When we moved to Oregon 23 years ago I never thought that the abundance of seafood would rate on my list of 10 reasons why I love living here. But it does. The coastal waters of the Pacific Northwest host more than two hundred species of edible fish and shellfish, including such favorites as halibut, sea bass, clams, oysters, mussels, scallops, and of course my favorite—salmon.
Pink shrimp is an added bonus for the table from April through October and especially in spring and summer when you want to save time in the kitchen. The tail end of the peak season for Dungeness crab is right about now (December through April), with live or fresh whole-cooked crabs readily available throughout the region. Pacific albacore tuna is a seafood always in demand, with the annual harvest occurring during the summer and early fall months.
Salmon has made tremendous waves as the center of the industry and the fish that arguably has made the Pacific Northwest famous—at least when it comes to seafood. Chinook, or king salmon, is by far the largest of the Pacific species. There is also coho (also known as silver salmon), sockeye salmon (which many say is the most flavorful), pink salmon, and steelhead.
When it comes to salmon, leading the way of personal favorites is Copper River salmon, with its rich and nutty flavor. Seasons vary depending on the region, but for the spring and early summer season you can generally find the eagerly anticipated Copper River salmon as well as chinook and summer steelhead.
Whether you buy your seafood directly off the boat, at a seafood market or from your local grocery store, the following recipes will help make the most of the ocean’s bounty.
Northwest Crab Cakes
1 1/2 pounds blue crabmeat
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 tablespoon stone ground or Dijon-style mustard
2 extra large eggs
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup fresh soft breadcrumbs (more, if needed)
2 tablespoons diced fresh fennel bulb, lightly sautéed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped green onions
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
Peanut, olive, or avocado oil for sautéing
Clean the crabmeat to remove any shell fragments; drain the crabmeat and squeeze out the excess moisture. Break apart any large chunks of crabmeat and combine with all remaining ingredients (except the salt and pepper, flour, and peanut oil), mixing in just enough breadcrumbs to hold cakes together. Mix well. If the mixture seems dry, add more mayonnaise; if it seems wet, add more breadcrumbs. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Cover and refrigerate for an hour or more. Shape the crab mix into 12 equal patties, and then lightly coat both sides with flour.
Heat the oil in a heavy, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Pan fry cakes until golden brown on both sides, about 2 to 4 minutes per side. Serve immediately. Makes 12 crab cakes.
HALIBUT STIR-FRY WITH ORANGE-PEANUT SAUCE
Tasty combinations of peanut butter, orange juice and barbecue in the sauce really heighten the flavor of this Asian-style stir-fry. To save time, buy pre-cut stir-fry vegetables in your supermarket, specialty or warehouse store, or create your own customized stir-fry mix by buying your favorite chopped veggies at the salad bar of your grocery store.
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup peanut butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon barbecue sauce
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon dried red chile pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon dried orange peel
1 tablespoon water
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 1/4 pound halibut (or other firm, white fish), cut into bite-size pieces
2 tablespoons canola or peanut oil, divided
1 onion, cut into quarters and thinly sliced
1 to 1 1/2 pounds pre-cut stir-fry vegetables, such as napa cabbage, broccoli and snow peas
To make sauce, combine first six ingredients (orange juice to dried orange peel) in a medium bowl; whisk until blended. Whisk together water and cornstarch in a small bowl, and then blend into sauce. Set aside.
Season halibut with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add halibut and sear for 1 to 2 minutes. Turn pieces and cook for 1 to 2 minutes more or until opaque in center. Remove and set aside.
Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in skillet and swirl to coat. Add onion and stir for 1 to 2 minutes or until limp. Stir in cut vegetables and stir-fry for 3 to 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
Re-stir the orange-peanut sauce and add it to the skillet along with the reserved halibut. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes more, stirring to coat the ingredients evenly with sauce, until the sauce thickens slightly. Serve over rice. Makes six servings.
Fresh Seafood Fettuccine
1 pound fresh fettuccine
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/2 pound scallops
1/2 pound prawns or shrimp
1 or 2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup heavy cream, warmed
1 cup hot chicken stock
1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon snipped fresh rosemary
Cook fettuccine until al dente. Melt butter in a large skillet; sauté scallops and prawns until almost done. Add garlic; continue to sauté until seafood is cooked through.
In a large serving bowl, toss cooked fettuccine with seafood, warm cream, hot chicken broth, and fresh herbs. Makes four servings.
Oregon-based Kris Wetherbee is an internationally published author, food writer and recipe developer. (kriswetherbee.com)
TIPS TO BUYING AND STORING SEAFOOD:
When buying any seafood, be sure that cooked fish (such as crab or salmon) is never in contact with raw fish.
Whole fish: The eyes should be bright and bulging—never sunken. The flesh should be firm and spring back when touched—never mushy. The fish should smell fresh and somewhat briny like fresh seawater. Avoid any fish with a foul fishy odor.
Fish fillets and cutlets: Look for flesh that is shiny and firm—never dull and soft. Again, the odor should be pleasantly reminiscent of fresh seawater. Avoid fish with discoloration or that oozes water when touched.
Shellfish: Look for hard shell clams that are tightly closed. Avoid any clams, mussels or oysters whose shell is cracked and doesn’t close tightly when tapped. Then discard any that don’t open during cooking. Crabs are sold alive, frozen or precooked in the shell.
For prime eating and safety, it’s best to use fish within two days of purchase. Seafood is very perishable, so keep refrigerated until ready to use. To freeze, store in freezer bags (be sure to seal and date each bag), then use within three months for best flavor.