New Uses for Old Food


I’ve been remiss in updating the progress on the 50 state pizza project, as has my friend over at The Muffin Man. However, every couple of weeks, when I’m not sure what to do, or what to write, I look in the fridge to find what state I could represent with my next pizza endeavor.

I did it last week- I opened the fridge, and there was some celery, half a pepper, some olive tapenade, and some cold cuts and cheese. Ah, well. Maybe next week.

Then again, maybe not.

On my days off, I usually wander to the store, pick up a couple sundries, and head back home to make a sandwich or two, hence the cold cuts. For tomorrow’s outing, for example, I bought some edamame, some roasted peppers, and some sandwich vegetables. I also saw, in the frozen section, langostinos, those little half lobster/half prawn crawfish looking things. There, in the frozen aisle, was my inspiration. I’ve used crawfish many times before, and I love them, but their muddy flavor just wouldn’t go well on a pizza.

I gathered my purchases, went home, and began chopping with Gordon Ramsey’s MasterChef in the background. Into the bowl went Olive Tapenade, fresh basil, chopped celery, diced tomatoes, oregano, salt, pepper, and a couple good handfuls of langostino tailmeat. This was the base of my pizza. This was going to be the sauce.

In the fridge, I had provolone and genoa salami, alongside some emmentaler and sopressatta. Another quick shred of the cheese and rough chop through the salami, and my pizza was almost ready to be assembled. I was making a muffuletta pizza.

Muffuletta is one of the old staple foods of New Orleans. It traditionally consists of olive salad with giardinera, ham, provolone, capicolla, salami, mortadella and any other italian meat you can find, all on a giant loaf of focaccia-like bread. Its origins trace back to the early 1900s, most prominently attributed to the French Quarter’s Central Grocery. Sicilian workers would come in during their lunch break, order meats, olive salad, and slices of cheese to eat with their bread, eating them separately, perched rather precariously on produce crates and barrels. Lupo Salvatore, the owner of Central Grocery, saw this as an opportunity to take something from the old world and adapt it to a new, New Orleans clientele. (Did you read my last post? See what I did there?) He took all the ingredients, layered them, and put them on a round muffuletta loaf, selling them by the quarter or half.

Alright, who’s hungry from that little history lesson? Back to the pizza.

With all this delicious nonsense happening in my kitchen, I took a time out to realize a problem with the 50 state pizza project. Some states will not fit on my pizza pan. It’s a decent sized pan, too. 14 inch? I guess what I’m saying is that I had to make do with a lopsided version of Louisiana. That’s okay. I think it’s more about the flavor than the shape. Shape is approximate.

Louisiana Pizza- Not Actual Shape or Size

So it was good. With the olive salad, the dough would have benefitted from a solid parbake to avoid the absorption of moisture that made the pizza only knife and forkable rather than the glorious foldable slices of, say, a New York Pizza. Does that mean it was a failure? Absolutely not. It was a great idea, and I loved the flavor. Half the pizza had salami, half had langostinos, and the entire thing tasted great. I’ll definitely think about it a little more before I make another one, and address the problem of soggy crust head on.

What should the next pizza be? If you’re inquiring about your home state, let me know what ideas you have for ingredients indigenous to that state, and how you’d envision it all fitting together. I’ll get back to you when I have a few good ideas.

If you work at a Grocery store, or if you shop at one, you know how difficult it can be to find healthy options for your family at affordable prices. All the time, you hear about how places like Whole Foods are referred to as “Whole Paycheck”, (a daily occurrence for me), but in reality, it’s not that way at all.
Yes, the prices may seem somewhat exorbitant on one scale, being that you can get some products, exactly the same, for much cheaper at the local Kroger or Safeway. However, it still pales to how much we spend when we eat our lunches out.
I’m guilty of it, too. During the lunch period, I’ll wander over to Panera, get myself a half sandwich and cup of soup, and usually something to drink. A regular lunch, if only because I don’t want to be taken by too many choices in the grocery store. I want something off a menu that I don’t have to think about, and that I can order, eat, relax with, and be back to work with a decent amount of nourishment in 30 minutes or less.
The total price of a lunch? About 10 to 11 dollars, depending on the size of drink I’d like and whether I want my sandwich toasted.
Breaking it down, though, there are certain questions that begin to mount. The cup of soup is 12 ounces. I have half a sandwich. And even with a small drink, soda, iced tea, whatever it may be, the price of that drink is $1.85. Why so expensive for so little food?
Now, flip it over to Whole Foods, where the prices are allegedly high and there’s allegedly an attitude that comes with the meal. I can get a big salad for $5. I can get a whole sandwich, roast beef, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, trimmings, etc. for $4. Either that, or a 16 ounce soup full of goodness for $4. I can get a soda for 69 cents. Total price of a meal? Under ten dollars. It’ll probably fill me up. When I have the patience, that’s what I do.
When I don’t, though, it’s off to Panera I go. It’s the American way.

***

Let’s look at some of the ways that supermarkets are designed to assist your shopping experience. First, in almost any store you visit, the eye catching display as you walk in the door is Produce. It sets the tone of freshness throughout the store. Stop and look at things that are on sale. You can usually find at least one fruit or vegetable staple that is of reasonable price, and when you do, you should put it in your cart. This may be because the store has a good supplier in Mexico, or it may also be that they’re running a sale on something fresh, local, and in season. We eat with our eyes, but we needn’t forget to smell certain foods.
Tomatoes should smell like tomatoes. Basil should smell fresh and green. You should be able to get a whiff of orange oil if you lightly zest it with your thumb.
If you’re on a budget, and you are able to afford the Roma tomatoes that are hard and bland, don’t worry. Take them home, toss them with a little oil, salt and pepper, and roast them at 300 degrees until they turn to mush and their flavors bloom.
Next, look for the private label brands. Many stores have private label brands that are contracted through well-reputed companies at a lower markup. What this means is that good economic practices can work, by giving a wider audience to a company such as a Stonyfield Organic, or simply just by promoting the private label brand itself, getting the store’s name out more. Every time you open your fridge, there’s Safeway Organic Milk. There’s President’s Choice pickles. If you slapped the regular label on them, you’d end up paying a buck more for Vlasic and Horizon products. Private Label isn’t bad.
Third, the bulk section. More stores have a bulk section, where you can scoop granola, get almonds and raisins, and even pick up some treats for the kids. Bulk items are less expensive because they have a much lower packaging cost, among other factors. You can stack a pallet 8 high with 50# bags of rice, and if you buy either a whole bag, or merely a few scoops, you’re only using a fraction of the materials it takes to pack a canister of Planters’ peanuts with the foil inside and the razor sharp rim of death.
Last, buy what you know, but check the labels. If you know a Campbell’s soup is good, but you see another one on sale for half the price, try it. Try it once. You might not like it, and if you don’t, you have that knowledge moving forward, but you also have equal sustenance in your belly from your one less than flavorful interim meal. It’s not so bad. Now you know. You saved a buck and you fed yourself for a meal. This checking the labels thing? Try to use it for good things. You can’t taste the difference between a $4 can of Organic free range garbanzo beans and a $.99 can of store brand. Not after you add your garlic, cheese, salt, herbs, or anything else people put with it. Don’t sit in the aisles, poring over the labels on two competing brands of pizza, looking for the one with higher fiber. That’s not what healthy eating is about.

Remember- the more packaging something has, the less incentive it has to stay fresh. Simple packaging generally equals better food. If you can see the food without picking it up, or if you know that the food doesn’t have five layers of protective packaging or an airpuffed bag surrounding it, it might be a little better for you than a Kraft Macaroni and cheese. Case in point- the Macaroni. It’s alright. It can touch the cardboard, and it’s fine. However, the ‘cheese’? It’s in the airtight, foil lined, childproof pouch. We can easily see or hear the macaroni as it shuffles around in the box when we shake it. What we can’t do is even imagine what is in the Neon pouch of doom. That’s why I stay away from the box macaroni dinners. Colors like that don’t occur in nature.
You know what color does occur in nature? Green. If you have something green with dinner, you’re already on your way to better health. You can get a whole bag of spring mix, herbs, bitter greens, spinach, etc. for 2 bucks at my store. You can’t even get an egg mcmuffin for that, can you?
Buy some apples. Buy some bananas. If they go brown, make banana bread. Freeze them. Make morning smoothies with frozen fruit and orange juice. Find ways to utilize all the fresh food you get. It’s your money. Make healthy and sound choices for your dollar.
As a side question, when did coupons become such a bad thing? Look for the coupons. Clip ’em if you got ’em. Stock up on nonperishables when they go on sale. We have such a love for things like Groupon and Livingsocial, always scouting out things that are marketed to look like they are a great deal (some of them are!), but why not take that approach with your food? It’s a great deal in Atlanta to get a Facial and salt scrubbed body peel for 50% off today, but it seems too much to want to get 20% off of your groceries by clipping coupons or simply figuring out what is the best value for your dollar. Get your Preferred rewards card. Pick up the coupon booklet when you first walk in the store. You won’t be taken by impulse buys, most of the time. As long as you keep your head on right, and shop with purpose, you’ll be able to shop smart.

Shop S-Mart.


***

One last thing- Most people shop in terms of total dollar amounts. What many fail to realize is that packaging is perceived value. It may cost $4.99 for one container of shredded parmesan cheese, but it will cost $3.00 for a hunk of parmesan of equal or greater weight. It is increasingly popular (and I don’t know if it is mandated yet) to put unit cost on the shelf tags by the products. Next time you’re in the store, check out Unit prices, and see which items, not necessarily by sheer dollar amount alone, will give you the lowest price per ounce.

In my own little world for the past few weeks, I’ve thought that I could just get to writing whenever I felt like it. Unfortunately, that has left most people who inquire about this blog wondering and (hopefully) wanting some more from my brain. Sadly, I just haven’t had it. I haven’t been on my critical thinking tack for a while now.

In the meantime, I’ve been working diligently at making high quality meats and recipes to share with harried customers in need of a quick meal at my meat shop. Sometimes, it’s a little tedious, but I had a nice discussion with a woman the other day about how her kids are quite adventurous with what they eat.

“They’ll eat anything. My husband and I took them down to Chinatown for dinner one night, and my eight year old was the one who ordered and finished a plate of jellyfish.”

Kids WILL eat these.

More power to you, mom. There’s a strange idea that kids won’t eat stuff, so many parents feed their kids boring, bland flavors that come out of a box until they’re ready to make their own decisions about their food and how they like it. Here’s my bit of information regarding that: If you feed them bland food, when the time comes to decide what they want to eat, whether it be from the first moment they can pick up a saute pan or when they head off to college, it’s going to be the same garbage.

When I was working at Pike Place Market, I gave a mother some creative ideas about how to hide vegetables in meals, so that her kids would eat it. Taking a trick from one of my aunts, I suggested that she should either puree or chop her vegetables, and tuck them safely away where her young kids could not process what they were eating as something they didn’t like.

“Oh, that’s not a problem for my kids,” she responded. “Two don’t eat vegetables, and the third, my oldest, loves them.”

How interesting. When pressed to figure out why the younger kids wouldn’t eat them, I was given a simple response:

“If it’s a pile of peas, carrots, or brussels sprouts, I tell the kids that they’re off-limits. Vegetables are for adults only. I still give them healthy, nutritious things, and they eat salads, but by the time they’re ready to make their own decisions regarding food, they’re practically begging to find out what they’re missing with the green mass on the adults’ plates.”

Good thinking. You can dress up the vegetables, hide them, or do whatever you want to them to make sure the kids will eat them, or you can simply say that your kids aren’t ready for them. In the meantime, they see you eat them, enjoy them, and they wait, patiently at first, but then more and more anxious as they yearn to find out what all the fuss is about.

Back to the mom the other day at the store. In our discussion, she revealed that she, unlike her husband, grew up with a less adventurous palate. Box dinners, burgers, potatoes, basically bland food. Now, as her kids are getting older and seeing her eating habits stacked up versus those of her more adventurous other half, they wonder as they make the decisions that will shape the way they approach eating for the rest of their lives- If mommy doesn’t eat this, why should I?”

Why should you, indeed? With friends out there who have newborns, I imagine that bad habits from years without children start to take a backseat to raising a young one properly. Drinking, smoking, swearing, and all the other things that peppered their pre-baby existence all start to fade away. One thing, however, and this is important, is that as kids internalize things like shouting as commonplace, so too do they interpret the eating habits of their parents. Even though I am not a parent myself, my advice from a culinary standpoint is to eat smart, eat healthy, and enjoy what you make and order at restaurants, because your kids are watching.

And if I have to hear one more person ask for the frozen corn on the cob or a box of croutons in the company of their seven year old, I’m going to be very put out.

There’s nothing wrong with either one of these things. I’m glad you’re eating vegetables, and I’m even more glad that you’re hopefully putting croutons on your salad, because hey, more vegetables, right?

Still, everyone has a heel of bread left in their fridge, and most of us throw it out. What to do, what to do?

I’ll tell you. Here’s a quick recipe for croutons that you can make in fifteen minutes, furthering your culinary expertise, making your dinners new and different, and utilizing bits of things in your fridge that you may think you have no use for.

 

Croutons

Ingredients:

Bread

Olive oil

Salt

Pepper

Garlic Salt

Rosemary or Thyme

I usually get a baguette at work if we’re having something with sauce, or something that necessitates the addition of a crust of something for mopping or dipping. However, most baguettes don’t last longer than two days. It’s hard to extend the shelf life of a bread whose only ingredients are flour, water, and salt.

We’ll usually go through half a baguette in a meal. Here’s where the fun begins:

Preheat your oven to 375. Slice the leftover bread into thin slices, about 1/2″. Toss in a bowl with olive oil. Lay slices flat on a baking pan, and sprinkle with fresh chopped herbs, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Most everyone has garlic powder, but if you have leftover garlic cloves that are beginning to sprout, slice them in half and give each piece of bread a good rubdown.

When your croutons are seasoned up, throw them in the oven for about ten minutes. The underside will brown before the topside, so check them out and see if they need flipping. If they do, flip them, and let them go for a few minutes more.

When you pull them out of the oven, they should have a crisp outer layer with an inside that maintains a relatively chewy consistency. Put them in a ziploc bag and store them for a week or so in your cupboard.

Note: If you just have regular bread, cube it. Toss with the olive oil and all the herbs, as that will give the croutons a more even coating, and a more even degree of crisp.

Congratulations! You’ve just saved yourself at least three dollars. Don’t you feel French? Pour yourself a glass of wine to celebrate.

My weekend and the days after have been terribly busy. From Friday, and especially Saturday until Tuesday, the store was mobbed with people preparing for the great Blizzard of 2011. It didn’t matter if it was 10 inches of snow or 24- people were buying food as though they were never going to see the outside world again.

I can kind of understand this mentality, but not in Chicago. In every case, there is a place that will be open for business regardless of the outcome of the snowfall. If not now, perhaps it will be open three days down the road. Still, people insist on buying as much food as they can to reinforce their winter coats.

Ten pork chops (of which we ran out after two days), five giant ribeye steaks, 5 lbs. of ground beef. It isn’t my place, I’ve found, to tell people to take it easy on the meat, as much will go south before they have the opportunity to cook it. In addition, many people, while putting their meat in the freezer, fail to account for the fact that during large blizzards, electrical storms, etc., power goes out. Chicagoans can be left without electricity for hours or days on end, rendering the contents of their fridge soured and ruined.

There’s an easy solution to this: Buy what you need, and supplement it with what you have in your pantry. Over the last few days, behind the counter, we’ve talked about this, and the general consensus of foodservice workers who have jobs at Whole Foods is this: our customers do not have empty pantries. If they can afford to spend 300 dollars on enough food for the last supper, chances are that somewhere in the back of their cupboards, they have that one can of chili or Dinty Moore beef stew, a can of tuna fish, a loaf of bread, and many other things that they can turn into dinners for days, if not weeks, on end.

People don’t like to have to resort to this sort of eating. It is eating to sustain one’s self, but within that, it is eating to make it to the next time you can come to the supermarket to refill and restock your fresh food, sundries, etc. Many people live like the former, pulling out a box of pasta and a jar of tomato sauce, boiling it up and having a dinner that provides the basic nutrients to survive and feel sated. It just doesn’t make sense to me that there are those out there who shop so selfishly that they show little to no concern for others who, with a slightly more rational view of eating, only need a pound of hamburger meat.

Here’s the big beef with it all: For better or worse, many stores out there that supply the necessities of dinner are going to try to make that push to stay open. It may mean that a lot of people call in to work, citing lack of transportation, etc., but coming from Wisconsin, all it means to me is that you need to accurately plot out more time to allow yourself to get to work.

Yesterday, a night after we got 2 feet of snow dumped on us, our store leadership made the decision to open for business at ten AM. All it meant for us was that we had to show up and wait for the lucky few who chose to brave the cold to purchase the essentials for a few days worth of eating. Throughout the store, there were the expected call offs in numbers, but for my meat department, 100% of the workers showed up on time, ready to cut meat, ready to serve customers for the day. They came from 30 minutes away by bike, an hour away by train, and in my case, 45 minutes by bus and train. If all of us can make it to work, so can you.

In addition to our department, those who chose to show up came from as far away as Evanston by way of public transportation. On a clear day, catching the express train, it takes an hour and twenty minutes. Take the Evanston Purple Line to Howard, switch to the Red Line, and, if you’re lucky, catch the 12 bus up Roosevelt to the store, about a half a mile away. On my route, I took the 65 bus from Navy Pier to the Red Line, and then the Red Line to Roosevelt. Seeing the snowdrifts lining the unshoveled sidewalks, I started walking in the street towards work, still ahead of the game by 45 minutes thanks to prior planning.

As the slight hill crested at the halfway mark, I looked behind me to see a Jeep slowly making its way up the hill. As I trudged along, it pulled up beside me, the driver recognizing me from work.

“You work at Whole Foods, right?”

Yep.

“Want a ride the rest of the way?”

Sure I do.

I hopped in, and we rode the two minutes up to work, punched the time clock, and finished the set up for the day. The store opened by ten, and as we had cut every last scrap of meat in the cooler, we immediately started breaking down the shop, assuming correctly that what we had would be sufficient to serve whomever chose to come out and buy.

All this chicken, and nobody in the store to buy it.

I shouldn’t say immediately. The day before, one of our guys had his mother down from Michigan, and he had prepared a giant pot of jambalaya, the remnants of which were to be enjoyed at a leisurely pacce by those who chose to show up to work.

It was delicious. Because we were there, we were not only able to make the sausage for his jambalaya, but prep a pork shoulder that was also destined for the pot, and the next day, enjoy the fruits of his culinary labor.

As for my own pantry, before it all hit, I bought a giant bag of root vegetables from work, which I’m immeasurably excited about. For seven bucks, I got a 5 lb bag of organic carrots, japanese turnips, rutabagas and sunchokes that I plan on using for either a roasted dish or a soup. When plans changed a few days ago and I couldn’t get to a dish of swiss chard and white beans that I wanted to make, I turned items from my pantry into another hearty soup, and it served to satisfy and heal.

The lady was sick for a few days, so on Saturday, with only snow and chill in the forecast, I woke up early and started a soup.

Here’s the recipe:

Winter Soup

2 Yellow Onions, sliced thin

3 Cloves of Garlic, sliced thin

1 Fennel Bulb, tops reserved, sliced thin

2 Carrots, peeled and chopped into rounds

1 Bunch Swiss Chard, stems sliced, greens rough chopped

1 Can White Beans

8 oz. Italian Style Seitan (I used Upton’s brand, which was really good, but you can use ground beef, sausage, or fake meat crumbles)

Vegetable Broth

Water

Salt, Pepper, Oregano, Thyme

Olive Oil

***

1. In a large stockpot, heat a swirl or two of olive oil. Add the garlic, onions, fennel, carrots, swiss chard stems,  and sweat over medium heat until they become translucent. Season with Salt and Pepper, and add enough vegetable broth to cover the vegetables. Add some water to double the volume if you, like me, don’t have enough vegetable broth. With all the vegetables in there, it’ll come together on its own.

2. Simmer for about 30 minutes, until the vegetables soften and you get the aroma of a soup in the air.

3. Add your can of white beans, your meat (if it’s raw ground beef, brown it in a separate pan if you want to), and the chard greens. Season it up with thyme, oregano, and let it simmer another 30 minutes, until the soup smells really good.

4. Taste the soup. What does it need? Is it bland? Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Does it need heat? Add some chili flakes. Stir it, and let it sit. It’s only going to get better as the days go on.

***

Think about all the things that you can do with your pantry. I cleaned out the fridge and made a soup that has lasted for days, and I’m on the verge of making another one. Don’t let snow get in the way of your plans. Take your time, and if anything, get a bottle of wine or two to make sure that you don’t have to head out in the snow for at least a day or two. Then, curl up by the television with someone you’re fond of, open that bottle of wine, and enjoy the majesty of Mother Nature that is creating a Wintry wonderland of wintriness outside your window.

As for the shoveling that no doubt you’ll have to do, just leave it for tomorrow. If it’s too much, just take the train.

A few weeks ago, the lady and I were down at the Market, and we decided to pull in to the Zig Zag Cafe for a drink. First, a little word about the Zig Zag. If you’ve ever been to Seattle, specifically the market, the secondary attraction behind the market is the Pike Street Hillclimb. The lowest level is the Waterfront, where you can find such gems as the ferry terminal, Ivar’s Acres of Clams, Ye Olde Curiousity Shoppe, and the Seattle Aquarium. The Third Level is, of course, Pike Place Market, home of delicious fish at the foot of Pine Street, the first Starbucks, and DeLaurenti’s Fine Foods, an Italian Market hosting Mario Batali’s dad’s Pancetta, an impressive selection of olives and European Chocolates, and great looking, authentically Italian-named cafe staff.

Right in the middle lies 150 steps leading between the levels, and on a patio with a fountain, you can find the Zig Zag. The guys buy scallops and salmon from me, and I’ve always meant to go down there for a drink and an appetizer to show a little bit of support, but that day seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Look at this guy, will ya? This is a bartender. All others, take note. In addition to the wisely chosen seafood selections on the menu, they have a bartender, Murray, who has been named by many governing bodies as the best bartender in America. Playboy, bestower of gentlemanly titles, and the more professionally sanctioned Tales of the Cocktail c0mpetition/gathering that took place last week in New Orleans. As we’re constantly on the search for new cocktails, ones that are no-nonsense, Zig Zag is an uncomplicated stop on the tour of Seattle’s spirit walk.

With all the hype surrounding Murray’s drinks, the menu looked like someone had opened up your grandfather’s liquor cabinet and started pouring at random. All sorts of the so called medicinal liquors were there, as well as strange whiskey/bourbon/grain alcohol combinations. The main difference between Murray’s drinks and the drinks of everyone else (it is important to make that distinction, because there’s now officially Murray, and everyone else) was that this was a drink with purpose. It didn’t have floral overtones that lingered on the palate. It was, simply put, an original strong drink with balance, which is sorely lacking in all bars these days.

You can go to the speakeasies of the world and they’ll be able to make you a sling, or a punch, or a fizz, or a flip, but the drinks that they invent are with a twist. I don’t want a twist. I don’t want your take on something, because I’m not going to leave your bar thinking that I really needed to try the rhubarb syrup mixed with celery bitters. I just want to leave thinking “Hey, that was a damn fine drink.”

And drink, we did. Just one. Mine had a name like “Drunken Sailor with a Rusty Nail”. While it was akin to ordering an unfortunately named Pancake breakfast at the IHOP, the drink was uncomplicated, straightforward, and strong.

Enough about the drink, though. Alongside the drink, we got a small bowl of mixed green and black olives cured in oil, toast points, and a small bowl of hummus. In the dimly lit back corner of the restaurant, it looked like something was green in our hummus.

I looked closer, and it was fresh basil. It went so well with our cool drinks. I went up to the chef when I saw him come out of the kitchen, with my compliments.

“Yeah, it’s really simple. We just take our dried garbanzos and make the hummus from scratch, then add fresh basil at the end.”

Sounds simple enough.

Went home, bought some stuff, tested it, and here’s my recipe:

Hummus

1 lb. dried garbanzos

1 Small can or jar of tahini (8-10 ounces)

Olive oil

Salt

1 Lemon

Water

Fresh basil

***

Soak the garbanzos overnight. Next, drain them, fill a large pot with water and simmer them for about 2-3 hours over low heat. You can use canned garbanzos, but I like the texture result with the dried.

When you can pull one out and mash it with the back of a fork, pull the pot off the heat, draining the beans.

Grab your can of tahini, open it, and pour the whole thing in. Add a few swirls of olive oil and a generous pinch of salt, starting at 1 tsp and making your way up from there if you so desire it. Then, mash. Mash like you’ve never mashed before. Even with a hand blender, the hummus still had that rustic look. I don’t have a food processor, but I don’t particularly want one, either. Taste, adjust. Maybe put a little bit of black pepper in there.

Now, take your lemon and zest it. Zest it right into the hummus. Don’t be shy. Lemon is the vehicle with which you get the flavor to make your hummus burst with…hummusy goodness?

Yeah.

So zest it.

Then, juice it. Put all that juice right into the hummus and mix it thoroughly. Taste it again. Is it too thick? Add a little bit of oil. Too rich as well? Add a little bit of water. All the flavor’s there. You won’t dumb down your hummus by thinning it with water.

Then, the basil. If you have a plant, pull some leaves off of it, stack them on top of one another, roll them up, and slice it like you would if you were making those cinnamon rolls that came in the poppin’ fresh tube. Slice it into thin ribbons, so it looks like a swirl when you slice it. Congratulations. The culinary term for this is ‘chiffonade’, and now you can do it in the splendor of your very own kitchen!

Put the hummus in a bowl or on a plate, sprinkle it with a bit of paprika, some more lemon zest, maybe some sesame seeds, and that fresh basil. A perfect summertime treat!

If you choose to use canned garbanzos, I will not frown. Just like canned beans, they’re actually very healthy and a well cared for canned product. It’ll also save you about a day of prep time. As I mentioned, the texture of the hummus will be a bit smoother, but some people like that. For a hummus that resembles the tub that you get at the store, put it into a blender and hit whatever button it is that blenders have to make it smooth.

As you may have noticed, I didn’t put any garlic in there. Some recipes call for it, and some don’t. I read an article in the New York Times last month (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/16/dining/16united.html) that discussed the flavored hummus craze at length. If there’s one thing about this hummus that’s good, it’s that you can use it as a base for creating any number of delicious flavored hummi in your future.

Lastly, if you’re looking for a quick, cheap and easy accompaniment to your hummus, take a pack of corn tortillas, brush them with oil and cut them into wedges, sprinkle them with salt, and put them in the oven at 375° for 8 minutes. They’re about ten times as delicious as Doritos, much healthier because they’re baked, and a fulfilling way to make a snack at home.

One of the World's Biggest Plates of Hummus

I cook, and when I do, I like to cook for a crowd. It’s safe to say that my enjoyment of cooking comes from being able to share stuff with other people. I have a nightly staff of one, and reservations list of a young couple out for dinner and a movie, and that’s how I like it. Unfortunately, my restaurant is suffering a setback.

Here’s the thing: The lady is out of town. What am I going to do? Before she left, I wanted to have a few nice dinners, so the other night, on the recommendation from my friend over at the Smart Cabbage, I made roasted Kale and Cincinnati Radishes with baby heirloom tomatoes and a White King Salmon.

White King with Roasted Vegetables of a Curious Nature!

The next night, I got super excited because they had some fresh figs, so I wagered an arm and a leg, and got some of those. Made one of the simplest, easiest, snacks known to our tiny household of two. Figs. Slice them in half. Get some goat cheese. The good stuff. The Chevre. (For cheese boners out there, it’s the Purple Haze with Lavender), then drizzle it with honey, give a quick grind of pepper, and a crinkle of fresh thyme. I say crinkle here, because I always get the fresh thyme from the market, but rarely do I use it before it starts to dry out. The drying stuff is still very fragrant, but I usually just crush the bunch between my hands and hope that some tiny bits fall out. Usually, it does, and if there’s an errant stem in there, I have fingers and I can use those fingers to pick it out. That’s just one shortcut that you can take for seasoning your dinner if you’ve been on your feet all day and can’t face the stove without a beer.

Oh, hey. What a hip, hippie snack. Hip, Hipp, Hooray!

In addition to the figs, I decided to make risotto. I had some fish stock in the freezer, and I got some tomatoes, morels, scallops, and garlic spears. All of the lady’s favorite things in one easy to serve, one pot to one bowl meal. I made the risotto, and I cooked the scallops in a separate pan, braising them in butter. They didn’t brown as much as I thought they would, but oh did I mention they were cooked in butter? After I incorporated them into the risotto to set, I strained the braising liquid, now a combination of scallop liquor and butter, and chilled it. Along with the duck fat, that is going to be some serious flavor addition to a meal that I will have soon. The finished product looked great, if still a little soupy, and we also had some more fresh Washington Strawberry Shortcake for dessert. As baking is not my thing, in the kitchen, Bisquick is my best friend. I don’t care if you judge me. I can’t bake my way out of a paper bag.

An artful, unfinished risotto

The dinner was delicious, but now she’s gone, and I have nobody to cook for. There’s some food in the fridge, but when it comes down to it, our single serving culture does not apply to fresh meals. I go to the store and see the single bags of chips (although they are technically smaller than the other bags, check the back. Those Kettle Chips are not single serve), the “Pasta for one”, the individual microwave pizzas. I feel depressed for living the life of someone who is cooking for just one person. Granted, it’s only for a week, and after that week, we will be reunited and it will be glorious, but for now, I don’t know what to do with myself in the kitchen.

It’s not like there’s nothing to cook. It’s that there really isn’t anything to cook that I can do on a small scale. I have some standby items that I can do on the fly, (there’s that leftover risotto in the fridge), but I want something simple, somewhat nutritious, quick, easy, and many other adjectives that imply that I won’t have to work hard to achieve a decent amount of sustenance. Still, I am at a loss, as the weather outside is gray and uncompromising. It is 58 degrees and looks like it will rain any minute, and I have no desire to go out.

Rummage time. Hmmm… Let’s see what’s in the cupboards. Triscuits? Nah. Those don’t make a meal. There’s a mix for caramel turtle brownies that I could make, but eating brownies by myself? No. That’d just make me want to curl up, light a couple candles, and watch the Sex and the City Movies while blowing my nose into Cathy Comics.

ACK! What will I eat!?

Wait a minute. What’s that in the back? It has mysterious script on it, and is covered with green leafy things. It’s instant miso soup! Oh, yes. And next to it? A bag of brown rice, some Nori. There’s Takoyaki in the freezer. How could I have forgotten that the single serve empire of foods was virtually created and perfected by Japan?

You’ve got all of these wonderful things that are finger foods, and all of these things that are grab and go, eat and slurp, etc.

Many of these I can make, and have made, at home. Sometimes I forget that thinking outside of the box just means going beyond what you are used to at the grocery store. This can mean looking at new ingredients, or simply going to a new store. In this case, the store is Uwajimaya.

Uwajimaya is the Porno store for all the Asian food lovers out there. Similar to a Mitsuwa, Yaohan, or any other incarnation of a Japanese marketplace planted in major American Metropoles, it has everything. Live Crab, oysters, Geoduck, Amazing weird looking fruits and vegetables, candies, crackers that have angry chickens shaking flaming drumsticks on the packages (boy, they’re mad about something). There’s also the frozen packs of boil noodles, sushi making kits with the rice, tiny tubes of wasabi, small jars of pickled ginger, etc. My point is that within the confines of the store, there are so many forgotten ways to look at food that I get excited when I visit. I can find anything, and I can make something that is new and different simply by upgrading my ingredients. Where to start?

First, the sushi. As a disclaimer, I should state that if I can get fresh enough seafood from work to make it, I will. However, it’s not always that simple using what we have available at our shop. Fortunately, at Uwajimaya, it is. Tiny 3 to 4 ounce cuts of #1 fish, shrinkwrapped, are ready to go. Tuna, Octopus, Bream, Pickled Mackerel. The one thing with sushi is that I’ve never been great at making it. When (the disembodied) they always say it takes years to perfect a great piece of sushi, they’re not lying. Some people just get it. Some don’t. I am of the latter category. That’s why I don’t make the rolls. I’ll hand roll it, but that’s just like being lazy with a tomato sauce and calling it “Rustic”.

At least I know the basics, and my rice balls don’t tend to fall apart. Here’s a picture of some sushi I prepared a couple of months ago. In the sushi world, I suffer from Heinsbergen Syndrome, and in the back of my mind as I’m fabricating these, I just hear Bill Murray as Raleigh St. Clair saying “Make yours… like mine.” I’m particularly pr0ud of the omelet. The rolled one, kinda yellow in the middle? Yeah, I didn’t have an Omelet pan, and I don’t think I had the Dashi stock to thin it out. It was your everyday basic thin sugar omelet, but it was still pretty good.  The other stuff? Up front? That’s tuna. In the rear with the green shine on it? That’s my highest achievement for flavor, the barbecued eel and wasabi tobikko. I’ve always thought eel was delicious, but it turns out that it’s not for everyone. In this instance, it’s okay, because that just means more for me. Along with my high marks for flavor, my assembly (note the ragged edges and weird spillout issues) gets the participation ribbon that you reserve for refrigerator fingerpainting.

Takoyaki. What is Takoyaki? It’s exactly what it sounds like, if you’re Japanese. Yaki(焼き), as in Yakitori(焼き鳥), Teriyaki (照り焼き), and my personal favorite 焼きとうもろこしmeans “to grill”, and Tako means Tako. You know. Tako. As in the Tako Truk over by the Zoo bar in Eastlake? Like the Tako you see in Hawaii all the time?

Any guesses? It’s octopus. Once again, something that other people don’t necessarily enjoy means more for me. They come frozen, looking like little donut holes, and all you have to do is heat them up and serve them with mayonnaise or tonkatsu sauce (Sauces are so good. That’ll be a new post for another time). Sprinkle them with the weird container of salty plum shiso furikake, and it lives up to that old Japanese sailor’s credo- “Donuts in the morning- Tastebuds are boring. Takoyaki at night- Tastebuds delight!”

Then there’s Udon/Soba/Ramen. I could get into that, but that’s a whole different cup of noodles. Let’s just leave it by saying that Noodles, specifically noodles as pretty as any Noodle dish coming out steaming in a big bowl with vegetables, fried tofu, hot peppers (I see you over there, Pho. Don’t think I’ve forgotten about you)? They’re all effing delicious. Anything so delicious as to inspire the following video has got my bet for food of the century. I’m pretty sure that from the start of this post, it was all a sly lead-up to posting this video, but it makes me giggle to see it every time.

Hey, Jamiroquai’s gotta eat, too. Why not make it Cup Noodle?

Read Smart Cabbage’s blogpost about Roasted Radishes, and make some on your own! They’re delicious!:

(http://smartcabbage.wordpress.com/2010/06/13/radishes/)

While you’re at it, get creative and make some delicious bread! Read all about it on the Handmade blog, where you can learn from his mistakes!:

(http://psoutowood.wordpress.com/2010/06/14/bread-and-the-joys-of-jumping/)

I work at a fish market. This much is clear. What makes my fish market different from many others is that people at my fish market buy the whole fish.

What do I do with a whole fish? I don’t know how to cook it!

Don’t worry. We’ve got that covered. 45 minutes to an hour in the oven. Liberally salt and pepper it, make bread slashes, and a lot of oil on top. It’s great, and now you’re a great cook.

Okay, but a whole fish is too much food.

No it’s not. An average sockeye salmon of 4 pounds feeds a family of four comfortably for two meals.

I’m not going to eat that much fish in two days!

Nobody said you had to. Fortunately, since we are not a grocery store, we get our stuff directly from the source. Guys are out at auction on the shores of Neah Bay picking out king salmon every morning. We’ve got flights coming in overnight from Alaska, where the fish just lands in our laps 18 hours out of the water, and not sitting in some warehouse somewhere. With a fresh fish, you can actually keep it fresh without freezing it for up to a week after it has been taken out of the water. A fish you buy Monday will potentially still be fresh on Saturday, equally if not moreso than a storebought equivalent.

How do I know? Easy. Stocks of Norwegian Farm Raised Salmon came from their farms in Norway with preservatives and loads of extra oils to keep the fish from drying out. After processing, it is packed and chilled for a day or so, and then shipped to the nearest airport by truck. It then goes through customs, maybe gets on a plane that day, and is then shipped out to any number of airports around the world. It is either picked up at the airport and taken to a local fish warehouse, where it is shelved in cold storage for a number of days until it is purchased by a grocery store. After this, it is shipped out the next day, where it will potentially sit for two to three days before putting it on display or selling it. Then, you take it home, cook it, and worry about your health if it is on the verge of turning. If you don’t eat it within a day, and it turns south, you call up your fish shop, and tell them it’s bad. It’s not just bad, it’s old. But how old? By the time a piece of farm raised salmon reaches your plate, it can be out of the water and still exhibiting signs of “freshness” (i.e. not going rancid) for 14 to 21 days. Anyone who tells you that the day-glo orange farm raised salmon was in the water this morning is lying to you.

Okay, Gross. You’ve sold me on your fresh fish. I can realistically eat it twice in a week.

Yes you can. As demonstrated by our little farm raised salmon experiment, fish keeps for a long time. In addition, here are some ways that you can choose to eat it.

1. Sashimi/Poke/Tartare/Carpaccio/Ceviche

It's Me, Carpaccio!

Only the freshest tasting fish is used for these. At least I hope it is. The industry standard in Japan has been to superfreeze their seafood for sushi, dropping the temperature down to -76ºF to completely arrest the decomposition of fresh seafood, enabling the full stoppage of bacterial growth at the fishes’ eutectic point, or the point where the product goes into full thermal arrest.

If you can get superfrozen stuff in the store, fantastic. That is one way to ensure the proper storage and handling of your fish.

The second is by freezing the freshest fish yourself at home. With the monger of choice, pick out the freshest fish possible (Copper River Sockeyes that were just in the water yesterday? Excellent), take it home, and throw it in the freezer for a few hours. For the novice fish cutter, this is an easy way to thinly slice your fish without necessarily having the greatest knives or knife skills.

Poke for Me, and Poke for You.

Third, in addition to the freezing, there’s always little additions to the fish that you can add and still eat the fish at a point where you can still consider it somewhat raw.

Think about Tartare. Carpaccio. Ceviche. All of these, you eat raw. You’ve got a raw egg on top of the tartare, but you also have the addition of mustard. Mustard is comprised of two primary components: Mustard Seed and Vinegar. The vinegar acts as a killer of all things that want to give you a stomachache by promoting the environment high in acidity where bacteria fears to tread.

Carpaccio and Ceviche, same thing. Many times with carpaccio, you can brush it with a quick vinaigrette, which has one, two, or many times three of these great safety features: vinegar, mustard, and lemon juice.  Ceviche is probably the easiest raw seafood product to understand, as it’s only citrus that “cooks” the fish by acidulation. It’s something you can see, and a texture difference you can feel when you eat it, and yet it’s safe to eat. Remarkable.

2. Salmon Salad

So you’ve cooked, stuffed your face because the salmon was so good that you just couldn’t eat another bite. Wait. There’s still more salmon left over? You can make sandwiches with it tomorrow. Take a little piece of salmon, some bread, and cheese, lettuce, tomato, etc. Instant meal.

Either that, or take some mayonnaise, green onions, chopped parsley, salt and pepper, and whip it with flaked salmon (it doesn’t have to look pretty. It’s just like making tuna sandwiches) into a spread. Put it on crackers. Put it on tea sandwiches and have a fancy ladies’ lunch! It’s all good!

3. Cured Salmon

Hey, you. How many times do you go to the store and see those tiny packages of lox, like the little 4 oz. ones, for $10? I’ll tell you. ALL THE TIME. Until this point, did you ever think that for the price of a fresh salmon fillet at approximately $15/lb or less, you could make your own at home in only 24 to 48 hours? That’s roughly half the price! I do this all the time, and it’s the easiest thing in the world. You have salt and sugar at your house, right? Yeah, so do I. Take a ratio of salt to sugar at 4:1, add some fresh cracked pepper, some fresh dill, and put it on top of that extra piece of salmon that you have left over from your dinner that you just couldn’t cook.

Take a lemon, slice it in half. What you should have is a piece of salmon with a thin salt mixture on top, like a crust. Now, squeeze the lemon over top of the mixture until it is moistened, and then put it between two plates. Press down on it and drain a little bit of the liquid out. Anything that’s not touching the fish is not going to flavor it. It’s just going to make a mess.

When you’re done, put it in the fridge. To avoid spillage of any excess liquid from the salmon as it dessicates (that’s what it’s doing; the salt is leeching out all of the moisture as a method of preservation. Drier foods have a lower spoilage rate and longer shelf life than moist ones), wrap the two smushed plates in Saran wrap. On the shelf, put some kind of heavy weight on it. Find a bottle of ketchup, box of salt, or a fireplace brick, and rest it on top of the plate, letting it rest overnight in the fridge.

The next morning, flip it, being careful to drain any excess liquid that may have accumulated. In addition to the salting, the most old school method of preservation, the lemon juice adds the extra punch of killing the surface and subsurface bacteria via acidulation (Remember that?). Let it rest another day and night in the fridge.

When you wake up the next morning, rush to the fridge and open your present. Scrape off all the excess salt, giving it a light rinse underneath the faucet if you wish, and pat it dry. Then, with your knife, slice at a severe angle very delicately towards the thinnest part. You should have very nice strips of lox style cured salmon for more sandwiches and things! Serve them with cucumbers!

Okay, but that still doesn’t address the fact that this fish is whole, and I can’t cut it up. I’d butcher it.

Well, that’s a very good point, but fortunately for you, I’m a professional. I’ll gladly fillet or steak your fish to your specifications for no extra charge. There’s even a sign there that says it. Fortunately for you, this works out to your financial advantage, as purchasing a whole fish at 9.99/lb and having us fillet it for you is a much better deal than purchasing one pound at 14.99/lb. Currently, I average a yield of about 76% on a whole salmon, and if you purchase a whole one, that saves you at least five dollars. It’s like getting another meal for one for free! You can sample out these cool ways of preparing fish with that extra piece. It’s a sweet deal!

Great. Sign me up. I’ll take your finest fish.

Done and Done.

***

All that to get to selling one fish. Here’s a little story about the fish industry that I love to tell. Back in the day, when the Halibut fisheries were becoming more and more popular for Alaskan tourists, fishermen would rent out their boats and charter tours with Cruise ship patrons to go out and catch the big ones, often times offering to fillet the fish for free, pack it up in a box, and send it home with them.  This only helped to fuel the high demand for halibut that we see today in our little shop and across the country. They’d vacuum seal the fillets, freeze them, and ship them out to customers who were willing to pay out the *Ahem* nose for this sort of thing.

What the customers didn’t know was that as they thought they were getting the best of the best, the finest of the finest, the fishermen saved the bones and the head. Nobody knew what to do with it in the lower 48, unless you were of a first or second generation family from an Asian or a Mediterranean country, where you’d save the collars and bones for a soup.

It was the heads that made such an impact. These fishermen were saving the heads and scooping out the flavorful, delicate cheeks, the best part of the fish, for their dinner. The cost of their trip was paid for by the customers willing to pay for gas, use of the boat, and their guiding and filleting expertise. With maybe five or ten decent halibut on board, they could take the cheek meat and eat comfortably with their families for a week for free. Customers had no idea what they were missing.

Now look at them. In restaurants, what do you see as a specialty item on the menu? Cheeks. Veal Cheeks, Beef Cheeks, Pork Cheeks, Halibut Cheeks. Have you ever sat down at Thanksgiving dinner to someone carving a turkey and watched them fully dismantle a bird? If they do a good job, watch carefully. For the expert, there is always one person who will sneak into the kitchen and flip that carcass breastbone down onto the table, and scoop out the “oysters”, those two little pieces of meat along the back. They are moist, flavorful, and nearly every turkey that is eaten in the United States each year is served without regard for these tasty morsels of meat. More often than not, these go in the trash, unless you’re in the know.

***

Why have I told you this story? What does it have to do with our current blog post? Here’s the thing that most people coming through the market don’t understand: Even when I cut their fish, fillet it for them, and send them home with a 76% yield, there’s still a spoonful or two of meat on the carcass of a salmon. Simply by taking a spoon and running it along the backbone, you get long, boneless, beautifully fresh and tender strips of salmon ready for burgers.

How interesting, then, that this week was the first week of Copper River Salmon season.

A little background: Copper River Salmon Season is the first fresh run of the year in Southeast Alaska. Called the Copper River for its rich mineral deposits along the banks, it is a 300 mile long river which is one of the steepest in the world, dropping 3600 feet in altitude (an average of 12 feet per mile) over its course. During the spring, Salmon return to the Copper River to spawn, swimming the journey to lay their eggs at the top of the river, weaving through the Chugach National Forest. The salmon that hatch swim down the river, out to sea, and feast for four years on pristine vegetation in the icy cold waters of the North Pacific. Every year, Mid-Spring, they return to their place of birth, swimming for over 1000 miles, exercising their muscle and becoming lean, mean, tasty machines. For Twelve Hours on the morning of Thursday, May 13th, Twelve more on Monday, May 19th, and Twelve more today, the mouth of the Copper River, a 5 mile wide delta just outside of Cordova, Alaska, is netted, and these fish are the first, freshest, and most highly prized salmon that we’ll see in stores all year. Twelve hours at a time, those waters supply the salmon that will feed a hungry mass of customers on the West Coast who have been feverishly awaiting a fresh Alaskan Salmon since November.

courtesy ronniebrugge.com

Chugach Yerself a Happy Little Tree

And boy does the price reflect it.

Copper River King Salmon prices started at $39.99/lb for the whole fish this year. Sockeyes came in at $29.99/lb on the first opening. In my opinion, this reflects both quality and demand. At the mouth of the Copper River, there are an average of 5 sockeye for every king salmon. As the season progresses and the boats are allowed to go further upstream, this ratio drops to about 3:1. Still, what prices indeed!

There are those people who’ve gotta have them. You can see it. They’ve been calling for weeks, asking about it. “When’s Copper River start?”

“When’s the Copper River Season?”

“Got the Copper River yet?”

And we say “Not for another month,” or “Not for another week.”

This week, I told people all about it. I told them exactly what I’ve told you. And they bought the fish. I’d make some joke about how they bought it, hook, line, and sinker, but it’s all true. It’s some of the best tasting salmon you’ll find, and as the fish are flown overnight (They are fishing right now. 18 hours from now, those fish will be netted, harvested, gutted, boxed, and shipped overnight to my store. 24 hours from now, they will be in someone’s possession for dinner), you can’t possibly find anything fresher.

And now that people are buying it, what of the bones? At the first sign of Copper River arrivals, all the employees who had been in the business showed up prepared.

What's that you've got there, Amelie?

So we get to scraping the bones. After a busy Sunday, it sounded like three guys playing muted washboards. Now we know why that thing that they guy plays in Santana looks like a fish. If you scrape the bones, it makes exactly the same sound.

And it’s all free. It’s all, amazingly, what people would, and do, normally throw out. Why would they do such a thing. Out of each salmon, with the right mixture, you have enough salmon trim for at least one, if not two salmon burgers.

Sunday was rocking. I have six pounds of salmon meat. I am going to make the finest effing salmon burgers this great nation has ever seen.

Here’s what you need:

Raw salmon meat, about a pound or two.

1 red onion, finely chopped

3 cloves of garlic, minced

green onions, finely chopped

peppers, red and yellow, finely chopped

parsley, finely chopped

1 jalapeno, minced

Salt

Pepper

Oil

Japanese Breadcrumbs

Fresh Dill, finely chopped

Take your salmon. Make sure it’s pretty mushy-like, enough that you can squeeze it through your fingers if you try. If not, run a knife through it a couple of times to make it so.

Put it in a bowl, and add all the other ingredients, save the Breadcrumbs and the Oil.

Mix them up. The salt and pepper can be seasoned liberally into the meat mix.

Sprinkle enough breadcrumbs over top of the mixture so that you can only see flecks of orange through the top. Mix it in, incorporating by hand. (Get your hands dirty. I do it all day, and it enables me to not take myself so seriously. I mean, I smell like fish all day. How serious can I get?)

Does it need more breadcrumbs? Is it too wet? Let it set in the fridge for half an hour. Then try to make patties or large meatballs with it. about the size of a tennis ball should be good for one meal. It’s about five or six ounces.

Is it not sticking together? Add a little bit of oil and let it sit again for 30 minutes. Try it again.

Here’s a note: I normally don’t care about chopping things so precisely, as I want it to taste good and don’t particularly care if it looks good. With that being said, if you chop everything into really small pieces, it will be easier for you to patty things up. If not, they’ll fall apart on the grill and you might look foolish. As I said, I have six pounds of this stuff, and although I’ve probably made over 10,000 pounds of salmon burgers over the years, I still run the risk myself of messing up every time. With six pounds, I run the risk of looking foolish in front of however many people six pounds of salmon meat may feed. (It’s about thirty) Take it from me- Chop them up fine, and that’s one less hassle you’ll have to deal with later.

SOAPBOX OF THE DAY:

Contrary to what many people may believe, Alaska’s greatest contribution to the United States is its natural resources, and at the top of the list is salmon. So often, we tend to forget. With the recent spill of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, it is easy for us to see the immediate destruction on the way of life of so many people who are affected by a terrible disaster. Often times, it is Nature at its cruelest, with the ravages of Hurricanes uprooting oyster beds and effectively decimating entire populations of indigenous species of plants and animals. The government is subsidizing many fishing operations in that area who have been affected, and this week I’ve talked to some of them. More than the immediate effects, the lasting damage done to hardworking people whose lives depend on the bounty of the sea is irreparable.

Twenty one years ago, there was an oil spill that we all remember- The Exxon Valdez. This year marks the first year that populations of Alaskan Spot Prawns are large enough and clean enough to harvest out of those waters. It is a test fishery, but slowly, the numbers are coming back, and they have been approved to fish in a limited run.

Bristol Bay is Alaska’s largest run of Sockeye Salmon. 99% of all fish caught in Bristol Bay are sockeye, and if you’ve ever eaten it, you know just how delicious it can be. If it was Alaskan, chances are pretty good that your fish came from Bristol Bay or someplace pretty close. It is Alaska’s most important source of income generating natural real estate, but it is being threatened.

Progress, in Alaska, means generating new sources of revenue. In addition to Tourism, Ice, and Fish, the other big industries up there are gold and oil . The progress that Big Oil has made in Alaska may be far more largescale than we are equipped to deal with, but for the mining of other natural resources surrounding Bristol Bay, it is equally, if not more, perilous.

From the Bristol Bay Alliance website:

Despite its abysmal environmental record and the fact that it is the single largest source of toxic releases in the U.S., the hardrock mining industry is subject to some of the weakest, most outdated regulations of any major industry in North America. In a 2004 report Alaska Community Action on Toxics declared the mining industry “Alaska’s largest toxic threat.”

Those who live, work, and attempt to prosper if not simply survive, want us to know that we do have a choice, and they are hoping to gain more of a voice in the freedom to continue to promote all of the renewable resources their state has to offer.

The Bristol Bay Alliance is a group of fishermen, business owners and local citizens working to help ensure that the people who live, work, and play in the Bristol Bay region have the most influential voice of any group regarding the future of our land and waters. (They) will educate people on the potential dangers and consequences of open pit mining in an area that depends heavily on clean water, healthy spawning grounds, and pristine habitat.

As with fishermen and women in the Gulf, their livelihoods are at stake due to the hubris of the mining industry, but this time it’s both Oil and Gold. What we can do to ensure the success of the fishing industry up there, and give hope and promise to the stocks of salmon that are our most precious resource coming out of Alaska?

Vote with your mouth. Eat Wild Alaskan Sockeye. Any place you see it. If there’s a restaurant that is serving it, what they can do, and what you can tell them about is the Alliance. It is a partnership with restaurants that provide signage, facts, and information to the public about their plight, and encourages them to show their support with their forks. There will be a time, maybe not this year, when we exhaust our open pit mines full of gold. Fish is a sustainable and renewable resource that circulates year after year. We owe it to protect the population for generations to come. Help save the species, save the environment, and save the jobs of those whose lives depend on commercial and subsistence fishing out of Alaska.

Please visit the Bristol Bay Alliance website, read it over, and donate your time and energy to helping out a cause that is timely and worthy of saving. Yes, they need money, but by showing your support with your palate, it proves that the value of Sustainable Wild Alaskan Salmon is far greater year after year than a fully exhaustable and finite supply of mineral deposits.

Bristol Bay Alliance: http://www.bristolbayalliance.com/index.htm

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