Editor’s Note: 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 takes a look at ancient rockfish, pokes around the produce aisle, celebrates Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and offers a recipe for Manila clams with chorizo and gobs of spring herbs.
It’s May, and finally starting to look like spring in the markets — there are morels and asparagus galore and the sturdy greens of winter are relenting with yellow blooms. May is also Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and Older Americans Month. Oregon is home to the world’s oldest (and largest) living organism, the honey mushroom, but how old does one of our longest-living animals — rockfish — get? How can you even tell the age of a rockfish? Read on to find out!
Small bites: Freshly picked morsels from the Pacific Northwest food universe
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month
It’s impossible to overlook the contributions Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have made to Oregon’s culinary landscape, especially over the past year. The “Vegan Chinese Kitchen” by Hannah Che embraces the Portland-based author’s heritage through plant-based cooking, and landed on the New York Times “Best Cookbooks of 2022″ list. Carlo Lamagna, Thomas Pisha-Duffly and Vince Nguyen made Oregon proud with their coveted James Beard Awards noms. But long before prestigious “best of” lists put them on the national radar, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders were already making the Beaver State a ridiculously good place to eat — America’s oldest tofu company, Ota Tofu, is located in Portland, for one. And though its menu isn’t Chinese, Oregon’s oldest restaurant, Huber’s, happens to be owned and operated by the Chinese American descendants of the eatery’s first chef, Jim Louie. (Oregon’s oldest Chinese restaurant, Republic Cafe, is also more than a century old.)
Respect your elders
Speaking of treasured old timers, May is Older Americans Month, too. (Fun fact: at age 14, newsletter writer Heather Arndt Anderson had an after-school job in the dining room of an elder care facility.) Oregon’s two longest-living animals are sea creatures, but if asked, most people wouldn’t name the red sea urchin or rockfish. Did you know that some Pacific rockfish (aka sea bass) species can live for more than a century? We’re not just talking record-holding fish — the shortraker rockfish (Sebastes borealis) averages 120 years old and can make it up to 200 years old. Ichthyologists age the fish by looking at their ear bones (otoliths). Find rockfish recipes at the Pacific Northwest Seafood website (including one for creamy rockfish and leek pie by this newsletter’s author).
Cool bean to know about: Peregion
Thank you to reader Sarah Katherine Moore in Corvallis, who wrote in to tell us about an heirloom bean she’d stumbled upon. According to growers and old seed catalogs from the 1980s, the Peregion bean originally came from Eastern Oregon, but no one seems to produce it locally anymore; it’s available from a few seed producers around the country. Besides its peerless flavor, the most intriguing aspect of this heirloom bean is that, according to the growers, the deep tan and chocolate brown streaks are retained during cooking. (One of the great disappointments of cooking beautiful beans is that they tend to lose their colorful details in the pot — even a vibrant purple and black Scarlet Runner will turn gray after stewing.) Got more cool heirloom fruit and vegetable tips? Send them our way!
Could Oregon white oak stave off a barrel disaster?
Bloomberg reported this week that the bourbon industry may face trouble if American white oak forests continue to be mismanaged. As with some wines (including chardonnay), the unique flavor of the spirits comes from the oak barrels in which they’re aged, but because of forest management practices that favor density over natural ecological succession, the forest floor remains too shaded for acorns to sprout and make the long journey into mature trees. A coalition of distillers, wine makers, natural resources specialists and environmentalists have formed the White Oak Initiative to develop a conservation plan, but could Oregon’s native white oak (Quercus garryana) save the day? Stay tuned as the saga unfolds.
Watch the Chardonnay episode of “Superabundant”:
Good things in markets
In the early 1900s, the Oregonian’s cooking columnist Lilian Tingle answered reader questions, shared recipes and ran a regular section called “Good Things in Portland Markets.” We’ve decided to pick up Lilian’s mantle for the “Superabundant” newsletter, with the understanding that the foods we see in town are produced and available across the region — good things in Portland markets are also good in Eugene, Klamath Falls, Camas and Pendleton!
Winter greens have begun to bloom, so look for collard and kale raab. Local radishes and turnips are looking as fresh as ever (as are less common roots like burdock and salsify); the rhubarb is crisp and sanguine; radicchio and chicories are coming up. Keep an eye out for strawberries, which are just beginning to make their appearance, just as they were this week in 1908, when Ms. Tingle offered readers a number of variations on the shortcake, including one very inspired popover piped with whipped cream and adorned with tiny berries. Now is also the best time of year for herb lovers — lovage, oregano, winter savory, salad burnet, chervil and garlic chives are all as lush and tender as ever; woodier herbs like rosemary and sage are covered in delicious purple and blue blossoms. Edible violas and violets are also in bloom, and elderflowers are starting to blossom.
Recipe: Manila clams with chorizo and spring herbs
Ah, May. Local Manila clams are sweet and juicy and the herb garden is overflowing. The fun thing about this dish isn’t just that it takes only 15 minutes to make, but you can easily retool it with Vietnamese flavors (sub the chorizo with lap cheong, use rice wine instead of grape and use garlic chives and cilantro for the herbs) or make it German (use a smoky Thuringer sausage, beer, and dill and chives). You can double the broth and add baby potatoes to make it a soup. The sky’s the limit! Just make sure to be generous with the herbs and pass a loaf of crusty bread for sopping up all that broth. Serves 4.
1 tbsp olive oil
½ cup sweet onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 oz dry Spanish-style chorizo (such as Olympia Provisions or Zenner’s), diced
1 tsp smoked paprika
¼ tsp black pepper
½ cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
2 lbs live Manila clams, scrubbed well
¼ cup fresh herbs such as parsley, lovage, chives, garlic chives or chervil (any of these will do, but a mix is better)
Fresh baguette for serving
- Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, and chorizo and sauté until glossy and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the smoked paprika and pepper, cook for another minute, then add the wine and chicken stock.
- Increase the heat to medium-high, bring to a boil, and add the clams. Cover and cook until the clams have all opened (discard any clams that didn’t open during cooking). Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning as needed (the chorizo likely added enough salt on its own). Stir in the herbs and serve.