So, here we are 4 days after the fact, and I and I think others are still riding the high of the perhaps once in a lifetime dinner we had last Sunday.
One of Sara’s former students from her earliest days of teaching came up this past week with a chef friend of hers, John Cox, from Monterrey. I think she met him when he came in to her shop for coffee. He’s interested in local wild foods, so Hanni said “I’ve got a freezer to show you”. John opened our freezers and Sara told him what was what in there. John said – “there’s nothing bought from the store in here, is there”. Sara said – yes – the 2 Costco pizzas and a sleeve of bagels”. John showed me how the cambium layer – the layer between the bark and woody part- of devil’s club is edible- and it’s actually good. Tastes like licorice/anise. So he and Hanni and Sara put together a menu and supply list and I just did what they told me and took care of Hanni’s 14 month old son, Ames, who was quickly dubbed Ames America because Ames sounds close to Haines. John collected some yarrow and Labrador Tea and got some fresh beach asparagus and morel mushrooms from Rainbow Foods. I think that’s all we bought. Hanni had me collecting blueberry and salmon berry stems, had me cut a small crooked branch off a tree at the cabin, and other similar duties for her decoration of the event, as that’s what she does. I was literally hung over today. Even though as the designated driver I didn’t have any alcohol. It was like a Thanksgiving meal hangover. I realized today John cooked us a meal even the wealthiest can’t get – at least not easily. Anyone can get the wild king and chum salmon – both of those are commercially harvested.
The wild black tail deer and moose are meats that can’t be legally sold so can’t be bought in trade – doesn’t matter how much money you have. The appetizers were king salmon tartar, cured chum salmon strips, chum salmon roe, smoked salmon brined in salmon berry juice (I did that one), black cod butter and some spruce infused salt with some nice thin slices of tasted bread from the good Wild Oven bakery here in Juneau. If you didn’t know, tartar is raw salmon. The king salmon was the fish I’d caught in Craig a few weeks ago. It was incredible. When seconds came around, everyone dove in. Forgetting we had multiple course to go. And so it went. Next, bowls were set before us with crab meat in them. Then John came around with this cool pitcher of Saras and poured dungeness crab bisque on the crab meat. “Oh my gosh this is good” was murmured and murmured. When John came around with seconds, everybody held their bowl out. Next, John and Hanni served up deer and moose. The deer was back strap that he’d marinated in some Birch Syrup we had from the days we used it for our smoked salmon pouches. He grilled it on the outside to sort of braise it, then sliced it pretty thin, and put it in the oven. The middle of it looked almost raw, but when you sliced it with the butter knife, it easily parted. And, he topped it with a compote made of red huckleberries and Labrador tea. Incredible. More seconds. Next was biscuits and gravy. The biscuits had cheese in them I think, and were real thin. The gravy was moose burger and morel mushrooms. More incredible. More seconds. He also had a vegetable of kale, squash and potato. Great. Then came the flan topped with cherries from Roy and Brenda’s cherry trees in Haines, America. What a finisher. The rest had an apartief of burbon and other stuff but like I said, I didn’t drink anything so I could be the driver.
It was, by far, the best meal I’ve ever had. And almost all from our freezer and cupboards. How does someone put it together to taste like that. We all felt like this was something we might never experience again and how lucky were we that we got to eat it. I told Sara’s sister and her husband, who were responsible for much of the meal in one way or the other: “I figured it would be good. But in no way did I know it would be this good because it’s the best food I’ve ever had. Had I known, we’d have flown them up her for the dinner”. It was that good. Some people have a gift. One of those is John Cox. Another is Hanni Lilidahl. Boo Yeah.