The creative juices are flowing again! It really started a few weeks ago when I was reading Inside the California Food Revolution by Joyce Goldstein for our Food Lit Book Club. What was so inspiring about this book – beyond Ms. Goldstein’s wonderful writing and insight – was realizing how much the California food revolution changed my life.
About a decade ago I decided I wanted to eat organically and more seasonally. I learned about CSAs, Community Supported Agriculture programs, where you pay a farm a nominal price ($20-$25) and you get a share of the harvest. Since I started buying from CSAs and shopping at farmers markets, I rarely go to a retail store; only frequenting my local organic market for sundries or last-minute items. I honestly cannot remember the last time I was in Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Now I spend less money on higher quality foods and I have wonderful relationships with the people who grow and produce my food. This wouldn’t have been possible if it hadn’t been for the California food revolution. Reading Joyce Goldstein’s book was such a delight because she was interviewing chefs and farmers that I know; people who have directly impacted my life.
For me, one of the greatest things about a CSA is that I have no control over what I receive in my share. In the beginning I was often getting vegetables I didn’t even recognize, let alone know how to cook. It was intimidating but also exhilarating to have to learn how to cook with those unfamiliar vegetables and I discovered new foods that I now adore because of it. With the CSAs such a popular idea among the farms of Northern California, one amazing woman decided to take that idea and apply it to seafood. Anna Larsen launched SirenSeaSA in the summer of 2011. I have always loved seafood, but having grown up in a landlocked state, I hadn’t had much opportunity to cook anything beyond a couple of breeds of finfish and frozen shrimp. So, when I heard about SirenSeaSA I had to join.
Anna was sure to make this delivery service as user-friendly as possible. The finfish would already be filleted and when it came to mussels, oysters, squid and little fish, Anna put up tutorials on her website to guide us novices. She also included recipes and tips for cooking whatever was in the share. I had loved mussels and oysters and squid, but I had never cooked them myself before I joined SirenSeaSA. Now I feel like a pro! I’m still working on my little fish skills, however. Which brings me to my most recent attempt: herring.
Here in Northern California, we are in the middle of herring season and so of course we had to get some! Once I had cleaned the fish, I decided to divide them in half and make them two ways. The first way was a recipe I found for a lime and pepper crusted pan fry. I really enjoyed this preparation, though my fish did not look very pretty and therefore, no picture. But they tasted great and I will definitely make that again.
The other half of my herring share went into a sort of herring “rillettes.” I found a Nigel Slater recipe that I tweaked for my own tastes – and what I had in my fridge:1/2 lb herring, scaled, gutted and spines removed 3 tbsp butter + more for toast 3 bay leaves 1 medium carrot, coarsely grated 1 tbsp white wine vinegar 1 tbsp pickled banana peppers, minced 1 tbsp creme fraiche salt & pepper to taste dill sprigs rye bread, toasted & buttered
Preheat oven to 300° Fahrenheit
Clean the herring, removing the spine and as many little pin bones as you have the patience for. Don’t feel you need to be obsessive about removing absolutely every one of them. The bones soften when the fish is baked and the carrot in this recipe provides crunch and detracts from any remaining little bones.
Place herring in a baking dish with 3 tbsp butter and bay leaves. Bake at 300° F for 20 minutes or until fish is flaky. Remove herring from oven and allow to cool until you can handle it. Remove skin and any bones that you can as you flake the fish and place in a bowl. Allow to completely cool. I put mine in the fridge overnight.
Once the fish is cool, add carrot, vinegar, peppers, creme fraiche and salt & pepper and mix with a fork until all is incorporated. Be careful not to mix too vigorously so the fish stays flaked and doesn’t get mushy.
Spread on buttered toasted rye bread and top with fresh dill sprigs.
Some day I will share my journey of the past 5 months, but for now I am just happy to have the words flowing again and will continue to share my adventures with food.