A Feast for the New Year with Smoked Salmon

A forager's New Year's feast, course by course

January is a perfect chance for the Northwest forager to hang up boots and basket for a brief spell—and camp out in the kitchen. I like to inaugurate this indoor time with a New Year’s feast, one that commemorates the past 12 months by using some of my favorite ingredients gathered during the year. Bon appetit!

Appetizer: Smoked salmon

Smoked salmon appetizer
This was a good year to put up quantities of smoked salmon caught right inside the Seattle city limits (see recipe at seattlemag.com/smokedsalmon). Pink salmon, which return to our rivers during odd-numbered years, came back in force this past summer, providing good fishing on local beaches from mid-July into September. I brine the fish overnight in a mixture of salt and brown sugar, and then smoke them for a couple of hours over a cherry wood fire. Each fillet is then vacuum-packed and frozen for use throughout the rest of the year.

First course: Steamed clams
Manila clams are available year-round on many Puget Sound beaches, and you don’t need a super low tide to harvest them. The clams are near the surface and easily excavated by kids (take the whole family and increase your legal limit). A clamming excursion over the holiday break might be just the ticket if El Niño wreaks havoc on the ski slopes.

Second course: Bay scallops tossed with chanterelles, sherry and parsley breadcrumbs
This is a festive recipe from Los Angeles chef Suzanne Goin. As with smoked salmon, I have a supply of frozen chanterelles to last me through the year. Some wild mushrooms, such as porcini and morels, are good candidates for the dehydrator, while chanterelles are better put up frozen. I sauté and vacuum-seal them, and they’re almost as good as fresh. Combine chanterelles with seafood, and the umami is off the charts.

Third course: Tournedos of beef with morel gravy
As mentioned, morels are excellent dried and then rehydrated. Because they flourish in the aftermath of fire, expect the large harvests of recent years to continue in this age of climate change. Although morels are highly perishable when fresh, they’re easily dried for future use. I have Mason jars of dried morels dating back several years, like wine vintages, and they only get better—and earthier—with age. Morel gravy is easy: The rehydrated morels make a wonderful stock that can be combined with wine, shallots, beef stock and cream, and then reduced to your liking.

Dessert: Huckleberry cobbler
This past year’s summer drought was hard on the huckleberry crop, making a cobbler, pie or crisp all the more dear. Such a dessert is quick and classic, and no dinner guest in their right mind would ever complain about a lack of chocolate when Northwest huckleberries grace the table.

Digestif: Herb-infused vodka
As the clock ticks down to ring in the new year, it’s time to break out the Stoli I’ve infused with Douglas fir tips. Chilled in the freezer, this vodka, goosed with vernal growth, boasts an ethereal green hue and tastes deeply of the woods. It speaks to foraging adventures remembered and those yet to come. I’ll drink to that.

Recipe for Morel Sauce

2 tablespoons butter

1 shallot, diced

1 - 2 oz dried morels

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 cup veal or beef stock

1/2 cup or more heavy cream

1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Reconstitute dried morels in a bowl with 1 cup warm water for 20 minutes. Pat rehydrated morels dry and slice in half; strain and reserve liquid as stock. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, sauté shallot in butter for a minute or two, then add morels and cook for 5 minutes. Deglaze with white wine. Reduce heat and slowly add beef stock, morel stock, and cream. Stir in seasonings. Simmer until desired thickness, a few minutes at a minimum. A teaspoon of cornstarch can hasten the thickening process if necessary.

From Fat of the Land, by Langdon Cook