Go Forth and Forage

Kirk Lombard gives a free book talk and answers questions on sustainable harvesting at Monterey Bay Aquarium Auditorium 6pm Thursday, Jan. 12 (648-4851).

The way organizers put it: "Learn about all the overlooked delicacies just waiting to be sustainably hooked and harvested at your local beach…and if the spirit moves him you may find yourself singing along to a sea shanty or two!"

Lombard's the author of The Sea Forager’s Guide to the Northern California Coast.

If you were expecting a tutorial on how to seek out and prepare seaweeds, this isn't your book.

He does spend some time on the abundant West Coast kelps and sea lettuces, as demonstrated by this passage in the latter third of the book.

It's about drying seaweeds like wakame, bullwhip kelp (bull kelp), kombu, giant kelp, rockweed (fucus), turkish towel, turkish washcloth, nori (laver) and sea lettuce (green laver).

These seaweeds (with the exception of the bullwhip kelp stipes used for pickles) can be eaten raw as fresh snacks, or dried and later rehydrated.

The main challenges to drying seaweeds are humidity and wind.

If you don’t have a backyard, it is possible to dry out your seaweeds in an oven, as long as the temperature is extremely low.

A clothes drier can also work in a pinch.

But be forewarned: Seaweeds like nori and sea lettuce are very thin and are therefore prone to burning.

The simplest way to dry your seaweed is by hanging it on a clothesline. This is particularly true in the case of the longer seaweeds.

Dried seaweeds left exposed to damp, moist, or foggy air will rehydrate and become potentially vulnerable to mold, but if you see a dry white powder on your seaweed, don’t freak out: It may just be surface sugars and salts. The easiest way to tell? Taste it.

NPR describes the book as an exploration of the "art, science, ethics and wisdom of fishing for your next meal in the ocean.

"Through wit, poetry and anecdotes, Lombard makes the case that the sincerest stewards of wild sea creatures are often those who intend to have them for dinner."

In other words, smaller fish and lower members of the food chain: herring, anchovy, mackerel, mussels.

To that end he includes recipes, often inspired by his collaborator and partner on coastal adventures, his wife Camilla.

Lombard endorses using the entire fish—not just the fillets but the fatty collars, carcasses and heads—for flavor and guilt minimization.

Two of my favorite recipes appear here:

The Fishwife’s Coconut Salmon Soup

(Can be made by Fish Husband while Fishwife relaxes after a long day at work.)

3 stalks celery, chopped

1 onion, diced

1 Tbsp chopped ginger

1 Tbsp cooking oil

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

1 box (3 cups) chicken broth

1 can coconut milk

3 Tbsp soy sauce

1 salmon carcass, including attached meat

2 Tbsp chopped Thai basil

2 Tbsp chopped cilantro

1⁄2 teaspoon Sriracha hot sauce, or more if desired

Sauté celery, onion, and ginger in cooking oil for 5 minutes. Add sweet potatoes, sauté for 5 minutes more, then add broth, coconut milk, and soy sauce.

When the sweet potatoes are cooked, add the salmon carcass and simmer until cooked through. Turn off the heat, remove any remaing bones, throw in chopped herbs, ladle into bowls, and add Sriracha to taste. Easy and delicious!

And for those more experimental types, my friend, employee, and fishing buddy Brian Haller offers the following tidbit on the French cooking technique known as sous vide... which is considered by many to be the absolute perfect way to cook fish. Here’s Brian:

Sous-vide cooking (French for “under vacuum”) is a revolutionary cooking technology. Invented in France in the 1970s, but popularized in the early 2000s alongside the molecular gastronomy movement, the method works by submerging food in vacuum-sealed bags into a temperature-controlled water bath. The cooking process is utterly simple.

Step 1: The temperature of the water bath is set to the desired final temperature of the food.

Step 2: The vacuum-sealed food is submerged and allowed to slowly reach the same temperature as the surrounding water bath. For salmon, cooking times are usually between twenty and forty minutes, but the variable of time is never critical.

Since the food can only ever get as hot as its surrounding water bath, perfect cooking is guaranteed! Sous-vide cooking is very accessible to the home cook but it does require some specialized equipment. You will need an immersion circulator: a device that regulates the temperature of the water bath. It both precisely heats the water and circulates it around the pot, ensuring an even temperature throughout the bath. At the time of this writing, budget immersion circulators sell for around two hundred dollars. A vacuum-sealing machine is helpful but not entirely necessary. A sufficient vacuum can be created by carefully removing as much air as possible from food placed in an ordinary plastic freezer bag.

•••

Drunken Mussels with Fennel and Lemon à la Fishwife

2 lbs mussels

2 bottles light Belgian-style ale (such as Leffe or Duvel)

2 Tbsp butter

1⁄2 medium onion, sliced

1⁄2 medium fennel bulb, cored and sliced

1⁄2 cup heavy cream

2 tsp lemon zest

1⁄2 tsp chopped Italian parsley, if you have it (for color)

Crusty bread to mop up the goodness

First, scrub and “debeard” the mussel shells by scrubbing and tugging the beard off (pull it away from the opening). Then, open a beer for the chef and pull out a big cast-iron skillet, Le Creuset, or any heavy pot with a lid.

Melt your butter until foamy on medium heat, then toss in your onion and fennel. Cook about 5 minutes, adding salt and pepper to taste.

Open another beer, add it to your pot, and bring to a boisterous boil. You may want to start warming your bread in a low oven at this point.

Add the mussels and lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Shake the pan from time to time—it’s fun.

At this point, your mussels should be opening. When they’re open, take tongs or a slotted spoon and put them into two largeserving bowls to hang out while you make your sauce. Note: If they are not open at this point, discard them.

Add the cream and lemon zest to your pot and simmer, stirring here and there for a few minutes until it thickens. Taste, adding salt and pepper if it needs it.

Pour your creamy mussel magic sauce over the mussels in the bowls, and break out the bread and another beer. Cheers!

Gabriela Joseph contributed to this report.

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(1) comment

Susan Diane

How interesting. I would have loved to hear that talk. Just moved here this week so I'll keep an eye on Monterey County Weekly!

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