Foodie Tuesday: Swim for It

If left to my own devices to raise or, more difficult yet, forage and hunt for all of my food, I’d soon enough be a non-meatatarian. I haven’t the patience or the skill for any sort of animal husbandry, nor the remotest chance of outsmarting anything sentient in order to catch it. But despite my pitiful showing as a junior fisherman alongside Gramps in days of yore, I think I could pull myself together enough to learn how to fish and forage the sea enough to keep my love of seafoods at least occasionally treated. Good protein, too.
Photo: Salmon Champagne Evening

Sometimes I am happy enough to have a rather plain fried, roasted, baked, steamed, raw, or poached piece of fish. When it’s pristinely, spankingly fresh and sweet, fish should probably not be made too fancy. Why mask perfection? At most, a dash of fresh herbs or a little zip of some lovely masala ought to be plenty of interest to vary the day’s meals. Even I have been known to identify and safely pick and consume wild sorrel, which is an excellent companion to fish in modest amounts. And of course, there’s nothing friendlier with a piece of salmon than citrus or ginger root or plain black pepper, if the foraging can extend as far as a grocery store. One thing I do think well worth the [negligible] fuss if I’m preparing salmon with its skin is to sear it, lightly salted, in butter or a high smoke-point oil before I cover its pan to finish cooking it through on cooktop or in the oven, because crispy salmon skin is delicious and its crunch a wildly beautiful complement to the velvety tenderness of the flesh. Once my palate was introduced to this marvel, I wondered how I had managed to enjoy salmon so much, so often, without having known what I’d been missing. Salty, slightly fat, salmon-flavored, and crispy? How could I not love it!
Photo: See Food

Of course, there are innumerable other outstanding ways to enjoy and indulge in seafood, if one does happen to have access to plenty of other ingredients. Seafood fried rice is one very flexible, quick to fix, and reliably delectable way to enjoy such things. Salmon in bite sized pieces, for one seafood treat, goes quite well with the contrasting grains of rice, lovely with rich that’s been cooked in either broth or coconut water or milk and filled with a delicate confetti of diced celery, carrots, onions, bell peppers, or peas, whether shelled or in sugar snap or snow pea form. But as you can see in the accompanying photo, I enjoy, along with salmon or other kinds of fish, those admirable insect imitators the crustaceans. Hardly anything, sea-based or otherwise, is more enticing in fried rice than crab (naturally, I vote for Dungeness first, every time), lobster, langoustines, or shrimps of various sizes. I would guess that some tiny, tender clams might be more than acceptable in this sort of dish as well, but truthfully, I doubt I’ll ever get quite that far, as long as any of the usual suspects are available. Never say never.

Meanwhile, back at the fried rice, I am still an old Occidental renegade when I make it, cooking it much too slowly for a wok-master’s taste and throwing in whatever I have on hand and am in the mood to eat, from the aforementioned vegetable ingredients, crisply sautéed, to seasonings like Tamari or soy sauce, citrus juice, fresh or candied or pickled ginger or ginger syrup (or all four, as I am an unregenerate ginger fiend), honey, shallots, and/or chile pepper flakes. All of these cook in gently, over low heat, while I’m stirring in an egg to scramble into shreds, and then letting the rice slowly develop a good crust amid copious lashings of fat—coconut oil, avocado oil, ghee, whatever I have on hand. All of this, until I can’t quite wait any longer. Must keep that seafood delicate and fresh. Until I can devour it, anyway.

Foodie Tuesday: By the Beautiful Sea

Certainly one of the particular pleasures of this summer’s travels was for a coastal native like me to get back to the water’s edges and indulge in quantities of fresh seafoods of the kinds I have always loved. Not a bad opportunity, either, to develop some new affections in the vast ocean of seafood options. So yes, of course I ate fish, shellfish, seaweed, and other delectable dainties from the depths as often as I could manage. Spending time in the familiar haunts of Stockholm and the Pacific Northwest, I was swimming in deliciousness.Photo: Chinese Sushi in Stockholm

There were, in both locales, a few much-needed refueling stops for Asian seafood treats, since both places are rich in the resources and have long since embraced the influences of those also-rich cultures to make fine use of the wealth, so sushi and Lee’s sweet walnut prawns were on the agenda from the beginning. I can’t think of any kind of sushi that makes me happier than delicate, pristinely fresh salmon—an ingredient introduced to sushi culture by Norwegians, I gather, so I guess I feel a certain genetic impulse to put this meeting-of-cultures on my plate—nigirizushi. So my partner and I devoured salmon nigiri in quantity on the trip, but I also happily tested a few different sorts of makizushi, like Ichiban’s Salmon Lemon Roll, a refreshingly simple kind of maki.Photo: Dungeness Mac & Cheese

There were those variations on crab mac & cheese I mentioned before, and if anyone puts together two such huge addictions of mine as macaroni and cheese and Dungeness crab had just better get out of my way when I catch sight of the table. The versions I had this summer did nothing to slow me in my pursuit of such treasure, but as the aforementioned components both loom so large in my heart’s and stomach’s affections, neither did they hamper my continued mental tweaking of said dishes, and as I looked upon the photo for this post, I was moved further to contemplate joining my crab M&C lust with that for the classic and justifiably ubiquitous pairing of browned butter and sage, so you can expect to hear some groans of overindulgent happiness coming out of my kitchen sometime in the not too distant future when I get around to embracing that inspiration.Photo: West Seattle Fish & Chips

Fish and chips are, of necessity, a part of my seafood pilgrimages as well. As with these other treats, fish and chips have so many fantastic varieties possible, even before you get to the chef-specific fiddling of seasonings and sides, that it’s almost a pity there’s no way to eat every kind on offer. Will it be cod today, pollock or plaice, halibut? Salmon? Smoked cod? So many choices, so little time. I like a good light, crispy beer batter, but most end up being too doughy and heavy-handed in reality for my complete approval, so I’m more drawn to crunchier versions, whether they’re crumb- or cornmeal-based or spring from a dreamily delicate application of tempura. One of the standouts on this journey was when my parents took the two of us to a local shop in West Seattle, where we not only shared massive servings of fantastic, moist and tender and crunchy-coated wild cod but were given cabbage slaw (in a vinegar dressing) as a gift side dish by a beautiful and kind-hearted proprietress. Between that atmosphere of generous hospitality and the snappy-crusted fresh fish, the place won my vote as favorite in this summer’s fish-&-chips derby.Photo: Scallop & Mango Ceviche

I managed to go in entirely new directions on occasion, as well. Probably the favorite such dish that comes to mind just now would have to be the scallop-mango ceviche my sister and I shared when we went with my husband to a venerable but still terrific restaurant on Alki, that long and lovely public beach in West Seattle where Elliott Bay provides the blue and sparkling underpinning to a grand view of downtown Seattle’s waterfront. Beloved company and glorious weather were guaranteed to make it a worthy event, but the ceviche did its part very well indeed, too. It was a relatively simple melange of diced bell peppers and red onion and scallops and mango in a very light lime-cilantro dressing. If I had any desire to change the dish in the slightest it might be to eliminate the green pepper from the mix since it was just a tiny bit strong compared to the sweet scallops and bright mango, yet not quite piquant enough (as the onion was) to serve as a complementary spark. But let’s be honest. Did that slow down my eating or diminish my enjoyment of that refreshing little appetizer? No, it most certainly did not. If I replicate the dish someday, there will probably be no green bell pepper, and for that matter, I’d be more likely to pop in a sprinkling of red pepper flakes for the spice than to add raw onion, but that combination of tender scallops and juicy mango was just the sunny splash the day required and also provided useful ideas for my future culinary machinations. Enough said.Photo: Shrimp Pizza al Forno

Last among today’s reminiscence revels is shrimp pizza. Americans might not be quite so familiar with this sea creature as a great pizza topping as other nationals have been, but once tried, it’s kind of irresistible in its own way. My spousal person and I derive much of our fondness for the item in question from multiple happy visits in years past to a kind of down-at-heel looking pizzeria in the central train station in Stockholm, where a couple of swell Italian brothers fired up their (too-) well-kept secret wood oven and made the perfect Neapolitan crusts, lightly scorched and melting underneath a little light San Marzano tomato sauce, a nice gooey coating of fresh mozzarella, and heaps of candy-sweet pink shrimp with (unless my slightly lachanophobic husband remembered to forbid it) a dash of oregano over the top. Alas, the brothers have since packed up their oven and gone off to greener pastures, but in a bit of serendipitous sorrow on the afternoon of our discovery, we wandered down the hill from “our” apartment in the opposite direction to a restaurant we hadn’t revisited in quite some time and discovered that they, too, made a dandy version of this pie. Theirs is embellished with a little prosciutto and some mushrooms, which prove to be perfectly friendly companions to their little coral-colored shellfish pals on pizza.

What does all of this prove? Nothing you didn’t know already. I am an avid pursuer of food. Seafoods of many spanking fresh and tasty sorts rank high on the list of favorites among my food loves. And travel combines the increased access to those things that a coastal kid stranded inland in Texas craves at times with the splendors of the travel itself, that immersion in a different culture that suits me as much as it does my taste buds. Ahhh, so.

Water Babies, All

digital illustrationOcean-front Property

A stroll along the esplanade, sun-worship on the beach,

Dining on oysters, clams or cod, there’s pleasure fit for each

And every taste, along the shore, delights enough at sea,

That, whether you are rich or poor, seaside’s the place to be!digital illustration

Foodie Tuesday: Pilgrimages

photoSince I have made it clear that I spend much of my travel time and energy on eating and/or thinking about eating (just as I do at home, but more exotically, if you will), then the clear corollary is that I am inclined to travel toward, and for, specific foods and eateries. Returning to my home turf is clearly a time when this is bound to take on a significance and intensity of the grandest proportions. Needless to say, it would be impossible to revisit every place we love to eat in one trip, let alone a fairly brief holiday, but we are dedicated enough to the love of good food to make our best efforts in the attempt.

Spud Fish & Chips is a local landmark institution that predates even my existence by, say, half a length, and its place in my personal registry of notables was confirmed very early not only because it’s a great place to get very tasty, freshly made cod and chips for which people have long been accustomed to queue up around the block and down the street, but one of its four (I think) branches happens to be located about two doors down from where my grandparents had their apartment when I was small. The cod (or halibut or salmon or shrimp, if that’s your preference) is hot, moist and sweet and coated with a lovely, crispy golden jacket that holds the fillets neatly together whilst they are being gently paddled through a bit of sweet tartar sauce or drizzled with malt vinegar en route to their demolition. The fries are unevenly hand-cut so that one gets the meaty, mealy, potato-y big fries and the medium, slightly more greasy ones and the thin, crisp ones all together for fine textural variety.

From the first bite of cod, I was transported immediately to the days when my parents would pile us four girls into the car and head to Grandma and Grandpa’s and at some point we would essay right across the street to Alki Beach (the nicest and most popular tidal beach in Seattle), play until we were sufficiently caked with sand and maybe had had a quick stop to pay homage to the Ice Cream Cone Lady, a 3-meter mini of the Statue of Liberty that stands almost directly across from the apartment on the beach whom I so named for my obvious assumption about that strangely compelling object she lifted in her hand while she hugged what I guess I must have thought was the menu to her bronze breast. After these exertions we would inevitably get hungry for the aforementioned fish and chips, preferably followed by our own ice cream, and that was the heavenly point of the whole outing. Besides Grandma and Grandpa, of course.

photoAnother luscious luxury I crave after too long away from it is the New England style clam chowder at 42nd Street Cafe in Seaview, Washington. In our earlier married years either my husband and I had a whole lot more free time on our hands or (more likely) were willing to cram more into the available time, so we went as often as we could manage for a three- or four-day weekend on Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula. It’s quite touristy, especially in the summer high season, because of the marvelous beaches, the excellent boardwalk, the fantastic biking and walking paths that range all over the peninsula, the usual silly shops, the fairly constant wind that makes it a prime place for kite flyers, and the regularly held classic car shows. Among other enticements. Primarily, though, it’s a place to go and relish the ocean–and, yes indeedy, to eat. For a pretty small set of towns and off-season residents, the peninsula offers a goodly range of fine eating, and we have favorite places and foods to show for it.

Cheri Walker’s glorious clam chowder is one of the many reasons we’ve faithfully, if not obsessively, returned to 42nd Street for all of these years. She somehow concocted the perfect balance of ingredients for a chowder I’ve never tasted anything close to matching, to the degree that while I won’t give many clam chowders elsewhere the time of day anymore after one look at their floury glue-like consistency and paltry pieces of rubbery clam, I would happily eat Cheri’s clam chowder three meals a day when I can get it. Bacon in it. Yes, you are unsurprised that I think this a superb ingredient in a clam chowder. I am nothing if not predictable. A major attraction of her clam chowder, however, is naturally the large quantities of fresh and tender clam bits therein. Little pieces of potato, the soft crunch of celery. That sort of goodness. But what really sets it apart is the light, savory broth, with just the right juices and herbs interlaced with cream and, I suspect, a tot of sherry or cognac to give the finish such sweetness and depth. In any event, heaven.

photoAnd while we’re on the peninsula, we indulge yet another seafood craving, this at another small-group chain restaurant. Dooger’s doesn’t either sound or look particularly impressive other than being a pleasant-looking middle-of-the-road place frequented by the older set and families with lots of squirmy kids. And it is that. There are people who disdain it for its plainness or complain that it’s predictable and dull. But we two have willingly waited at the no-reservations place as long as perhaps an hour on occasion when the crowds are in town. Why? Crab legs. Dooger’s makes the very ordinary extraordinary, at times. So very worthwhile. What you see on this plate is fairly common fare, mainly: a butter and sour cream loaded baked potato, fried white bread, a little plastic cup of very very simple seafood sauce with a hint of horseradish. All well made in their simple ways, to be fair. We always start with the salad-from-a-bag salads because (a) they go through their salads so fast that it’s always fresh greenery on your plate there and (b) it’s piled up high with the sweetest little lightly briny tiny shrimp your heart could desire. A perfectly refreshing start. Followed by this comfort food pile-up of potato and toast and oooooooooh, Dungeness crab leg pieces. Already cracked open for us lazy diners, and as we generally choose them (though you can order them sautéed in garlic butter, steamed, or Cajun spiced, too), coated with the most delicate dusting of flour and deep fried in a flash to meltingly dainty little bites of sheer Northwest nirvana. Try ’em straight up or with a squeeze of lemon.photoI limited myself to the ‘small’ serving shown here only because I decided I would also succumb to the key lime pie which, you guessed it, is presumably made from the recipe right there on the Nellie and Joe’s juice bottle, but by golly has been a popular recipe for eons for good reason. Still and all, next time: just get more fresh, delectable crab legs. Who really knows when I’ll get to eat as many of them as I want again?

Thankfully, I have in no way limited my foodly fun to these few specialties on this trip any more than I would do so at any other time. There was a scrumptious lunch of grilled Tillamook cheddar cheese sandwich also, happily, jammed with Dungeness crab at the charming diner the Beehive in Montesano, Washington (sensing a theme here, are you?) and accompanied by light, crispy onion rings, and followed by a densely packed pie of tiny wild blackberries with just enough sugar to hold them into proper pie form. There was a delectable pub supper at A Terrible Beauty (right in West Seattle) of beer battered salmon and chips. The ethereal, candy-like Walnut Prawns at Lee’s Chinese, also in West Seattle.photoI could go on, but I’m starting to get hungry as usual amid the Foodie Tuesday tales, so I must bid you adieu for the nonce and grab my cutlery as I trot over to the kitchen in search of . . .