Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Raw and the Cooked (apologies to Jim Harrison)

Last night after dinner I decided to do a food/cooking post. I made salmon patty and salad, and it was good. I'm not a gourmet cook by any stretch, but I like to cook, and enjoy good food. I can't account for this; growing up I was neither exposed to good food/cooking or adventurous eating. My mother was an indifferent cook at best, the standard meal I remember was hamburger or liver fried, boiled potatoes and canned vegetables. Her method of cooking any meat was to fry it until it was reduced in size by half. My first year at university I ate dorm food, and thought it great.

It wasn't until my late 20's that I started cooking passable food, and for some time followed my mother's example of overcooking what would have been good food. My time in the military and living in Japan helped, I was exposed to Vietnamese and Japanese food, and first had sushi.  Living in Alaska in the 70's helped, having access to freshly-caught King and Red salmon and halibut. And, oddly, this is where I first had good wine.

In a previous post I mentioned 'happy hour' in the ICU at Anchorage Community Hospital. Every Friday we would get wine and cheese from Madeline's Wine Shop, and Madeline would pick the wine. Prior to this, my wine exposure was limited to Mad Dog 20/20 for camping trips (high alcohol content for volume), and Tavola Red or Boone's Farm.

I 'cut my teeth' on Madeline's wines: 1970-71 French Burgundy...Grand Cru Pommard, Bonne Mares, Echeczeaux, Rhone wines like Hermitage, etc. The downside to this is when I had developed a taste for these delightful wines, I later had to pay for them. A few years later in grad school, I lived in Sonoma County and sampled the big reds of that bucolic area. This was also when I started sampling the food of the area: Italian and Chinese, San Francisco had it all. Abalone was readily available and cheap, and the Sand Dabs at the fabled North Beach Restaurant were fantastic. My friend David and I had a house in Sebastopol, he tended our large garden, and we cooked.

Neither of us were of a disposition to follow recipes, and my ad-hoc style of cooking developed. So if I were to write a recipe for last night's salmon pattys, it might look like this:

A nice large Salmon Fillet, cut up into smallish pieces
A bunch of green onions, also chopped fairly fine
A couple garlic cloves, crushed up
A bit of mayo and good mustard
Some bread crumbs, panko if available
A sprinkle of salt and pepper, fresh parsley is ok too

Combine ingredients in a bowl, shape into pattys

Saute (ok, fry) in a big pan with olive oil till nicely brown on both sides, roughly 4 or 5 mins on each side on medium to high heat.

Serve on a nice salad.

I'm now limited somewhat in what I cook, due to where I live. Butte has no good seafood markets; the closest is Bozeman, some 75 miles away. We're luckier with meat, there is a good butcher only a couple miles away. In the summer we have the Farmer's Market every Saturday for 4 months, and for that short period some great, fresh vegetables and fruit are available. Other than that, it's pretty standard supermarket fare. One of them has a fish counter, and occasionally has a decent selection. In the Spring, Summer and Fall of course there is fresh trout from the streams and lakes, but frankly I find trout a bit bland. Nice once in a while, but I want Grouper, Monkfish, Smelt and Flounder. And rabbit. Rabbit is fantastic.....a saddle of rabbit, slow cooked in a burgundy, mushroom and garlic stock. Sigh. When I lived in Germany a few years ago, rabbit was available in the markets, as was a hundred different kinds of wurst. And don't get me started on bread. Good, fresh, crusty bread. The one good bakery in Butte is long gone, and in Germany there were 6 bakeries within walking distance, each with different 'brot' every day.

I almost forgot duck. Another post perhaps.


  1. Looks good, Mike--thought they were crab cakes at first glance. Looks like no fishing again this week? Geez, what a "spring."

  2. Oh yeah, meant to say that to me "The Raw & the Cooked" is the classic text on cultural anthropology by Claude Levi-Straus.

  3. The 'spring' might be my fault: Thursday (remember? 55 degrees...?)I replaced my 12 year old wading boots, put studs on the soles, etc. Friday I woke up to the new snow. Shoulda waited...

  4. I'm getting hungry just reading this!

  5. Those salmon patties look delicious. I grew up eating salmon patties, but not like you make them. My mom used canned salmon (I got to eat the bones - loved the crunch), but her recipe was very similar to yours. However, I'd bet almost anything that yours are a far sight better than hers!

    (An aside: one of my favorite cookbooks is from the early part of the 1900s, the Times-Picayune Creole Cookbook - a treasure. One evening, when my grandson was around 8 or 9 years old, I was preparing fish cakes using the TPCC recipe, which they call fish balls. Their recipe refers to a nice trout or other sweet fish, prepared in a court bullion. [I had leftover broiled pollack.] Grandson moseyed into the kitchen and asked what I was cooking. I told him, "Fish balls." He thought hard on that for about a minute, then said, "I didn't know fish had those."

    They've been fish cakes ever since.)

  6. I remember the ICU post! Looking forward to the duck recipe too~

  7. Looking forward to that duck post. Maybe fish the Jeff Thursday? Leave town c. 2 if the weather's as good as predicted. I'm very hungry for trout.

  8. The food in this photo looks amazing, I am literally getting hungry right now... Expecting the duck recipe ....