Cooking Lessons

I showed up promptly at 5:30 pm for my Sierra Leone cooking lesson with Andrew. He had the sockeye we caught with Keith on the Kenai River last summer cut to size in a bowl. He then showed me the magic spices he brought back from Sierra Leone after Christmas, of which he’d brought me an ample supply. He used two packets of one type that he actually gets in Juneau on the raw fish, along with cayenne pepper from Sierra Leone,  and then flipped the fish in the bowl to coat all the fish. He let it sit for awhile while he heated up a pan of corn oil to fry the fish. He said he would use red palm oil if he had enough, but he did not, so he used the corn oil.  In another pot, he had pieces of beef steaming.  He cut up an onion, and showed me a pepper that he said was hot (and if he says it’s hot, that means nuclear to you and me). He cut about half of it and put that in a blender with the chopped onion.

He then tested the oil temperature by putting in a piece of fish, and the oil was at temperature. He filled the frying pan with the bright red salmon pieces. At about this time, the aromas were getting to Samuel, and he started to pace. When was dinner going to be ready, he wondered. He went to his room to read, but he could still smell the fish frying, and he was getting cranky.

Andrew had sausage-shaped bags of finely chopped cassava leaf he’d bought in DC on the way home. These he had thawing on the counter top.

Andrew pulled the first batch of cooked fish out of the pan, and put the second round of fish in.  By this time, the beef was getting done, and to the steamed beef he added more spices, and then added the onion with pepper to the pot. To this he added 3 cubes of maggie and one of white maggie.  He let these cook for quite awhile as the second round of fried fish were ready and stacked in a bowl with the first batch. He doesn’t add the fish to the sauce until the end so the fish doesn’t get broken up with all the stirring of the sauce.

Andrew added some red palm oil to the pot of meat/onion/pepper and the cassava leaf. Cassava leaf has to be cooked thoroughly or it can cause gastric distress. Andrew also added a little water to hydrate the cassava leaf a bit, and later added in the oil the fish had cooked in. Rice was cooking in the rice cooker.  Samuel was even more antsy. Finally, Andrew put the pieces of fried fish into the pot, and continued stirring. When I looked into the pot, there was the familiar aroma of cassava leaf sauce, and the beautiful sight of the reddish black liquid of palm oil mixed with the corn oil and oil from the fish.

When the rice cooker sounded that the rice was done, Samuel hurried to the kitchen and grabbed a plate. His dad said you don’t help to cook but are always first in line. He’s 11 and that’s about right.  Emmanuel is next, and then I dish up some rice from the cooker and then turn to the pot of deliciousness and spoon sauce over the rice.  My mouth is watering.  Cassava leaf, cooked right, with our salmon is a dish hard to beat. And this was cooked just right. Every bite was sensational, and every time I eat this dish my mind turns back to the days I sat in the hammock on the porch of my mud brick thatched-roof house and ate these meals as the children played soccer in the school field across from my house, and the women and children carried buckets of water on their head from the spring for the evening meal bathing.

We watched two episodes of Ellen’s Game of Games on the boob tube. I don’t watch much TV, but I like her show. We decided for the next lesson I would do all the cooking and Andrew would just instruct. I see a weekly tradition starting here in retirement.

The Death Knell

Once upon a time, there used to be oodles upon oodles of steamer clams around Juneau if you knew where to go. I would steam, smoke and can them. They were great on crackers. My buddy Charlie and his wife loved them. When he moved to Juneau, he wanted to. We went to my favorite, can’t miss beach and started digging. And digging. And digging. All we came up with were shells. The clams were gone. Later I was to find out this was not an isolated incident and some stochastic event had killed them off in the area.

I’ve been telling Charlie how I’ve been getting crab hand over fist.  Last week, I got 8 crab, rebaited the pot, and there were 10 the next day. I would give the 2nd day’s crab away after picking the first 8. I was getting so many, there was plenty to share.

So we pull up to the pots yesterday, and Charlie pulls up the pot and …….. not a thing. Second pot had a little king crab and that was it. First skunk in a long, long time. Hopefully, I rebaited and swapped the old pot for a new one and we reset. This morning…….nothing. Again. All I could do was laugh. Lucky for me, when we stayed over at the cabin, Charlie could see all the shells around the cabin from all the crabs I’d cleaned in the weeks past. The boy is a death knell.

King Crab

I finally got my king crab pot out. The first check I had 1 female to throw back. An announcement told us the season would close on today so I went to the cabin yesterday to pull the pot for the season. I grabbed the buoy and moved to the center of the back deck of my boat and pulled the line hand over hand over the gunnel until I heard the pot touch the bottom of the boat. When I looked over the side, there was a huge king crab with claws a blazing. Only it wasn’t in the pot, it was perched on the top of the little pyramid pot I was fishing. It appeared too big to be able to drop down into the pot after it crawled up the side. I quickly grabbed a leg and slung it into the boat. It was the biggest king crab I’d ever caught. I pulled my dungeness crab pots and had 2 in them. I took all three crab in and cleaned and steamed them, then picked all the meat. One big king crab has about 6 to 10 dungeness crab’s worth of meat and is a lot easier to pick. I tuned in AM stations from Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver that night while reading old Alaska Sportsman magazines.

I came back today after a foot of snow had dumped on Juneau. I luckily was able to pull my boat out at the ramp and make it up the driveway to the highway without getting stuck. When I got home, I spun quite a bit going up the driveway, but made it.

Jeff and Kurt had not left yet to pull their pot, so I went along with them. People were out pulling their pot in the heavy snow fall. Everyone was catching lots of crab when they hauled their pots. Except for us. We got nothing. So we stowed the pot on board and tried fishing 2 rings for the another couple hours. Nothing.

As we were walking up the dock, I saw a pot in a boat we’d seen that had a good haul of crab and noted the simple design. I’ll work on making a pot for the next king crab opening, which might be in July. I tried to give my crab meat to Jeff as he’d given me the only crab he caught this year to me for Sara’s birthday. Jeff being Jeff, he said no. I pressed him enough that he said he’d take “just enough for Terri”, his wife, so I loaded up a quart bag for him and that hardly put a dent in the cache.

Day 2

Day 2 of retirement from my desk job. Went on a 3 mile hike (each way) in Juneau up to the city water source with our scout troop. It was 4 adults and 1 scout to start. Beautiful day in the 20’s and sunny. About half way there, 3 more people caught up to us on the trail. Another scout and his mother and his brother’s girlfriend.

The trail was pretty easy with some steep uphill the last mile. Most of the trail in the woods was dry with a little snow covering out in the open. When we got up to the dam and reservoir, I took a seat on a step out of the wind and drank coffee from my thermos as I looked up at the ridge not far above us while the others made cocoa by a little covered bench that was in the wind. The dam was built in 1912 and a marvel in its day. It was built in the form of an arch with the arch bowing into the water.  This was before earthquake modeling. After modeling, they lowered the water level from what it could be, but otherwise they core test the dam every 5 years and all has been good so far.

My eyes were playing tricks on me as I thought I saw something in the willows on the ridge. I watched and thought I maybe saw it move and then thought it was just my eyes or the wind. Then there it was in the open. A mountain goat. Broadside to me. Never thought I’d hike high enough to be in goat country and here I was. I called the others over and they all saw it. I watched it over the course of the next hour or so and 8 of them materialized.

This is another in my series of firsts helping with the Boy Scouts. This is my first hike this long (on purpose, not counting hunting), my first hike up this trail to the reservoir, and my first hike into goat country. Might be a place to try for hooters in the spring.

Moose Shank

I got out the first shank of moose leg from the February hunt to cook yesterday. I’m guessing it was about 7 inches long and 5 inches wide. Shanks are great to eat. They just take a long time of slow cooking. I salt and peppered, braised the moose shank in olive oil, and took it out of the pot. I then put into the pot a couple diced onions, a big handful of diced garlic cloves, some diced celery, and 3 big diced carrots. When these were browned,  I put in the last of some leftover red wine, a quart of the deer stock I’d made a couple weeks ago, along with 28 oz of stewed tomatoes, rosemary and thyme. I put the shank back in the pot so it was as covered as I could get it, and brought the pot to a simmer on the cook stove, and then transferred the pot to the wood stove to simmer all day  This was at about 230 pm. I figured it would be done by 6, so I invited Gloria and Emmanuel over for dinner. By 5:30, I could see the moose would take much longer than 3.5 hours to cook, so we went for pizza instead. When I got home at 8:30, the moose meat was falling off the bone, and ready to eat. Made a note to self that the cooking time for a moose shank is about 6 hours. We can try it tonight.

Deer Bone Stock

Roy was hunting over on the outer coast north of Sitka on his annual trip. Since I wasn’t getting many deer in, I asked him to save me any leg bones they weren’t going to use, so I could make stock. He dropped an 80 lb fish box off of nice leg bones early this morning when the ferry stopped in Juneau on its way to Haines. The hunters left me extra meat in places like the shanks, and that’s even better. I looked around on the internet for recipes and found many for making the broth, but not many on how to prepare the bones before roasting. I went to the garage and saw my loppers on the wall. They are Fiskars something like the photo.

That was just the ticket. They cut right through the bones. I’ve tried cutting slippery bones with a meat saw or reciprocating saw, and it’s not easy – especially by yourself. Plus, the loppers don’t create the bone dust the saw does.

For the front leg, I cut through the shoulder blade where it meets the shoulder joint, being sure to actually cut through the end of the flat shoulder blade itself to expose the marrow. Then I cut the other bones on either side of the joints to expose the marrow.

This quickly reduced the volume of space taken up by the bones. I loaded a roasting pan with the bone pieces and roasted them in the oven for an hour at 400 degrees. After roasting, I loaded the bones into my 2 large canning pots. I filled the pots with water, brought the water about to a boil on the stove, and transferred the pots to the wood stove to simmer for the day.

By 2:30 pm, the stock looked about right, so I poured it into other pots to cool. I saw that the bones still had plenty of marrow in the bones and meat and collagen on the bones, so I refilled the pots and put it on the stove to simmer again. We left for Thanksgiving dinner at Jeff and Teri’s. When we got home about 8:30 pm, I skimmed off the hardened fat that had cooled on the surface of the first batch of stock, then poured the stock through a wire strainer. I packed the stock into Costco nut jars, which held about 8 cups of broth each, and put the jars in the freezer.

The second batch I did the next day  I pulled the bones out of the pot one at a time and pulled any remaining meat off and shook out any remaining marrow. After all the bones were out of the pots, I strained out the meat and put the stock out to cool. I filled up the pots again with water to float any remaining fat and put them on the wood stove. In the evening,

In the evening, I pulled off the layer of fat on the stock and left it overnight. It was about freezing that night, and the next morning the stock had jelled. Was this right, I thought?  I looked it up online and found out – that’s what’s supposed to happen. I guess I never fully refrigerated any before pouring it into jars for the freezer to see this before. Since the stock was now like jello, it was very easy to spoon it into bags and vac pack. That worked great.

For the meat, I drained about 2/3 of it, and then vac packed several pounds of it into bags for the freezer. It looked just like “pulled pork” meat. With the rest, I made soup. I took out all the leftovers from the past week’s meals that had lots of fresh and cooked vegetables as my vegetarian niece was here. And, we had lots of sweet potatoes left over from Thanksgiving dinner. I put all these in the pot with the meat and stock water, heated it, and then put the mixture in the blender for a cream soup.  That should do us for lunch and some dinners for the coming week.

Lots of work and lots of food just for the asking.