Sunday, January 27, 2013

Wild Sockeye and a Recipe for Gravlox

*This article appeared in print a couple weeks ago for the Citizen Times. I have been fortunate enough to dine on Heidi and Steve's wild caught sockeye for a few years now, and relish the opportunity to write about it. Check out the recipe for homemade gravlox following the story.* 

For most people, summertime is filled with relaxing beach vacations and sips of lemonade in the shade. But for Heidi Dunlap and Steve Maher of Asheville’s Wild Salmon Co., it’s the busiest time of year, when millions of wild sockeye salmon return to Bristol Bay, Alaska, to spawn.
Bristol Bay has been a biologist-monitored fishery since 1940. There, a fixed number of fishing licenses are allotted to secure the health of future salmon populations and prevent over-fishing.
Dunlap began fishing there at age 6, receiving one of the limited licenses as a gift from her fisherman father at 16. She’s been traveling from her home in Asheville to fish Bristol Bay waters ever since. She and her partner Steve have not missed a season in 19 years.
Though it would be tempting to fantasize about life as a professional fisher, this career is nothing short of burly. The hours are long, and conditions are often dangerous and far from glamorous.
Catching the fish is not the end of the journey either. Preserving the catch is a tedious, time-sensitive task.
Despite this, I have never run across such beautifully packaged sockeye — deep red fillets nestled in pairs, expertly sealed and ready for the table. Taking well to marinades or applewood smoke, or unseasoned on its own, each bite of their wild sockeye is sheer pleasure.
My Uncle John, a geologist and global climate-change expert (and also an avid fly fisherman), has spent generous time all over the world catching and eating fresh fish. We served sockeye from The Wild Salmon Co. during his stay and received his educated approval.
In contrast, farm-raised salmon, with its artificially colored flesh and unnatural marbling, is a decoy for the gastronomic experience salmon was intended to be. Wild salmon has the benefit of tasting wild: firm fleshed from a life lived with vigor, deeply hued and kissed by the cold, briny water it was pulled from.
Salmon aquaculture pales greatly in comparison, while putting wild populations at risk, introducing disease and chemicals to fragile ecosystems.Whether it’s eating responsibly or simply a matter of taste, Heidi and Steve keep their clientele from choosing between the two. With their help, those on dry land receive the opportunity to partake in a tradition as old as time, and to fully understand why it’s worth going wild.


1 lb. center-cut sockeye fillet.
1 1/2 tablespoon sea salt
1 heaping tablespoon sugar
Fresh-ground pepper
1 tablespoon of dry gin or tequila (optional)
Fresh dill sprigs
Place thawed salmon fillet, flesh side up, in the center of a large piece of plastic wrap. Mix salt, sugar, black pepper and tequila together a small bowl. Rub evenly into salmon. Top with dill.
Wrap the salmon tightly in the plastic wrap. Wrap filet again with a second sheet of plastic wrap.
Place wrapped and seasoned fillet on a plate, then place another plate on top and weight with two cans. Place in refrigerator. Flip every 12 hours and cure for 2-3 days.
Remove fillet from wrapping, discard dill and rinse entire fillet. Pat dry with paper towels.
Slice the gravlax thinly with very sharp knife with the grain of the belly. Serve with crostini (toasted french bread), cream cheese and fresh dill.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Leg of Lamb with Apricots and Rosemary

Just now getting around to posting this, which would have been a clever idea pre-holidays, but it was a whirlwind this year with the blessing of visiting family while also recovering from a nasty bout of bronchitis.
The good news is, leg of lamb is actually super simple, makes excellent leftovers, and can stand in on any weekend or weeknight as a memorable meal. The following article accompanied this recipe specially written for the Asheville Citizen Times. They have been generous to publish my ramblings on food and the memories which ultimately tag along for the ride.
May your new year be filled with such moments, gathered around your table with pleasant fare before you, and most importantly, with peace and contentment in your hearts! Happy New Year!

Beef: It’s what’s for dinner. Sound familiar? More importantly, taste familiar?

While I rank a grass-fed burger among some of the better pleasures in life, I adore lamb. Not only has lamb dodged a government-funded slogan, demanding attention without a campaign, it takes mealtime to greater heights without any more effort than ordinary chicken or beef.
Although many cultures enjoy lamb on a daily basis, skewered and rubbed with spices or roasted in earthen ovens and served as street food, it remains on the fringe of public discovery here in the United States — though it sometimes makes an appearance during holidays and special occasions.
It’s partially a matter of geography: Countries with less land devoted to large-scale cattle ranching benefit from lamb’s lighter agricultural footprint. But here in the U.S., beef is king.
Regardless, meatloaf is strictly of the lamb variety at our house, as is stew. Until I became acquainted with East Fork Farm and its beautifully raised lamb, that wasn’t always the case. Since visiting the farm and acquiring a taste for the earthy, fragrant meat, lamb has become a staple in my kitchen.
My grandfather, Dr. Cort, a prestigious yet down-to-earth man who never wasted words, maintained a few strict traditions. In his Florida home, where he graciously hosted our family’s holiday gatherings, bloody Marys were mixed with militant execution, by him and only him, to our numerous (and thirsty) crowd. Grapefruit halves were served each morning, carefully sectioned and drizzled with honey.
And Christmas supper was always leg of lamb with mint jelly.
In the naivety of my youth, I often refused my serving of lamb, too intimidated by the unfamiliarity of the dish. As an adult, I look back on those Christmas dinners with a new appreciation.
My grandfather was not only providing his family with nourishment, but between the tender bites of roasted lamb, he was creating an invisible yoke around each of us, tethering our lives together in the name of tradition.His leg of lamb was a symbol of the legacy he left behind.
Although my extended family has not gathered the way we once did when he was still alive, of all the gifts I’ve received over the years, I remember none of them better than his.

Here’s my adaptation of the classic leg of lamb, updated with apricots and fresh herbs.

Roasted leg of lamb with apricots and rosemary
1 leg of lamb or lamb shoulder
kosher salt
black pepper
2-3 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
1 onion, cut in half and sliced lengthwise
1 cup dried apricots
3/4 cup water or dry red wine
Preheat oven to 450. Line a 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish with parchment.
Rinse lamb, and pat dry with paper towels. Place in baking dish. Season on all sides with salt and black pepper. Rub with rosemary. Add onion and apricots to baking dish, surrounding the lamb. Add water or wine. Bake for 15 minutes then reduce heat to 350. Roast until a meat thermometer reads approximately 140 degrees, about 1 1/2 hours. (Roasting times will vary depending on the thickness of the lamb.)
Transfer to a serving platter. Allow to rest for 15 minutes before carving. Spoon apricots and onions over lamb, and serve.