"...the largely urban-suburban vision of nature as a beautiful, peaceful refuge from the stresses and conflicts of civilization, is in fundamental conflict with the rural or less "civilized" perception of nature as a provider of sustenance and wealth. Therin lies the great irony: it is the cities that suck food, energy, and resources from the landscape, yet there is a long and tragic history of industrial and agricultural peoples persecuting "savage" outsiders (in the most literal sense of the word) who hunt and gather."- David Arora
I realized yesterday that wild food had been at my table every day for the last week! Rabbit stew was chased by crab and fish ramen, followed by Cambodian-style clams, followed by clam chowder, followed by Chinese-style rockfish and finally wild mushroom risotto with venison chops! There are those who see what hunter-gatherers do as uncivilized and barbaric... a sort of sadistic aggression on a natural world of peace and harmony. These are usually (though not always) the people who will happily cast the first stone towards a mushroom forager, angler, or hunter and then discuss their disgust over Chilean sea bass and European Chardonnay. I am sure I am preaching to the choir here, but the vinyard that made that wine necessarily displaced and/or irradicated all of the wildlife that once resided in that fallow land, the carbon footfrint of importing that wine and fish is astounding, and Chilean seabass is hardly a sustainable fishery. Wouldn't you rather go gather local, abundant, sustainable, and seasonally available wild foods to provide a unique culinary experience (and relationship with your food) that cuts out the industrial middlemen? Hey, wine is great...no argument there, I would not pass up a Bordeaux from Bordeaux (even knowing that any agricultual product necessarily impacts wildlife) but as far as our food is concerned, let's get out and gather in an ethical and yet fantastically fun way just a little more than "normal"! OK, my rant is over. And so it was that Diane and I made our way to the far shores by kayak!
We were mostly shooting footage for the new Youtube channel (launching as soon as we get the last couple of shots and edits in) so we didn't take too many pictures. However, two seaside nights crabbing, clamming, and cooking was one heck of a good time!
*Remember to always call the biotoxin information line before harvesting to know when and where shellfish (clams, mussels, and crab) are safe to eat (In CA that number is 800 553-4133). After some very productive clamming, we grabbed a few bay mussels and cooked up a simple little appetizer.
Then we got the ramen going in the wok.
The blend of rock crab, clams, and rockfish fillets added some incredible flavor to the soup and warmed our bones after a day of digging in the cold mud and sand... made colder when I had to wade out pants-less into the water to help a fisherman push his boat off of a sandbar after he ran aground. Even though I have been seaside camping since I was a young boy, so I know to position the tent far from the water's edge and on higher ground, the highest ground we could find was only a foot or so higher than the surrounding shore. By the next morning at peak high tide, the water was less than two feet from the foot of our tent!
It had crept around us and came in from behind rather than from the ocean side. Luckily, we were just an inch too high for the water to reach us. Next time we will place the tent on the iceplant to gain another inch...though either way that water was too close for comfort! If it had been open ocean rather than a secluded and calm bay there is no way we would have camped so low as we would have surely awoke to deal with a very wet and cold night! Remember when setting up camp at low tide to at least be a few meters away from seagrass and driftwood lines on the sand that indicate the extent of a peak high tide!
After firing up the hobo stove and making some cowboy coffee, we paddled back to "civilization" and left our pirate cove until next time. The Cambodian style clams were absolutely fantastic and the chowder was incredible!
Well, we finally got a solid rain! And you know what that means fungi fanatics! Keep the old ways alive!
I had the good fortune of leading a little wild foods walk the other day. It was a great group of folks and even with a persistent wind, turned out to be a phenomenal day!
We searched the woods high and low making sure to be extra quiet to not scare off the illusive wild mushrooms and greens! Within two hours we had located and gathered up a ton of delicious oyster mushrooms...and even saw a bald eagle and a golden eagle!
We paired the mushrooms with wild greens and sauteed them up in butter! The mushroom-herb medley was served over crostini while we also enjoyed wild caught and home-smoked salmon and some black walnuts we gathered along the trail!
All in all it was a heck of a good time! Looking forward to the Coastal Wild Foods Walk I will be offering in January! Keep the Old Ways Alive! Photos: Oliver and Justina
"I'm running down a dream." - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
After picking up my permit and a map, I got out to the obsidian quarry with Diane. We met a really nice old timer named Ron on one of the dirt roads who offered to drive us back down the mountain with our hundred pounds of stone (I had to leave my car at the base of the 4wd rocky road and we packed in...but packing out with that much rock would have been hell). (check out Ron's photography at Ron@RonaldSaunders.com) he is truly talented! I led a few flintknapping workshops, a bone tool production workshop and an ethnobotanical workshop over the last couple of weeks as well.
The students had a great time and learned a lot in the process! Diane and I also gathered up some gray pine (Pinus sabiniana) cones to process for pine nuts the other day. They were loaded!
We have yet to use the nuts to make some homemade pesto pasta (a seasonal favorite of mine), but once we do I will be sure to share some pictures! Martijn and I headed out to our secret local spot the other day for some bushcraft as well. We set up a shelter constructed with all stone tools and thatching of mule fat and lashing of cattail cordage.
Oh yeah, Then I took my girl out on the canoe and we both slammed a nice bass to bring home for dinner! It was her first legal bass ever! The beer battered tacos were a big hit!
It's been a fun few weeks! Anyways, it is raining so I am going to go hunting now! Keep the old ways alive!
Before beginning this post I have to say that I grew up in Sonoma County, where wildfires have already burned hundreds of homes to the ground (including some that belong to great friends). If there is anything any of my readers can donate to the cause I know it would mean a lot to those who have been displaced. I have heard that people are in need of everything from blankets and cloths, to diapers, and non-perishable food. There are a number of charities and organizations in Sonoma, Napa, and Lake Counties currently taking donations. Please give a little if you can. Thank you!
Also, before getting into today's post (a step-by-step tutorial on cutting large fish into professional looking steaks at home), let me clearly state that other than select pelagic species, fish, especially salmon, are not safe to eat raw unless frozen to -4 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 degrees C) for a week. This is much colder than most household freezers go. If the fish is not frozen to this temperature for the duration stated above you are risking some seriously bad parasites that can not even be seen in the meat. Additionally salmon spinal fluid contains a toxin that is not harmful to humans but can kill dogs. So please do not feed your dogs bone-in salmon! The butchering technique outlined below is one that my brother and I learned from the locals and applied to some tropical barracuda we speared in Cozumel, Mexico about 12 years ago. My girlfriend and I got out again and again trying to land river run salmon over the past couple of weeks. While I had some momentary hook ups, we were unable to bring a fish to shore. However, our new buddy Allen (who has fished the spot we were at for the last 15-20 years) was landing fish like it was going out of style! So, in Allen's truly selfless style, he gave us two whole fish! It was then that I searched the recesses of my brain, pushing aside dirty jokes, anthropological theory, quotes from childhood skate videos and other useless information to access a fish processing method I had not practiced in years. This is how to "steak out" a large fish.
Step I: Begin by locating the gill plate right behind the pectoral fin just as you would for making the initial cuts for filleting. Place a sturdy filleting knife (this one my brother brought back from spearfishing in South Africa) or cleaver perpendicular to the body of the fish and make a cut stopping at the backbone.
Step II: Next, you will need to give a firm hit or two to the back of your knife blade with a wooden stick, rolling pin, or some other wooden object (*avoid hitting the knife with harder objects to keep from damaging the knife).
Step III: Once through the backbone, continue slicing with the knife until the head is detached. Set the head aside but do not discard it! There is still a ton of good meat on there and we will get to that at the end!
Step IV: Decide whether you want thick or thin steaks and place your knife accordingly on the fish and slice again down to the spine. I usually make salmon steaks about one inch thick.
Step V: Strike the back of the blade again with the wooden billet to sever the backbone and then continue slicing down to the cutting board to free the first steak.
Step VI: Continue with this process until you feel that the steaks are getting a bit small. Then switch over and follow step VII to fillet the tail.
Step VII: Place the knife just above the spine and start your initial cut towards the tail. *Be VERY careful here as you are cutting towards your hand! After about an inch or so, you will switch your grip on the fish to be sure that if the knife slips you will not cut a finger.
Step VIII: Switch your grip on the fish as shown below to keep your fingers out of the way as you fillet. Keep in mind your blade should be just bumping the top of the spine as you cut.
Step IX: Continue through to sever the skin and free the first fillet keeping you anchor hand out of the path of the knife as shown above. Keeping the skin on the fillet is great for grilling, smoking, or freezing. If you want to see how to take the fillet off of the skin, search my blog for "How to fillet a fish." The resulting tail fillet pictured here is 100% boneless.
Step X: Repeat filleting on the other side of the fish. Do not discard the backbone as there is a lot of meat on there. Instead give the tail a cut with the knife and billet method to remove the tail fin, and set the backbone aside.
Step XI: Now lets remove the collar from the head. The fish's collar is one of my all time favorite parts. However, this part of the fish largely goes unused by western anglers... and I do not know why! Fish collar is fantastic when grilled, broiled or smoked. It is fatty, meaty, and incredibly flavorful! Start by severing the last connections under the chin. Then use the billet and knife system again, just behind the gill plate to free the collar. Pectoral fins may also be removed from the collar in this way.
As we retained the head for a Korean fish head soup, the only waste out of this whole fish is pictured below!
Step XII: Rinse your fillets in salt water to keep bacteria down and vacuum seal and refrigerate or freeze. Now use the fish head and remaining backbone for an incredible fish head soup! I will post a link to the recipe once it is published.