or overnight in refrigerator.

Cook down over medium high heat until jam thickens (perhaps 45 minutes?), stirring very frequently and scraping the bottom of the pot. Wash your jars, rings, and lids, and heat the lids according to the package instructions.

When jam is at set point, remove from heat and stir in optional slivovitz.

Spoon the hot jam into jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space.  Wipe rims of jars and adjust lids and rings.  Process in a waterbath canner for 10 minutes.