Mahmoud Ahmed show, Portland, OR, January 1, 2011

As if it wasn’t enough to start out the new year by whitewater kayaking and catching a steelhead, my day wasn’t over yesterday when I posted the previous blog entry. After writing that post, I hopped in the car and drove back over to Astoria and picked up Shannon, and we were off to Portland for dinner and a music show.

We had Lebanese food for dinner at Nicholas’ Restaurant on SE Grand, one of my very favorite Portland restaurants for close to 20 years, dropped the car off at a friend’s house and took a cab down to a performance room near the Convention Center to see Ethiopian swing legend Mahmoud Ahmed.

Mahmoud Ahmed show, Portland, OR, January 1, 2011

At nearly 70 years old, Mahmoud Ahmed pretty much rocked the house. A large portion of the audience was Ethiopian and sang along with the lyrics which we non-Ethiopian fans didn’t understand a word of. But it was still a really fun show, and really rewarding to see someone like that still putting on a long and high energy performance, and a crowd of people absolutely loving it. There were happy people everywhere, on stage and off. I don’t want to forget to mention the fantastic opening act, Tezeta Band, either. If you have a chance to see them sometime, it will be worth it.

I also got introduced to a couple of new beers that I had never encountered before, St. George and Meta, both from Ethiopia.

Mahmoud Ahmed show, Portland, OR, January 1, 2011

This was a late show, starting at 10 PM, and I didn’t get to bed until after 3:30 AM, nearly 22 hours after I woke up in Nehalem to go fishing. We slept in today, and had a fantastic late breakfast at Pambiche, a Cuban restaurant that is fast becoming a new favorite for me. I’m finally home again, snacking on leftover falafels and hummus. If the rest of 2011 goes like January 1st did, I’ll be well satisfied…

Pambiche, Portland, OR

Everybody loves bacon. Even vegetarians love bacon. I love bacon, too. But knowing what I do about factory farming practices, I never buy bacon from the store anymore. I last made bacon when we lived in Northern California, in about 1997, when we raised our first pig and butchered it ourselves. It was amazingly delicious; it was as if I had never actually eaten real pork before in my whole life.

We raised pigs again after we moved back to Washington, in about 2003 or so. We had them butchered by pros, and sold some to friends. Recently I defrosted and cleaned out our older freezer, and discovered a wealth of frozen meat all encased in ice inside. Amongst these treasures were several pieces of pork belly from 2003 that we never got around to making into bacon. Amazingly, it had no freezer burn, or any other issues from being frozen for over 6 years.

Bacon, step 1

So, figuring I had nothing to lose and everything to gain, I thawed some of it out and set to work. Like a lot of cured and smoked meat products, bacon is so easy to make that it’s embarrassing. I start with the pork belly, and trim it to fit into my largest glass pyrex casserole dish.

Bacon, step 2

Make up a mixture of half canning salt and half brown sugar, layer some in the bottom of the dish, put the pork in, layer more sugar/salt mixture on top and rub it into the edges well. Cover and refrigerate. After a day or so, pull it out and repack it with fresh mixture, and turn it over. After another day or so, do the same thing. Or, do what I did, and space out and leave it in the fridge for a while longer. Like, maybe a couple of months?

Whichever path you choose, when you are ready to smoke it, it will be a good idea to slice off a piece, cook it up and taste it to see how salty it is. After letting mine cure for two months, I ended up soaking it in water for about 24 hours, changing the water once, to get the saltiness under control.

Bacon, step 3

Once you’re comfortable with the salt level, set it up in the top rack of your electric smoker, and go get yourself some fruitwood chips. What I do is go out to one of the apple trees here, prune off a bunch of extra twigs and small shoots and chop them up into bits with the pruning shears.

Bacon, step 4

I smoked this particular bacon for about 10 hours, using up about 7 pans of chips in the process. Once it’s smoked to your liking, pull it out, cool it, wrap it in paper and put it in the fridge. Now you get to slice off pieces however thick you want, and it will taste way better than any bacon you’ll ever get from the store.

Told you it was easy!


all done

So, this is one of my other favorite things to do with salmon. Gravlax is basically cold cured salmon, and the recipe originated in Scandinavia, where so many of the interesting ways of preparing fish come from.

Start with a couple of small fillets. I usually use coho, but this year I saved a couple of fillets off of my spring chinook instead, since I couldn’t wait for coho season to have some of this delicious treat. I freeze the fillets for a few days to kill any parasites, since gravlax does not involve any cooking of the fish.

Thaw out your fillets and then rub them down with a light coat of olive oil, probably not an original Scandinavian ingredient, but what the heck. Then I usually rub them down with a little scotch whisky, but this time I used a little sake, since I am all out of good scotch. I usually grind a little bit of pepper on the fillets too.

Then mix up a cup of non-iodized canning salt and a cup of sugar, and put a thin layer of this in the bottom of a glass dish or pie pan. Lay the first fillet on this salt sugar mix, skin side down, and coat it well with more of the sugar/salt mixture. Put on a layer of thin slices of red onion. Cover that with a handful or two of fresh dill, and then another layer of onion slices.

Making Gravlax

Coat the other fillet with the sugar/salt mixture and lay that on top, skin side up, and then use the rest of the sugar/salt mixture to cover everything well. Cover it up and put the whole thing in the fridge, after admiring your work of course, and maybe having a shot or two of the scotch.

Making Gravlax

Twelve hours later, pull the dish out of the fridge. There will be a lot of brine now in the dish, from all the moisture that the salt has pulled out of the fillets. Using a spatula, turn the whole thing over, so the top fillet is now on the bottom. Use a spoon and pour the brine all over the whole assembly, admire your work again, and maybe repeat that scotch thing, too. Then return it to the fridge for another 12 hours.

This is what it looks like after 12 hours.

after 12 hours

When the second twelve hours is over, pull it out again and separate the fillets. Scrape off all of the salt and dill and onion, and wipe the fillets down with paper towels. Now they are ready to eat. Take thin slices off, at a shallow angle, and put them on rye crackers, with cream cheese and slices of fresh red onion, or toast, or bagels, or whatever you like. In the Sunset Magazine fish cookbook, where I first learned how to do this, there is a recipe for a delicious mustard sauce that you can put with the fish as well.

Bon appetit! You have just taken a couple of small salmon fillets, and a few dollars of other ingredients and made it into a delicacy that sells in the fancy delis for $30/pound or more, and yours is going to taste a lot better!

People are often surprised when I tell them I can my own fish. The first time I canned fish, it was albacore, in California, and the instructions we had to follow made it needlessly messy and complicated. So here is a little photo essay of how I can salmon at home.

WARNING! Please be aware that there are hazards to this activity, and some of the risks are worth noting and making a strong warning about. Canners, operating under pressure, can explode if misused or if the valves and other safety features are not working properly! Also, on some types of canners, there is a pressure release valve that should be tested every year. Failure to do that could create unsafe pressure levels in the canner, or, fail to reach the adequate temperature to produce safe food. Don’t rely on just my instructions here! Read a book, or better yet, the instruction manual with your canner! If you insist on doing something boneheaded and blowing yourself up, or canning up a nice crop of botulinum, well, don’t come crying to me. I told you so!

Enough said…

fish flesh

I like to use wide mouth, half pint jars. Pints are too big, I think, and half pints make a bite-sized, less imposing gift for the faint of heart. Cut the fish so as to fit in whatever size jar you use, and carefully pack it into each jar, as fully as you can without going over the top of the jar. Throw a pinch of salt on the top of each jar’s contents.

packed into jars

Then carefully wipe each jar’s sealing edge clean, and put a NEW lid on, with a ring and screw it down snug.

jars ready to go

My canner is pretty much the cream of the crop: an All American, aluminum model 921. It has a weighted pressure control, rather than a petcock. I like the weighted kind better, but don’t lose your weight! It’s a drag to have a canner full of fish starting to warm up and then realize that you can’t find the weight. This canner also has no rubber gasket, which can fail. It has a carefully machined fit lid, and you need to dog the lid down evenly and snugly. Pack the jars in the canner. Use one of these metal layer separators on the bottom too. Put a couple of inches of water in the bottom before you close it up!

Once you get the canner packed and sealed up, put it on the heat, and watch for when it starts to vent steam. Once you get a good head of steam coming out of the vent for 10 minutes, then either close the petcock, or put the weight on, using the 10 PSI setting whichever you use. When the pressure comes up to 10, then start the clock. I use an hour and fifty minutes at 10 PSI.

When the time is up, turn off the heat and let it cool off. I usually deal with it in the morning, so it is good and cold when I have to handle it. I check and clean each jar as it comes out and then label it with a pen on the lid. Done!

If I figure an eight ounce tin of hand canned fish might go for 6 or 7$ at the co-op, then my 12# fish is “worth” about $100-120 if I had to buy it at the store.

in the canner

And I’m not done. I decided on this fish to take a couple of small fillets to make gravlax out of. I usually use coho for that, and have never made gravlax from a springer before. Should be good!

fillets for gravlax

Last but not least, I take the head and fins and all the other scraps and put it in the dutch oven with a little butter and cook it up on the stove. Salmon cheeks….. mmmmm…

fish head