OPB’s “Superabundant” explores the stories behind the foods of the Pacific Northwest with videos, articles and this weekly newsletter. To keep you sated between episodes, we’ve brought on food writer Heather Arndt Anderson, a Portland-based culinary historian and ecologist, to highlight different aspects of the region’s food ecosystem. This week she reminds us to slow down and enjoy winter’s hidden bounty.
This time of year can be tough — it’s still so dark and cold, even after the holiday lights come down. But Oregon is Superabundant all year long, and if you learn to slow down and look carefully, you’ll begin to notice the bounty all around us. What rare Japanese ingredient is commercially grown in Oregon — but nowhere else in the United States? Read on to find!
Helping Black farmers from the ground up, Oregon represents in James Beard Award semifinals, and truffle-hunting doggos get their chance to shine
Freshly picked morsels from the Pacific Northwest food universe:
Support Black agriculture.
It’s Black History Month, and there’s no better time to support farmers of color in dismantling systemic racism, especially the barriers that Black communities face in accessing nutritious food. One in five Black families experiences food insecurity — three times the rate of hunger in non-Hispanic white households. Want to help, but don’t know where to begin? Try donating to or volunteering with nonprofits like the women-led Black Food Fund, the Black Oregon Land Trust, Feed ‘Em Freedom and the Black and Brown farmers’ collective Mudbone Grown.
Oregon’s culinary talent gets national spotlight.
Congrats to Oregon’s TEN James Beard Award semifinalists, including Best Chef nominees Peter Cho (Han Oak, Portland), Joshua Dorcak (MÄS, Ashland), Jonathan Jones (Epilogue Kitchen & Cocktails, Salem; apparently not at all slowed down by the spate of racist attacks they endured in April 2022), Vince Nguyen (Berlu, Portland), Thomas Pisha-Duffly (Gado Gado, Portland) and Crystal Platt (Lion & Owl, Eugene). Hiyu Wine Farm and OK Omens earned Outstanding Wine and Other Beverages nominations, and media darling Kann gained recognition in the Best New Restaurant category.
Truffle-sniffing pups battle to be the goodest boy/girl.
In case you missed it, North America’s only truffle dog competition, the Joriad North American Truffle Dog Championship was last weekend, where the Northwest’s best doggos competed to find the most truffles. As Superabundant senior digital video producer Arya Surowidjojo writes, the event is “a Winter Olympics of sorts for amateur truffle hunters and their truffle dogs.” If you’d like to get your pup in on the action, you’ll have to wait til next year for the two-day truffle dog training program — this year’s class is already sold out — but there are still other Oregon Truffle Festival dinners and events going on throughout the month. Watch the Truffles episode of Superabundant.
Learning to find winter’s bounty
Feb. 3 is winter’s midpoint. When the holiday cheer and “new year, new me” of it all have lost their luster, it’s easy to get mired in the winter blahs. It is still plenty cold and damp out there, and for some of us, not even a fresh stack of seed catalogs and a week of February Fake-Out can lift the spirits. But if you pay close attention, you’ll notice that life is still stirring, even if it’s at a slower pace.
With the days slowly getting longer, solar-powered backyard hens will start laying again; their laying cycle is directly tied to photoperiod, so hearing their triumphant egg songs is proof positive that winter is subsiding. Daphne buds are fattening on their branches, hellebores are waking their sleepy heads, and green and white spikes of narcissi are climbing out of the duff. But winter isn’t over yet, and that’s a good thing.
Winter is the time to start your miso and home meat-curing projects like guanciale and lap yuk. The fruit vinegars you started last fall are bubbling quietly below the cellulose and acetobacter mother. Even if you aren’t a DIY-type, there’s plenty to appreciate about winter.
This is the season for the Oregon truffles. Truffles grow beneath the organic duff, never offering humans a visual clue to their presence. With the help of a hand rake and well-trained dogs (less apt than pigs to eat their find), truffle hunters can unearth truffles of every hue: black, winter white, spring white and the relatively rare Oregon brown truffle, whose scientific namesake, Kalapuya, is the name of some of the Indigenous people whose traditional homelands are the Willamette Valley, where truffles grow.
The first scientific description of Oregon brown truffle wasn’t published until a 2010 Mycologia article, but the Douglas-fir symbiont had been collected and described in field guides for many years prior. They were known to epicures long before that; after sampling them at the 1977 “Mushrooms and Man Symposium” in Albany, Oregon, James Beard declared that Oregon truffles are every bit as good as their Italian cousins. Interest in the rare fungi was piqued and the Oregon-born North American Truffling Society was formed a year later.
Winter steelhead season is at its peak in February. Though they’re technically trout, steelhead are a lot like salmon; they’re both anadromous salmonids. They’re born in freshwater streams and then migrate out to sea as smolts to get fat on marine food. When it’s time to spawn, their internal magnetism leads the way until they get close (there’s evidence that they imprint on specific locations according to the earth’s magnetic field) then they follow the scent burned into their piscine memory banks, returning to the very gravels whence they as tiny alevins sprang.
Unlike their summer-running sistren, which migrate to their hometown waters in spring and then while away the months before spawning, winter steelhead stay in the ocean longer and migrate into fresh water streams closer to spawning time. This means they’re larger and stronger when they arrive at rivers; more importantly for anglers, a lot more fun to catch — these acrobatic fish are famous for putting up a fight. (Find a recipe for steelhead po’boys with Meyer lemon remoulade at the end of this week’s newsletter.)
Other winter food
Though it’s not an ingredient we normally associate with the Northwest, we can grow citrus here. In fact, some citrus is so hard to find in markets that you’d be better off just growing it yourself. Yuzu, for example, is very tricky to source (you can sometimes find it at Uwajimaya if you’re lucky) but if you do find the fruit you can plant the seeds. You can also sometimes find interesting varieties in nurseries, like bergamot, makrut lime, or sour Seville oranges.
Like most root vegetables, fresh wasabi is also at its best in the winter, after all the solar energy harvested by the plant’s leaves during the growing season is stored in the rhizomes. The only commercially grown wasabi in the United States is grown on a pristine stream on the Oregon coast; you can buy it at farmers markets around the Northwest or try growing your own (you can also taste it at restaurants around the country).
Sturdy winter greens tend toward bitter flavors, but chicories and radicchio harvested in the winter are milder — even slightly sweet. Oregon State University professor of agriculture and founder of the Culinary Breeding Network, Lane Selman, has been winter vegetables’ greatest cheerleader, organizing a range of events, including the country’s first celebration dedicated to bitter dandelion-family greens — the Sagra del Radicchio. (The next Culinary Breeding Network’s Variety Showcase will be in October.)
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If you need cues of the season’s transition, look around; make observations. Listen to the air. When it comes to weather-predicting wildlife, Oregonians can do a lot better than the groundhog. We don’t even have them here; we have northern flickers, and when you start hearing their loopy wikkawikkawikka laughing across the treetops that means that winter is half over.
Enjoy your bitter greens and winter citrus while you can; it’ll soon be time for green garlic, morels and stinging nettles.
Recipe: Steelhead Po’Boys with Meyer Lemon Remoulade
Even if you’re not a huge Mardi Gras person (it’s coming in a couple weeks — laissez les bon temps rouler!), it’s always a good time for a po’boy sandwich. This version takes a few liberties to put a spotlight on two of our favorite winter ingredients: steelhead (instead of catfish) and a remoulade (basically French tartar sauce) with the citrusy zing of Meyer lemons. If you can’t find steelhead at your local grocery or fish market, salmon works fine. Makes 2 large sandwiches.
⅓ cup finely ground cornmeal
1 tsp kosher salt (or ½ tsp fine sea salt)
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
¼ tsp black pepper
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
⅛ tsp celery salt
¾ lb steelhead filet, skin removed
Oil for frying
French baguette, cut into 2 6″-long pieces and halved lengthwise (or 2 hoagie rolls)
2 tbsp butter
2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
Remoulade (makes about ½ cup):
⅓ cup mayonnaise
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Zest from 1 Meyer lemon
1 tbsp Meyer lemon juice
1 tbsp minced shallot
1 tbsp minced parsley
1 tbsp minced fresh dill
½ tsp kosher salt or ¼ tsp fine sea salt)
¼ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- In a shallow bowl, combine the cornmeal with the seasonings. Set aside.
- Cut the steelhead filet into 1″ thick slices (like fish sticks) and season them with salt and pepper.
- Mix together the remoulade ingredients in a small bowl.
- Heat ¼” of oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Dredge the fish pieces in the cornmeal mixture and then fry them until browned on all sides. Remove the fried fish and drain on a paper towel-lined plate.
- While the fish is cooking, split the baguette, butter it and lightly toast it.
- Spread both halves of the bread with remoulade, add the shredded lettuce, and then the fried fish. Serve with hot sauce if desired.
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Correction: This story has been updated to note that the Culinary Breeding Network’s Variety Showcase is in October. An earlier version of the story misstated the date of the event. OPB regrets the error.