With the 2017 waterfowl season nearly upon us, Smarty needed to make space in his freezer. The solution? A 10-person wild duck dinner of (Russell) Chatham-esque proportions, featuring fresh Dungeness crab appetizers, wild rice, Helene Smart’s famous lemon-garlic-pine nut salad, and piles of whole-roasted, unstuffed mallards cooked exactly right–hot and fast. That’s the hunter/chef above, working the cutting board, and just a few of the ducks we consumed. (I eventually returned to the carcass pile to gnaw the chewy, flavorful legs.) I ate until I could eat no more, but woke up the next morning already craving the fresh version that’s soon to come. Clearing out the freezer is tough work, but someone had to make the sacrifice and help. And I did more than my share.You’re welcome, Smarty.
Why is it the longest days of the year pass fastest? I’ve written about it before, but still, the question arrives right on time every summer. And perhaps even more abruptly this year with the flurry of travel and camping and other activities. Suddenly, there are ripe blackberries to be picked–Weston scored these when we stopped to take pictures of the sunset through forest-fire smoke last night–and the days grow almost imperceptibly shorter, if hotter. Time to remind myself, as I do every year, to try to savor every moment of these long days. And hope my mom is up for making blackberry pie when she visits later this month! I can taste that pie already. Happy summer everyone…soak it up.
Here at the 24/7 Fish Smoking Factory, we’ve been kicking it into high gear. Good fishing means lots of work, but thoughts of mouth-watering, hot-smoked king salmon keep us toiling. And my one, treasured souvenir from Japan, a 10-inch, hand-forged blade crafted from 64 layers of razor-sharp stainless steel and purchased from Masahisa in Tokyo, made quick work of the butchering. Love Japanese steel.
First, a quick round of filleting, followed by cutting into strips and chunks for brining. That’s the better part of five kings, waiting to hit the salt and brown sugar.
After an overnight brine, the chunks dry on smoker racks with a box fan blowing on high for about five hours.
Then into the smoker over a mix of alder and apple chips and it’s time to eat. And start the cycle all over again for the next batch. Oh, those salty, sweet, smoky, oily belly strips! Love this time of year.
Skyla has been wanting to dig razor clams all spring, but due to various other commitments–mostly volleyball and basketball–none of our free time matched up with the late-winter evening tides. But Sunday there was a reasonable mid-morning tide and both kids were stoked to go. Which meant up early to hit the road and a long drive to the coast. It rained most of the way there, but we hit the beach under bluebird skies.
The digging was incredible. We walked straight down from the car and hit pay dirt immediately, with clams showing all around us. We filled our limits in 20 minutes, without ever leaving a 30-square-foot patch of sand.
It seemed almost too good. We rinsed our gear, chased Halo around on the beach a bit, and piled back into the car for the haul home. And I kind of wished it had been at least a little more challenging to give us more time on the beach. But we weren’t complaining.
To cap off Halo’s best day ever so far (car-ride napping with family, beach, ocean, etc) we stopped for a burger on the way home and Weston treated her to some ice cream.
Then the real work started. With razor clams, finding and digging is the easy part. At home, we had sand and salt to clean off the gear, clothes, car and dog, and a serious clam-cleaning session. I couldn’t help but tally it all up in my mind: Drive for three hours, dig for 20 minutes, drive for 3 hours and clean for 3 hours. Later, when I related this to our friend Kate, wondering it it was all worth it, she came back with the perfect answer: “Memories for infinity.” Not to mention all the mouth-watering meals ahead.
Jed showed up to fish one morning and before we hit the road, he handed me a single, perfect matsutake mushroom. I stashed it in my pocket, and from time to time throughout the day, I’d catch whiffs of the unique scent–a mix of pine trees, cinnamon and something earthy and mushroom-y. Someone once described matsutakes as smelling like red hots in a dirty sweat sock, but I don’t get the sweat sock part. They just smell delicious to me. More than once, my mouth watered at the thought of it.
Fast forward to dinner prep. Bruce and Aaron had a stack of enormous moose steaks; Calvin and April ran out to the truck, dug through a cooler, and produced a deer backstrap; Yvon broke out a magnum of Chateau Musar Bruce had given him; Rick was outside burning logs into perfect barbecue coals. I washed some rice, added the hydrating water from dried shiitake mushrooms, a bit of rice vinegar, a pinch of salt. Then, with great anticipation, I cut into that gorgeous matsutake. Inside, something moved. It was alive with small, white maggots. I recoiled. What to do? Figured I should give the crew the option. I showed them the wriggling mushroom slices and said we can either add it to the rice as planned, or toss it out and just go with plain rice. Someone said, “The rice is going to boil, right?” Another said, “Hate to waste a good matsutake.” There was a moment of silence, then the crew voted “Go for it” without objection.
It was delicious. And part of one of the most memorable meals I’ve had in a long time. Great food, great friends, great spirits. And a few maggots just to keep things on the adventurous side.