Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Essence of Cuisine in the Pacific Northwest

Photo courtesy of McGrath's Fish House

      Perhaps the best part about visiting the area where I grew up is the abundance of seafood available.  From a myriad of freshwater fishing to the cornucopia of delectable from the ocean:  salmon, oysters, prawns, crab, cod, rockfish, and halibut to name a few.   Of course it all depends on when I visit as to what I can expect to enjoy.  Barb and I do try and harvest our own when we are here; it's just the best part of the experience. 

      The past several visits have centered on razor clams as the seasons have been generous and the clams readily available.   Clam digging is a matter of going out at a very low tide, locating 'shows' or holes where the clams are and digging them.  They live about 18" deep and each digger is allowed 15 per day.  The 3 day non-resident license is only $6.  They provide a delicious treat when fried. 

      This fall, however, the level of domoic acid is too high to allow safe, edible harvest of clams.  Domoic acid began showing up in Pacific tides about 20 years ago with the arrival of algae in warmer seasons.  Consumption of clams during these times can be dangerous, if not fatal.  Complete cancellation of clam seasons has happened 3 times since then.  Better luck next time for us. 
      This visit we spent our usual 5 day visit camping at the beach, but without a clam season and salmon fishing closing 2 months early we were left with recreational Dungeness Crab Fishing.  Everyone raves about Alaskan King Crab and I have enjoyed this myself, but I prefer Dungeness Crab which is sweeter in taste and an entire crab costs only about $7/lb (+-) right off the boats.  These are harvested from Southern Alaska south to California.   Commercial fishermen use crab pots in deeper water to harvest these tasty treats, but recreational fishermen have to resort to other methods. 

      There are collapsible traps and other gadgets, but I tried my luck with small bait snares attached to the end of a fishing line on a strong pole.  These work the same way:  fill the small cage with a dead, smelly bait, such as chicken livers or cut herring.  The attached snares are of heavy diameter fishing line and will ensnare the claws and legs of the unsuspecting crab.  Feel the tug.....reel them up slowly.  I set up my poles within the harbor marina of Westport off of Float #20 which is open to the public.  Many legal crab are taken here every year as they are drawn to the calmer harbor waters with the abundance of food discarded from fishing vessels.   Barb spent much of her time this trip frolicking the beach with our 5 1/2 month old pup, Roux, but I spent several hours each day at high tide waiting patiently on the docks.  Although I did catch several small crab, I did not out smart or harvest anything legal. 
       The nice thing about this area is even if you do not harvest your own crab, buying them fresh off the boats is a fairly inexpensive deal.  We bought two freshly cooked on Thursday and enjoyed a fresh cracked crab/corn on the cob feast in our RV.  Cooking crabs is simply a matter of boiling them in water for 18-20 minutes and then immediately submersing them in cold water.  They can then be eaten at your leisure.   This privilege at the docks cost $1 more, but worth it as we don't have to worry about keeping them alive till we get home and then setting up for cooking ourselves.  We did arrange to get 4 more fresh cooked crab from the docks our last morning there to take home for Barb, Mom, her friend Rose, and I to enjoy.  Crack the crab, dig out the meat, dip in melted butter and savor....usually with corn on the cob.  Always a feast to be treasured. 
     This trip we definitely ventured outside the comfort envelope.  I had tried to enlighten my wife (and others) over the years as to exactly to the realm and deliciousness of the Geoduck.  This creature is another relative of salt water clams except they grow to much larger sizes.  The average mature clam is right at 2 pounds with many more growing LARGER. 
 Photo courtesy of Taylor Seafoods   
      Many of these are harvested annually through a much more exhausting method which require digging holes at or deeper than 3 feet deep.  Some folks equate this to wrestling with a horse stuck in the mud. 
Photo courtesy of Taylor Seafoods

      We decided to obtain ours from a local fisheries business www.taylorshellfishfarms.com These are more expensive, but yield much more meat than the average razor clam.  They are primarily used, and are delicious in, fritters and chowder.  This treat will cost you $30/lb. and the average clam is 2 pounds.  After returning home with our fresh 'CLAM' (ours was about 1.5 pounds) we set about the cleaning process: 
1)  First you boil water.  Then place the geoduck into the boiling water for ONLY about 20 seconds.  The purpose here is to quickly blanch (not totally cook) the clam. 

2)  Then you immediately put the geoduck into COLD ICE WATER to stop the cooking process for about a minute.
3)  Third place the geoduck on a hard surface for prep.   After cooking the neck will usually relax and become quite elongated.  You will have to trim the siphon end snout and then remove the dark layer of skin that surrounds the long neck (siphon).  This will leave you with the more tender neck meat beneath. 

4) Next, place the geoduck on a cutting board and using a sharp knife gently pry the shell away from the meat to separate it.  Then remove the internal organs (just at the base of the neck) by hand.  They will come out easily leaving a thick layer of breast meat behind.  Then using your knife separate and trim the breast meat, siphon, and neck. 
5) Finally, select and cut the meat as desired for whatever you plan to prepare.  We chopped ours for a delicious clam chowder meal later this winter. 

      There is such a variety of delicious seafood here in the Pacific NW.  We try and return to our favorites and branch out and try something new when the opportunity presents itself.  We will depart within the next couple of days for the SE enroute through Oregon, Idaho, and into Utah for another friend reunion and then some Rich Barb time in the beautiful canyon country of Southern Utah.  

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