butcher your own meat, poison, and razor clams: psychopathy or just another episode of food for thought?

Camas Davis. Photo nicked from Chef’s Catalog

I might say both.  It’s Ryan and me again hosting another dark and dangerous episode of food radio programming for maniacs, Food for Thought on KLCC, today at noon (PST) on 89.7FM in Eugene, or its sister stations all across Oregon, or live on the web.

Updated:  Listen to the show’s archive here.

We’ll be chatting with Portland Meat Collective‘s Camas Davis, former food writer and butcher extraordinaire.  Isn’t she absolutely fiercely beautiful?

The PMC teaches people how to break down their own meat, an important element of understanding how the food system works and how we can relocalize and improve meat processing.  She’s raising funds for seeding meat collectives across America in a Kickstarter campaign, and will be discussing a forthcoming class or two planned for Eugene where YOU can learn the skills and take home pounds of premium meat.  You can watch a video of Davis on her Kickstarter page, listen to her on This American Life, or read the article that made her national news in the New York Times Magazine.

We’ll check in with Chef Gabriel Gil of the soon forthcoming and long-awaited Soubise restaurant, and sharing meals of the week. Mine came from an unexpected and marvelous gift of Oregon coast razor clams, one of the sweetest and most delicious shellfish around.  And get this, they’re free if you dig your own!  They can be prepared in many more ways than you will hear from the locals, including the way I ate them last night…

first impressions: riffle nw in portland

I’ve never been satisfied with the realities of the seafood restaurant, perhaps because the concept is so promising but the execution so terribly difficult.  A new restaurant in the Pearl, Riffle NW, takes on the challenge.  The menu is promising with very fresh fish entrees, a handful of raw offerings and small plates, and simple sides.  I like it that they restrain from the temptations of a huge selection, or worse, taking the lazy route of the deep fryer.

Riffle seems as if it’s been around longer than just a few months.  The restaurant is not too loud, which is nice and surprising given the concrete floors and open design, but there are some kinks in service and communication that will be worked out over time, I’m sure.  One can see the raw bar and a brick oven from the dining area.  The bar is small and hard to approach if patrons are clotted at the bar tables, but it looks like a very friendly, open space once you get there, with a projection of old cooking shows on one concrete wall.  The main restaurant seating is slightly too crowded, with some seating around the side of the restaurant perched on platforms that give me vertigo (something exacerbated by my wheelchair vantage point, no doubt), and an area that opens out to the street that looks better.

I’m not sure the drink menu slid into a wooden bar that slides into a slot on the tabletop is a good idea, but they’ll figure that out once someone spills a glass of merlot down through the slot and on to her Jimmy Choos.

The cocktails are mature and sophisticated, unsurprisingly given the team behind the bar. And this country bumpkin is still enchanted by gigantic ice cubes.  I’m not too proud to admit it.  I was also tickled to see my darling Becherovka incorporated in an interpretation of a Beton called a Room D (rye, Becherovka, tonic water, and lemon and grapefruit).  We also enjoyed a Riffle Collins, which incorporated another of my cocktail favorites, celery juice, with gin, lime, and absinthe, and comped Vieux Carrés, a perfect version of the classic, when our entrees were late.  Excellent waiter.

If I have only one suggestion, it would be to boost the boldness of the sides and sauces, and work on matches made in heaven.  The seafood is very good, but the mains and sides seemed not to have much chemistry, and I suspect stronger spices and vinegared salads might complement some of the lighter fish. I don’t think this is a cardinal sin by any means, just a quibble, since the food is good and can be even better.  It’s miles better than the last new place we tried, Smallwares, which had the extremely odd problem of having too much umami in everything — the chef is enamored with seaweed and fish sauce and other glutamates, enough so that it blunts the palate and makes you want to wash out your mouth with fresh water.

But at Riffle, everything we had was mild, including the beet-cured salmon carpaccio with a bacon aioli, ice lettuce, and hazelnuts.  The beet flavor wasn’t even noticeable and it would be wonderful if it was — perhaps with a beet salad instead of the insipid, broken aioli?  The mackerel, allegedly served with a “summer vegetable salad,” had a red pepper-fennel slaw that was bright and cheery and excellent with this deliciously strong, oily, fish, but also a weird, slightly sweet and taupe vegetable purée of some sort that didn’t work at all.  We ate clean, cold little kusshi oysters with a “bloody mary” sauce, which was too much like cocktail sauce to be interesting.  Just a lemon would have been better, now that I think of it.  We both loved the smoked tomato broth with the ling cod, but wish the fish had been poached in it, as the broth didn’t really permeate the flesh, and it was difficult to eat the full-length frenched green beans nestled under the fish.  The kale and beans side was our fault — it didn’t work with anything, but it was tasty, if not Miss Oregon 2012.

Probably the star of the night, which negates much of what I’ve said about stronger flavors and even fish, was the giant mountain of shredded brussels sprouts with walnut, a citrus dressing, and some kind of snowy white cheese that might have been pecorino or a relation.  I would have been happy just eating that all night.

Desserts looked appetizing for the sweet tooth, especially if “semifreddo” doesn’t mean “half a baguette” as Retrogrouch claimed it did (thank you yet again, Google), and instead is a frozen chocolate concoction.  We opted for sugared donut holes with a very vibrant, raspberry-forward raspberry curd, and we were glad we did.

I’ll be watching this restaurant with curiosity.  It’s the first new one I’ve seen in a while in PDX that seems like it has potential for longevity.  Tonight they’ll be debuting “Neighborhood Night,” which really does seem like fun: they’ll serve house-made spicy sausage with a melange of peppers on a semolina roll with a salad.  Next time I’ll have to come up for that…I’ll be the neighbor from the wrong side of the tracks, or the poor relation, or something.  Best of luck, Rifflers, and see you again!

for earth day: a most unnatural dish

“She was not fashioned to swim in Heaven, she is a Fish of Earth, she swims in Terra-firma.” – Djuna Barnes

I call it salmon déjeuner sur l’herbe.  And I celebrate the place on this earth for the unworldly, the out of place, the odd couples, the unnatural, the freakish, and the fish out of water.  We must remember there’s not just one way to celebrate the earth, and the earthlovers who don’t dance around under the moon may just swimming through the universe sauced, nestled in with colecrop and rosemary flowers, and crowned with Johnny Jump-up.

Édouard Manet’s painting “Déjeuner sur l’Herbe” (“The Luncheon on the Grass”) was the talk of the town in 1863 when it was refused by the Parisian Academy’s annual Salon exhibition for its uncanny and offensive content.  It was real and not real, familiar and outlandish.  It’s hard for us to imagine that these women were seen as prostitutes, for who else would be picnicking on the grass with two fully clothed men?  That they were students or artists was worse.

What I see when I look at this painting, though, is a look of boredom and longing.  The picnic basket overturned with fruit uneaten, a waste.  Every glance is distracted, away on a different trajectory.  It must have been a dreadful bore to listen to hours of mansplaining.  One woman picks flowers; at least she has been able to escape into the landscape and stretch her limbs.  But this one begs us, silent, to choose body over mind. We can read her as any number of allegories — youth, modernity, sexuality, art, even the earth. But most of all it’s about difference.  Manet went on to exhibit it in the Salon des Refusés (the Rejects Salon) in an annex of the sanctioned Salon.  And although it was booed and hissed, some people liked this fish out of water.  He wasn’t alone.

I’ve been thinking about this painting ever since the Nature Conservancy asked me to do a post for Earth Day as part of their picnic campaign this year.  The salmon was kind of an accident.  Even better for a fish of the earth.  I should remind you that the Earth provides food for 7 billion lovely, individual people and you can learn more about this year’s Earth Day on April 22, or even host your own Earth Day picnic along with thousands of others, if you so please.

My picnic, my déjeuner sur l’herbe, is a beautiful Oregon chinook salmon on black rice with flowers and herbs plucked from my garden at the moment winter broke into spring.  Try it — a shower of herbflowers on any finished dish.  It’s such a joyful and simple way to celebrate the seasons and continuing bounty we receive from our planet.  The salmon itself was clothed in an aluminum foil packet and oven-poached in a broth made of white wine, fennel fronds, dill pickle juice, and butter, at 325 degrees.  When it was done, I blended a little of the broth in with a small head of frisée, chives, and walnuts to make a fresh green sauce. Can be eaten warm or cold.

Happy Earth Day!

razor sharp: clam recipe ideas from a disgruntled shopper

PartyCart razor clam ceviche with chermoula

I went into a local fish store recently and saw a big heap of razor clams (silqua patula).  They’re the long, skinny clams that when pounded flat yield a piece of meat about as big as a nice T-bone.  I had had them recently on the coast in Yachats, pan-fried, and I wondered what other popular ways they might be served. I was thinking about a delicious abalone rice I had had in Japan, where a small abalone we procured on a boat trip in the Sea of Japan was chopped up and added to the rice water to make the most delicious, subtle rice.

So I asked the fishmonger who was helping me if he knew any other ways to cook razor clams other than pan-fried.  He said he had never had them and didn’t know, so he’d get someone else.  Fair enough.

The second person told me that they must be pan-fried. That was the only way to eat them.

Really? I asked.

Yes, he said, dismissively. The only way.

I replied, so nobody EVER eats them any other way?

Nope, he said.  Cover them in breadcrumbs and panfry them.  You just want to cook them quickly.  I WOULD NOT chop them up and put them in a chowder.  They’re too nice for that.  You’d waste them.

Naturally, I said, trying not to be annoyed.  But what about without breadcrumbs?  Maybe quickly seared and tossed with pasta, or a light sauté with butter and wine?  You’ve never heard of any other recipe from anyone else?

You ought to be on Top Chef! exclaimed the first fishmonger.

Nope, he said. There’s only one way.

Do you think anyone else here might know another way? I said.

Nope, he said.

Clearly not.

I really thought about whether I wanted to name the fish store, but I usually like them very much, so I’ll leave it to word of mouth.  If you know someone who works at a fish store that sells razor clams in Eugene, direct them to my blog, if you please.  At this place, the service can be taciturn at times, and they rarely have time to chat — but they let you know it.  This time, I was asked if I needed help the second I stepped up to the counter and then again about two minutes later, then had my order totaled up and presented to me as finished twice before I was finished choosing.  I’m not the speediest customer in the world, but I wasn’t exactly dawdling, either. But I understand how intense it gets behind the counter.  I don’t understand, though, when businesses don’t educate their staff well about the items they’re selling.  It means a lost sale.  Period.

Soooo…for those who are interested, since razor clam season is still open in Washington and Oregon, and the clams should still be around for a week or so, here are some other ways to prepare razor clams.

1) Razor clam ceviche with chermoula, an herb sauce with garlic and cumin from Morocco on a homemade pita chip.  I had the one pictured above at PartyCart.  There might still be some if you hurry down there.  There’s another recipe for razor clam ceviche with bright chili and red onions, plus the nice briny flavor of samphire (aka sea beans) here.

2) Two ideas posted in this thread of people searching like me.  The first is an impossibly long, slow braise, which makes octopus and squid tender, so I guess it works with big clams, too: “[Portland’s Wildwood Restaurant Chef Dustin] Clark sears pounded, tenderized [razor] clams in olive oil, then simmers them in an intense sauce of preserved tomato, fennel, shallot, white wine and green garlic for a long time in a slow oven. ‘I like to reduce the sauce way down because the clams will exude juice as they cook,’ Clark says. ‘The clams need to cook for an hour or two to have a chance to relax and become really, really tender.'”

3) And the second idea is rather brilliant, a PNW gravlax-style cured razor clam with conifer tips instead of fennel fronds:  “Equal parts sea salt and sugar, pinch or fresh pepper, pine needles or cedar tips. Chop the needles or cedar mix in with the rest. Coat liberally onto clams, wrap in cling film, place in flat container with weight on top of it. Wait 2 days then brush off and slice and eat on some crisp bread, or better yet, very fast, like 10 seconds on each side, sear, slice into inch long strips and place on light salad.”

4)  Thai razor clam salad with pickled vegetables, crushed peanuts, fresh green mint, Thai basil, Vietnamese sawtooth cilantro (which they’re selling at Grey’s right now as a start), and fried garlic and shallot.   The recipe is complex, but I think that you could improvise and still have a wonderful offering.  I don’t know what vegetables they use, probably a pickled mustard green.  But you could quick pickle carrots or cucumber or cabbage with salt for a couple of hours on the counter (toss with a handful of salt, let sit, then rinse off the pickles and squeeze all the water out of them).  Or maybe use chopped pickled chard stems?  Not remotely authentic but DELICIOUS.  Or heck, just use chopped fresh carrots and cabbage.

I’ve also seen razor clams grilled in their shells and dressed with a vinaigrette.  Or butter.  Can’t go wrong there.  Any other ideas?  I’m open.

culinaria eugenius in seattle: salmon candy

Smoked fish at Whole Foods in Seattle — mindboggling! Top to bottom: chipotle smoked salmon; smoked lemon-pepper salmon nuggets and smoked Chilean sea bass; foursome of sockeye lox trim, smoked Yukon salmon candy, kippered salmon and smoked salmon collar; detail of smoked salmon collar.  And that’s just the packaged stuff!

Don’t forget, you can “alleviate poverty worldwide” by stuffing all of these into a bag made of plastic bottles from East Timor.  Ah, Whole Foods.

culinaria eugenius in taiwan: i seafood, i eat it

Part II of a photo essay of my trip to Taiwan.  See Part I here

One of the chief delights of Taiwanese cuisine is seafood in all its divine mystery.  I already gave you a hint with my pictures of crabs in the last post.  That was merely, only, scarcely, barely the beginning.  Above: uni (sea urchin) sashimi on a bed of seaweed at the Shi-Yang Culture restaurant in Xizhi City, Taipei County; I’m not sure what the fish next to it is, probably a relation to mackerel.


Grilled wild eel (front) and greater amberjack (back) served with house-made soy sauce seasoned with tiny fish. Shen Yen Teppanyaki restaurant, Loudong, Yi-lan Province.

Simple grilled fish with lime and prune at Ba-Ian Hot Springs Resort restaurant in the Yamingshan National Park. One of my favorite dishes of the trip.

Nanmen Market fish, prêt-à-porter, Taipei.

Shin Yeh Seafood restaurant sauteed spicy squid, Taipei.  At this restaurant, you’re able to pick out a great number of fish and shellfish in tanks outside the restaurant, priced by the kilo, then have the chef prepare it in a number of ways.  The dishes were garnished beautifully — not sure if that was just for us, since we had government VIPs in the group.

Black parrotfish sashimi at one of the most unusual and lovely restaurants we experienced, Shen Yen Teppanyaki, Loudong, Yi-lan Province.

Shrimp and abalone sashimi at Shi-Yang Culture Restaurant.  Taiwanese abalone are quite small and have electric blue outer shells.

Oysters with fermented black beans, a dish often served at home over rice.  Ba-Ian Hot Springs Resort restaurant.  Special guest star: the arm of my excellent guide, Jeff Lee, who introduced me to the dish.  Thanks, Jeff!

Steamed fish with soy crumbles, a specialty of Sichuan province.  Served at Shao Wei, a humble family-style Sichuan restaurant in Taipei.

Nanmen market fish cakes in the shape of bunnies, in honor of the Year of the Rabbit.

Prawns are brought in live to the Ningxia night market and prepared in inventive ways, like this oven simulator (aka a hair dryer).  Looks good enough for a date with a handsome press minister, no?  Stay tuned, dear friends, stay tuned.

Grilled whole fish at Shin Tung Nan Seafood Restaurant, Taipei.  As a part of our banquet meals, we were always served at least one whole fish: steamed, grilled, or fried.  They were often some of the best dishes of the day.

Shrimp and pork crown dumplings and smoked Shanghai-style fish at the renowned Ding Tai Feng dumpling house in Taipei 101, the mile-high wonderbuilding.

And last but not least, gloopy shark fin supreme soup at Palais de Chine, Taipei.  I wasn’t a fan.  Couldn’t get the image of finning out of my mind.  Some gourmet, huh?  The “surf and turf” tenderloin with scallops in the background was good, though.

Full yet?  I’m not kidding about this is just the beginning, folks.  I’m still overwhelmed just looking at the pictures I took.  I keep forgetting about an entire meal and relive it again when I browse the set.  More to come, then.  Allons-y! (Can you tell I spent a week with a dashing French restaurant critic? Stay tuned!)

culinaria eugenius in baltimore, part II: crabby

Lest you think it was all Jewish deli on those fine Balimorean shores, I had to post some of our shellfish eatin’.  I don’t think the word “gorge” is too strong to describe what happened in Baltimore last weekend.  In fact (vegetarians and allergists avert your eyes), it was a downright crustacean demolition derby.

We started off the weekend at G&M Restaurant in Linthicum, the former hole-in-the-wall gone Big City with an expansion and spiffing up in the ten years we’ve been away from it. We’re not so sure we like the spiffing, but they still have crabcakes as big as a salad plate that are made up of lump crabmeat and a binding batter.  No filler.  None.  As in a softball of large chunks of crab with a bit of eggy coating, served simply with lemon.  One is enough, and don’t bother with the anemic sides or stale rolls.

Instead, focus on the seafood.  Why just eat crabcakes, when you can also have Maryland crab soup and a shrimp boil?

We shared a bowl of (rather undistinguished) soup that seemed light on the crab to me, more of a tomato soup with frozen peas, corn, and limas than anything else, slopped over the side of the bowl.  But the shrimp were good — slightly dusted with Old Bay seasoning from the boil, large and delicious.

But clearly, we were holding back for the big event.  For my father-in-law’s 80th birthday party, a gala family event, we ordered the finest crab preparation in the world, Maryland blue crabs steamed with Old Bay.

Soooo good.  See that mud?  It’s not mud. It’s Old Bay.  To eat the crabs, you crack them open and eat the sweet, soft flesh while licking the Old Bay off your fingers.  No need for butter or tartar sauce or anything like that.  It’s just you and the spicy, salty sea.  Even with the questionable origins of the crabs (the Chesapeake has been polluted and the crabs usually come from farther south, and you know what’s going on with southern waters right now), I have to say that blue crabs beat the pants off our western dungeness crabs.  The meat is almost silky, and the large crabs don’t result in the stringy, bland meat that dungeness sometimes do.  And no one in Maryland insists on chilling (!) the crabs like we do here.

The boys brought home a sampler of coddies, the little seafood cakes that are another specialty of Baltimore, and I sliced up a dozen deli pickles (green, “well-done,” and green tomato).  My sister-in-law made a creamy dilled potato salad that I’m dying to try out for summer barbecues.  It was meant to go with the crabs, but we were so crustacean-drunk we didn’t eat much.  All the better — we could eat it for a couple of days for lunch and snacks.  Once I calibrate the proportions, I’ll post a recipe, but the basic ingredients were potatoes, fresh dill, red onion, cucumber, Greek yogurt and mayonnaise.  Yum.  And as drunk as we were on Old Bay, we topped it all off with springy, fruity rosé wine from California and Oregon (and crummy beer, pictured below).

My contributions to this entire feast were minimal, I’m afraid.  I’ve been so busy that I’m just not able to do much else other than work, and I took the opportunity of our trip to spend a wonderfully exhausting day at the Barnes archive at University of Maryland.  I did bring some hazelnuts and Brooks prunes to represent our ‘hood, and made Linda Ziedrich’s pickled prunes, but other than that, I just served as kitchen help and a shopper, and spent a lot of time on my laptop putting out fires.

But back to the crustaceans.  We had so much fun eating shellfish that we ordered lobsters a couple nights later and did it all again, even though lobster isn’t exactly a Baltimore tradition.  I, for one, was willing to overlook that.  We had them with drawn butter and homemade mayonnaise, and they were fabulous.  My genius sister-in-law made crèpes for dessert, and I really regretted not being able to pack my remaining few jars of 2009 jam.  I didn’t take pictures, because by then I could barely move.

dark days challenge #6: oregon crab soup

Keeping with the soupy theme of my Dark Days weekly local food posts, I thought I’d show off my adaptation of Maryland crab soup, one of my Baltimorean husband’s favorite treats.  We used the leftover crab from our dungeness crab feast on Christmas to make a spicy, tomato-based soup.

I have to say I’m not a fan of the ice-cold pre-cracked crab they think everyone wants here in Oregon.  I was a bit annoyed on Christmas Eve when I opened up my sack from Fisherman’s Market and found my crabs cracked and cleaned, the top shells gone.  Note to self:  always check bag, especially during holiday busy times.  I was planning to heat them up, crack them open at the table, and enjoy the slightly briny, slightly bitter mustard goop with Old Bay spice…in true Maryland fashion.  But instead, the crabs were opened, scraped free of mustard, and doused in ice, which makes the meat soggy and dilutes the flavor.  Grrrr.

Regardless, the crab meat was still delicious.  I hear and can attest to the news that the dungeness crab season has been an excellent one, so if you’re near Oregon, run, don’t walk, to your nearest fish market.

Maryland crab soup has as many variations as any authentic local recipe.  I rarely meet one I don’t like.  It’s a great day-after-crab-boil meal with the leftover crab.  My Oregon version is a combination of painstakingly homemade and convenience foods, and it’s 100% Oregonian.  Adapt as you see fit!  But if you plan to use the top shells of the crabs to enrich your beef stock, watch your fish market salesperson like a hawk.  Or a seagull.  Or something.

I still have a few stalks of local celery from a couple of weeks ago, thank goodness, since celery is crucial for the soup.  I should have added a local potato, since potatoes are delicious with the spice mix from Maryland called Old Bay that’s so important for the soup, but I was in a hurry and didn’t want to wait. I did use my homemade celery salt (made with local celeriac) instead of my usual kosher flake salt, and it added a wonderful low celery base note.

Lima beans are often used in this soup, but we don’t grow them that much here, and I didn’t want to rely on non-local limas.  Frozen vegetables were going to be necessary, so I used frozen Stahlbush Island Classic Mixed Vegetables, our Willamette Valley purveyor of frozen organic local fruits and veggies.  The green beans were dried by me last summer, and briefly reconstituted in hot water before adding them to the stock.  The onions were from the larder and my frozen tomato sauce was added to provide tomatoey goodness.  The beef marrow bones I used to make the stock were from Market of Choice, and I’m just going to hope they were local.  The bacon was from Sweet Briar Farm.

As for the Old Bay seasoning, this Baltimorean spice mix is found at fish markets and premium grocery stores, and it doesn’t really have a substitute.  I was going to try to make a slightly more local version with leaves from my bay bush, but felt too lazy.  If you’d like to give it a go, here is the recipe I was planning to make.  Of all the recipes I perused, it looked like it had the greatest chance of having similar proportions to the original.

Oregon Crab Soup

Makes four portions.  Does not keep well past a day or so.

  • bacon fat or butter
  • 1 small onion, chopped finely
  • 2-4 slices bacon, chopped
  • 4-5 cups homemade beef stock
  • 2 clean, boiled, top shells from dungeness crabs (optional, but it adds depth to stock)
  • 1 cup stewed tomatoes or pureed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning, or to taste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup fresh dungeness crab meat
  • 2 cups mixed vegetables, fresh or frozen (corn, peas, carrots, limas, cabbage)
  • 1 cup green beans, in 1-inch pieces
  • 1 small waxy potato (a Yukon gold, for example), diced into small pieces
  • salt and black pepper to taste

Prepare the soup base: sauté the onion in some bacon fat or butter.  Add the bacon pieces.  Pour in the beef stock and bring to a simmer.  Add the crab shells, tomatoes, Old Bay, and bay leaf.  Let simmer for 20-30 minutes to meld the flavors as you are preparing the fresh crab meat and vegetables.

Remove crab meat from its crustacian home and chop vegetables.  If you are using frozen vegetables, measure them out.  Home-dried vegetables will also work.  Reconstitute them at this point with hot water.

Add mixed vegetables, green beans, and potato dice to soup.  Cook for another 1o-15 minutes to soften vegetables, then remove crab shells and add crab meat just before serving.  Adjust for taste, adding more Old Bay for spiciness, and salt and freshly ground pepper as needed.  Be careful with the Old Bay, as it has salt in the mix.  Serve immediately.

mad grilling skillz: a love story

What do you want for dinner, he says.

And I says:

, I says, but I’d be happy with

or

.

Well, says he, then I can do:

And I says, that’s ok, sweetie, I says, whatever is easiest. I just don’t want:

!

But he was already, like,

and

so I’m all, ok then, would you mind

?  And he says ok.  And then

ensued, and we lived happily ever after.  The End.