Monday, August 30, 2010

Portland Salmon and Dungeness Crab BBQ

Kim's family is in town this week to meet our new little guy.  It's been great having them here, but whenever we have guests from out of town, I always feel like we need to prove to them how great Portland is.  Well, with a brand new baby it's impossible to take guests out and show them around. So, the only thing I could think of to do was to cook dinner.  How much more Portland can you get then having a good, local sourced meal? 

BBQ Gone Pacific Northwest
I decided to do a PNW BBQ for our out of town visitors.  Something that would be unique to this place. Something that they could remember as being different than what they could get on the east coast.  Pigs grow everywhere.  So do lambs, cows, chickens, and goats.  I had intended to do my traditional BBQ pork ribs but had a change of heart at the last minute.  It had to be smoked Pacific Salmon.

And Dungeness crab.

And heirloom tomatoes (which I have come to love over the past year).

And walla-walla onions.

How on earth could I put these together with a live fire of pecan wood into one meal?  I think best under pressure, and after procrastinating until 3pm of the day I had to make dinner, this is what I came up with:

Heirloom Tomatoes and Lemon Cucumber Salad with Roasted Sweet Corn
Smoked Salmon
Grilled Dungeness Crab
Smoked Walla-Walla Onions with Balsamic vinegar

For dessert, Lucille made an outstanding peach pie.

Now I have to admit some things.  Due to the lackadaisical nature of my planning, I was not able to make the entire meal local.  But it mostly was and I've got some good ideas for next time.

Heirloom Tomatoe and Lemon Cucumber Salad with Roasted Sweet Corn
So, if you do not know this already, my favorite place to by vegetables is not the farmers markets.  It is Pumpkin Patch farm on Sauvie Island.  Open every day of the week, this place has a great variety and they source almost all their produce from local farms.  AND they mark where the produce comes from.  This makes it easy to know if you are supporting local farms or if you are supporting importers.  Although I like Kruger's farm very much, when it comes to buying produce I prefer Pumpkin Patch farm by a local mile.  The tomatoes I actually got at the interstate farmers market.  Pumpkin Patch won't have their heirlooms in until September.
  • Lemon Cucumbers from Pumpkin Patch Farm
  • Walla-walla onions from Pumpkin Patch Farm
  • White and Golden Sweet Corn from Pumpkin Patch Farm (4 for a dollar. Awesome!)
  • Oregon Salt from me
  • Pepper from somewhere on the other side of the world
  • Balsamic Vinegar from Fred Meyer
  • Italian Parsley from New Seasons

Smoked Coho Salmon
Now, this is the one thing that sorta bummed me out.  Since Salmon was the centerpiece of the meal, you'd think it would have to be local.  Well it wasn't.  BUT after I bought the salmon, I saw the native guys selling some amazing Columbia River Salmon at the Interstate Farmer's Market.  If only I'd known!
  • Fresh Alaskan Coho from Fred Meyer
  • My special BBQ spice rub

Grilled Dungeness Crab
I had an idea and no idea how to do it.  Grilled crab.  Sounds great, no idea how to do it.  Considering the number of cook books I have, I thought a grilled crab recipe would be easy to find.  Well it was harder to find than I thought.  In the end I had to resort to searching the interwebs for a grilled crab recipe. had a good example that I used as inspiration.  You have to kill the crabs by boiling them first, then clean and grill.  Not hard really--a combo approach that turned out to be delicious.
  • Dungeness Crab from Fred Meyer
  • Butter from Noris Dairy
  • Garlic from Pumpkin Patch Farm.

Smoked Walla-Walla Onions with Basalmic Vinegar
A very long time ago I ate a grilled red onion with vinegar at a bbq party.  It was amazing. Like a hot apple but made with onions.  For whatever reason, that is what I wanted to replicate here.  But, not knowing at all how it was done, I just took my best guess, wrapped them in tin foil and threw them in the smoker, and it worked!
  • Walla-Walla onions from Pumpkin Patch Farm
  • Basalmic Vinegar from Fred Meyer
  • Salt from me.
  • Pepper from somewhere over the rainbow.

PNW BBQ Results
Overall it worked out really well.  We were a little light on veggies, but oh well.  The salad was fresh and sweet. The onion-salmon-crab combo was delicious.  Lucille's pie was supreme.   In terms of local, I think a little more than half the ingredients were local.  Not so great; the heavy reliance on vinegar and spices really hurt my local rating.  And the darn salmon...if only I'd known!

Here's some pics from the meal:

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Oregon Sea Salt, Batch 2

Well, we used up all the salt I had made so I had to make more.  It's actually a lot of fun to make salt.  Fun might not be exactly the right word, but it is fulfilling.  Taking the ocean and turning it into something so basic to our culinary needs is really neat thing to do.  Everyone uses salt and we are no exception.  Plus I give it out to friends, they all enjoy it, and that makes it fun.

For this batch of salt, I went back to Oceanside (see this PDF--I went half way between 29383 and 29382).  The water quality report showed that the water had been tested just a month before and everything was looking good.  I'd considered going to Manzanita, Short Sands, or even Cannon Beach, but the report showed too much gook for my liking.  Oceanside was the best bet, again.  And this time the water was not sooooo cold.

I like to be old-fashioned and boil my salt, but one of the most popular ways to make salt is to do solar evaporation.  In solar evaporation, big shallow ponds are filled with salt water and the sun evaporates the water away leaving the salt behind.  Then the salt is raked up or scooped up.  This is how the famous Fleur de Sel salt is made.

(To see some great images of salt evaporation ponds, view this Flickriver Collection.)

I thought about doing this way, but I'd have to make a big shallow pool that could sit in the sun.  Besides the lack of sun, the only way I could think of doing this was to put some kind of giant tray on the roof of my house.  This might work, but then I thought about the number of birds that fly over my house.  And bugs.  And leaves.  And dust.  How in the world would you keep the water clean?  How do they do it in the big ponds where so much surface area is exposed to the open environment?  

How Clean is Salt Anyway?
Some people have questioned how clean the water I use in my salt is, and all I can say is that it is as clean as I can get it.  I collect if from areas where the state water monitoring program says the water shows no trace of contaminants.  I filter out the sand and grit.  I boil it in a closed environment--in my house on my stove.  And salt is a natural anti-microbial.  So, in lieu of having it tested by a food safety lab, I'm guessing that it's pretty clean. 

Do you ever think about the larger producers?  Where was that Kona Island sea salt actually made and how did they keep it clean?   French sea salt--got french bird poop in it?  People assume that just because they buy it in the store it must be okay, but why would you think that?  Salt can't be washed.  It can't be filtered.  It could be sifted, but some salt is pretty coarse grained--plenty big for all kinds of stuff to get through. 

Fleur de Sel De Guerande- French Sea Salt--"...obtained by hand harvesting the young salt crystals that form on the surface of salt evaporation ponds".  

Salt Evaporation Pond  (
Where are these evaporation ponds?  What sea water is used?  Is it near a shipping channel?  Is it in the french rural coast where cow poop runs off? Anything could be in this stuff.  Nothing on the Das Foods  website mentions anything about the purity of the product or where it was made or what the process was.  

Sunset magazine's One Block Diet blog gets in on this too.  Their salt making PDF article says that you need "a verifiably pristine sea, with sunny clear skies for evaporating".  Because of this they assume that homemade salt is probably not safe.  Then they assume that store bought salt is safe.  Really? Why?  Why should I assume that Morton or Das Foods has somehow found "pristine" sea water when they won't say anything about where their water actually came from.  Sunset also sites Michael Pollan's effort to make salt from obviously polluted water.  But come on, why would anyone do that (besides Michale Pollan).  Honestly, the Sunset article is doomed from the start.  If they are pulling salt water from the San Fransisco Bay, they have a pretty high chance of getting gross water. Although the California coast water seems to be getting better, says, "several local [Bay area] counties ranked among the highest for exceeding U.S. health standards for human or animal waste in California." 

I did find one article on how salt is purified, but it was written by a chemical company as a white paper on how their system works better than "natural purification".  Even so, their description of the natural purification process is interesting.  One important thing to note is that this is written about creating table salt, not raw sea salt or the other types of "gourmet" salt.
In solar saltworks, salt is harvested from crystallizing ponds as a mixture of salt crystals and mother liquor containing soluble impurities in high concentrations. During storage, the content of soluble impurities is reduced, until is becomes constant after some 6 months. During this period, the humidity of the salt on the stockpile is about 3% but it drops down to approx. 1% thereafter. This phenomenon is known as "rain washing" or as "natural purification". This is the more accurate description since the purification occurs also when there is no rain at all...

Magnesium chloride on the surface of the crystals absorbs moisture from the air that dissolves sodium chloride. Salt cannot hold more than 3% of moisture in equilibrium. The absorbed moisture with the diluted impurities and with the dissolved sodium chloride slowly flows out of the stockpile and dissipates to the ground...

In addition, due to variations in the temperature and humidity, salt on the stockpile undergoes micro-recrystallization of the crystal surface. Impurities on the crystal surface become covered with solid sodium chloride and the crevices in the crystals, full of impure mother liquor, will get closed. Much of the impurities, originally accessible to purification, will become imbedded inside the crystals. This phenomenon is well known: "Old salt is more difficult to wash than fresh one". (p. 6-7)
My summary:  All salt has some impurities in it.  If you put it outside for about 6 months, some of the impurities will drain into the ground and some of the impurities will get locked in the crystals themselves.

An In-Depth Perspective from The Meadow
Not satisfied with what I could find on my own, I decided to ask the salt experts at The Meadow.  Mark Bitterman wrote quite a response entitled On the Purity of Sea Salt.  There are a couple things that I really appreciate in what he says:
As fierce guardians of the ecology in which they practice their trade, artisan saltmakers have a deep and nuanced understanding of the dynamics behind the creation of their salt.  No amount of testing has saved Americans from contaminated eggs, produce, and meat because contaminants are part of the very mechanism of industrial food manufacturing—it’s just a matter of minimizing this contamination.  Artisans practice outside of this logic, with criteria for quality organized around the principles of expert knowledge, hand labor, ecological stewardship, and economic sustainability.  Such wholesomeness is at the heart of good salt, and I guess that insofar as its meets these standards, it is “pure.” This logic might be applied not just to salt, but to all food...
Admittedly, no unrefined sea salt will be utterly free of all the things that naturally occur in the this environment. (Fresh, ice-cold water drawn from a mountain spring water will contain organic matter. Water stored in plastic bottles on supermarket shelves will contain no organic matter–though it may contain Bisphenol A and other chemicals.  Which is better?)  But salt makers will often pour clean ocean brine over the salt crystals as they are harvested to rinse them of any unwanted matter.  In other places, seasonal things like pollen from nearby mountains is considered part of the character of the salt...
This richer understanding that salt is a natural product drawn from a real place is really important.  Salt is more than just sodium chloride.  Salt comes from a place.  We are a part of that place and if we want clean, pure salt we need to be "fierce guardians" of the resources that we use.  This relationship to place is something that I find very important to explore in my own life and is one of the reasons why I started this blog. Who knew salt could be so poignant?

Back to the Business of Salt
Oregon Sea Salt and Oregon Pecan Wood Smoked Salt
So, what I'm actually doing is working on salt batch 2.  The water is collected and waiting to be evaporated.  I started working on it, but given my work schedule and the new baby, it will take a while to go through all 7 gallons.

Although I'm not one to go in for the flavored salts, this time I plan on making some smoked salt.  For dinner last night, I made some pecan wood smoked salt with my PNW BBQ (post forthcoming).  I have to say that the flavor differences between the regular salt and the smoked salt were too subtle for my palette.  But there was certainly a difference in smell.  The smoked salt has a sweet, tangy, mellow smokiness.  It's different and better than I expected. 

For those of you that got some salt last time and have asked for more.  Next time I see you, let me know if you want smoked salt or plain or both.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Local Ravioli

My family likes making ravioli.  If you have not made ravioli, I highly recommend it. 

It's not hard.

It's even easier if you have a team.

It's a lot of fun. 

You can make it with just about anything, especially meaty leftovers.

It's a great way to spend some family time together at home on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Nothing beats home made pasta.

I don't remember how I came up with the idea to make ravioli this time.  It was a while ago.  It took a while to get around to actually making the stupid ravioli because I spent so much time trying to figure out the local wheat situation (read my companion piece on Oregon Durum Wheat).  But finally it came around and so here it is.
One thing that bugs the crap out of me is the whole "cook what is in season" mantra.  Honestly, you can get almost anything at Portland area farmer's markets over the summer, even things that I normally think of as fall or winter foods--squashes, potatoes, nuts.  Finding seasonal stuff in the winter is a bit harder, but in the summer it's ridiculous how much stuff is available. 

Really, they should just say cook whatever you want, just make sure you buy the ingredients from a farmer's market. 

Well, what was looking good to me at the Beaverton Farmer's market this morning were the carrots from Spring Hill farms. do you put carrots into ravioli?  Well, I figured it out--add butter and bacon!  The B&B cure-all for your dietary woes.  If you can't fix it by adding butter and/or bacon, you're screwed. 

Actually, what I wanted was some way to avoid making ravioli that turned out like pasta and carrot mush.  Pureed carrots have a nice bright flavor--light, sweet, very mildly earthy like spring soil, and that neat orange color.  But they also lack texture and the complexity you need for stuffing pasta. 
Sauteing the carrots in Walla-Walla sweet onions and butter would create the more stable flavor base I needed. 

Country style bacon sauteed and cut into small dice would add a salty flavor complexity and texture at the same time. 

But I needed more complexity.  More texture.  Something as a contrast...chopped toasted Filberts!  They could provide a little crunch, a creamy nut flavor that would rhyme with the carrots and onions while enhancing the bacon. 

And the only spices I would need are salt and black pepper.  Especially black pepper.  That was the key. 
Summer Ravioli Filling
Carrots from Spring Hill Farm (read about Spring Hill and New Seasons)
Walla-walla onions from the farmer's market
Country bacon from Sweet Briar Farms
Butter from Noris Dairy
Filberts from the market
Salt made by me
Black pepper (imported)

Saute, puree, chop, mix, refrigerate.  Done.  Easy as ravioli stuffing :)

Egg Pasta
Next, on to the pasta.  For the recipe, I always use Biba's egg noodle recipe.  It's easy:
Eggs from our chickens
Whole Wheat flour from Stone-Buhr

Now, ideally you would use Durum wheat for making pasta.  But there is a little bit of a come to Jesus moment that you have to accept--Durum wheat does not grow in the Pacific NW.  If you want to eat local, you gotta use other wheat.  How can this be, you ask?  Read the saga of Durum Wheat in Oregon.  Whole wheat pasta tastes just fine in the end.  And it's local.  Cha-ching! 

Ravioli Needs Sauce
I admit I was a bit stuck for a minute on what sauce to use.  What do you put with carrots and pasta?  Especially carrots with bacon and nuts in it.  Not a tomato sauce.  Not something with a lot of strong flavors that would cover the carrots. 

What I came up with as a cream enriched veloute and I think it was the right choice.  Not too heavy, but substantial enough to stand up to the bacon and filberts.  Chicken broth and heavy cream made it smooth and amiable.  A splash or salt and black pepper gave it just enough edge.

Cream Enriched Veloute
Homemade chick broth from an Eliza chicken
Whole wheat flour from Stone-Buhr
Butter from Noris
Cream from Noris
Salt from me
Black pepper from the other side of the earth

No herbs.  Nothing new.  Just a tasty pool to bring out the ravioli.  Sprinkled a little of some amazing goat cheese on top that I found at New Seasons and it was done.

Grisdale Goat from New Seasons (made in Montesano Washington).

Finally, an almost completely local ravioli dish and it only took me 2 months.  Lol. 

Overall, I'm gonna score myself 95% local on this one.  The only ingredient that was not local was the black pepper, and there is just no getting around that one.