I got crabs in Charleston, OR!

But the smoked fish is even better!

I often have to go down to the coast to conduct field research. The University of Oregon's Marine Biology program is based primarily in the small fishing village of Charleston, OR on the southern coast of Oregon. The quaint grounds of the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology (OIMB) become my home-away-from-home for the days while I'm running experiments, and although not very relaxing while I'm there because I'm so busy with work, it's always a nice place to get away from the city and re-charge the Marine Biologist (as opposed to the "Lab Rat") in my soul.

Summer is the busiest time for me because I work on juvenile and adult Dungeness crabs, and the juveniles are out in full force the month of June. They're cute too...I know all you non-marine biology people are thinking "What? Little crabs are cute?" Oh yes, when you see their beady little black eyes looking up at you and they open and close their tiny little claws, your heart really will swell, I promise. Here, check it out. That's not a picture my crab babies, it's a blue crab, found mostly on the East Coast (blogger won't let me attach my own pictures for some reason...grr), but hopefully somewhere in your heart, you'll think it's as cute as I do. Or perhaps I'm just a weirdo, but that's why they have special jobs for people like me, right? I hope...GULP.

Anyway, when I began graduate school, I was living full time at the coast, where there is a gorgeous assortment of coastal state parks and beaches that are some of the prettiest in Oregon. The tide pools are amazing and you can get your fill of gray whales migrating by and various other cutesy marine mammals (NOT nearly as cool as marine invertebrates, mind you, like crabs). But, as all of you food-lovers know, the coast is also a fine place to catch up on your omega-3 fatty acids because you can get freshly-caught wild and LOCAL seafood and fish.

The best place in Charleston to upgrade your omega-3 quotient is at Chuck's Seafood. When I lived in Charleston, Chucks was merely a fresh-fish depository, where local fishermen and fisherwomen would bring in their catch of the day...now, it's a full-blown gourmet food shop, complete with fresh fish. Boo-ya! I can even stock up on things that I can't get in fancy-pants Eugene...things like Black Lava Sea Salt, local honey, special sashimi sauces, and freshly smoked oysters. The most amazing find at Chucks, however, is their smoked albacore tuna and smoked salmon. I don't know what they do to their fish there before they smoke it, although I'm convinced there's a possibility they may be injecting it with crack...I'm only kidding...but, seriously, that's how good it is! It's incredible. I've never had any smoked fish like it. I even bring down an extra cooler (one for samples, one for fish) and ice packs every time I go down. I do have to admit that if I was stranded on a deserted island and I could only have one type of smoked fish from Chucks, it would be the smoked tuna, hands down. The salmon, however, is a close second.

Flipping through a recent edition of Gourmet magazine, as I am wont to do at times, I came across the following recipe: Wild Rice with Smoked Fish and Snap Peas. What a great excuse to have to go work at the coast, right?

Wild Rice with Smoked Fish and Snap Peas, from Gourmet
Makes 6 to 8 servings.

2 3/4 teaspoons salt
2 cups wild rice (3/4 lb)
1 lb sugar snap peas, trimmed
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
3 tablespoons coarse-grain mustard
2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup chopped fresh dill
1/2 lb hot-smoked salmon or smoked trout, skin discarded and fish flaked into 1/2-inch-wide pieces
4 scallions, thinly sliced crosswise (about 1 cup)
6 hard-boiled large eggs, quartered lengthwise

Bring 4 quarts water and 2 teaspoons salt to a boil in a 5-quart pot. Add wild rice and simmer, partially covered, until rice is tender and grains are split open, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Drain rice well in a large sieve or colander.

Meanwhile, cook snap peas in a 4-quart saucepan of salted boiling water until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes, then transfer with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice and cold water to stop cooking. Drain peas, then pat dry between paper towels and cut each pod diagonally in half.

Whisk together vinegar, mustard, sugar, and remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt in a bowl, then add oil in a slow stream, whisking until combined well. Whisk in dill.

Combine peas, salmon, scallions, and eggs with warm rice in a large bowl. Drizzle with dressing and toss gently. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Notes: I didn't have sugar snap peas, so I used petit peas, but otherwise, followed the recipe as written. My only complaint is that it was a bit sweet for my tastes, so I might decrease the amount of sugar next time, although I roughly halved the recipe so my proportions may not have been perfect. When you got a perfect bite complete with a large chunk of salmon, however, the sweetness offset the smokey salmon quite nicely. Thus, maybe just increase the salmon. Because of this, don't scrimp on the salmon pieces - make 'em big and hearty!

I also didn't really know what "hot smoked" vs. "cold smoked" meant, but "hot smoked" just means salmon that is smoked with heat, while "cold smoked" salmon means (thanks to my friend Clare) that the smoke is cold before it reaches the fish so that it isn't really cooked, but is more cured; lox is cured with salt/sugar and spices :)...don't use lox with this recipe - it won't hold up against the other flavors. I was also considering leaving out the eggs, because I'm trying to eat fewer egg yolks, but they went so well with the other flavors that in my opinion, they're a necessary addition to the recipe. The yolks here are hard-boiled, but still "tender" in the center - my favorite!

The recipe will keep well as leftovers or would be great for a picnic, since it can be served at room temperature. I would even go so far as to say that the flavors meld even better together the second day.

Other special places in Charleston:
On your way down from Eugene on Hwy 38, stop in tiny Elkton (Population: 170). This is the halfway point on your trip down to Charleston for a visit to Chuck's, and Thomaselli's Pastry Mill and Cafe has incredible apple turnovers. LB would disown me if I made a trip down to the coast and didn't bring him back a Tomaselli's turnover - they disappear quickly, so plan to get there before noon, or you'll be left empty-handed. Another notable foodie/wino place in Elkton is Brandborg winery, right across the street from Thomaselli's. Their wines, although pricey for a grad student like myself (averaging about $30/bottle), are some of the better ones I've tasted in this area, especially the "big reds." The tasting is free, and the owners are quite interesting to visit with. The chef at Thomaselli's, Jack, and Brandborg often join forces and offer dinner/music/wine combo nights featuring mostly Oregon bands - I have yet to make it down for them, but I'm sure it's a fantastic evening. If you eat dinner or lunch at Tomaselli's, Jack is likely to come out of the kitchen and have a chat with you - he's got some great stories to tell because he used to be a commercial crab fisherman and he makes some tasty meals.

I would also have recommended the local honey from a small bakery across the street from Chuck's, but the bakery was closed this last trip down and has new owners. The honey was collected by a local man, who had been collecting honey and beekeeping for nearly 60 years (since he was 15), and his nettle honey was amazing. If I can find it once again, rest assured that I'll be updating and posting it here.

Lastly, it's not exactly food, but it's a great cause...you can get some amazingly cheap and beautiful pottery right outside Davey Jone's Locker in Charleston, another landmark place where you can get just about anything from shampoo to crab rings to t-shirts that say "I got crabs at Davey Jone's Locker" (ha ha very cute play on words, right?). The pottery "store" is a tiny bright yellow building/kiosk that was started by several women in their late 40s, 50s, and 60s who decided they wanted to buy a pottery wheel and thought selling some of their goods might help them afford it. I always try to support them when I can, and I've never regretted a single purchase - I've gotten some awesome mugs and gorgeous salad bowls for a mere fraction of what they would sell for here in Eugene or elsewhere in Oregon.

11 comments from you:

vlb5757 said...

Michelle, I thought the crab was cute. Now what's wrong with me?? I love crab. Crabs at work are selling very well right now. King crab legs are going for $9.99 a pound which is down from $12.99. So it must be the season. I just love them.

Sounds like you have been very busy. I was slowed down with the finger business but now I am back up to full speed again. I am not sure if that's good or bad!!

Love the post title. I got tickled over that!

Natalia said...

The Oregon coast is so beautiful. I love going to the tidal pools and seeing all the star fish. Where is Charleston exactly? I've only been to the northern towns like Cannon Beach and Seaside.

clare eats said...

The oregan coast sounds beautiful! Do you have any nice scenery photos??

I think your crabs would be beautiful and incredibly cute!!! :)

Cold smoked means that the smoke is cold before it reaches the fish so that it isn't really cooked more cured where as lox is cured with salt/sugar and spices :)

BTW I can't wait for this exam to be over!!!

Dianne said...

This looks stunning Michelle! Unfortunately in the UK, fish isnt that easy to buy, especially fresh fish. Strange for a country that is essentially an island and surrounded by the sea. I too would love to see some scenery shots of the Oregon coastline, not having made it to Oregon yet!

Anna said...

That's a beautiful picture of a great looking dish, Michelle! Hope I can explore the West Coast one day. Thank you for the congratulations on my talk - both Melissa and I are in microbiology. I have a couple more stupid movies to watch before I return to normal :)

ilva said...

Now I'm craving that dish! And a little baby grab on my own to cuddle!

KarenK said...

Nice food pictures and great trip-talk about the Oregon Coast. Makes me wish I were there again...

cookiecrumb said...

Cute crabbies? What fun.
Thanks for the link to Chuck's Seafood.
Best of all, though: That is one *beautiful* egg!

Anonymous said...

Hi Michelle,

I was looking for an email address on your blog but didn't see one (perhaps I'm just being dim, today). I'd like to talk to you about an article I'm planning about Eugene food bloggers. Could you drop me a line?

molly [at] eugeneweekly [dot] com

michelle said...

Nothing is wrong with you (minus, perhaps, your recent injury!)! Crabs are cute! I love to eat them too; as far as study "subjects," I definitely have all my fruit-fly working colleagues beat! Glad you liked the title - I, obviously I guess, stole it from Davey Jones!

From our kitchen,
It IS beautiful. I love all the rocky beaches. Charleston is near Coos Bay, about 2.5 hours south of Eugene and about 30 minutes north of Bandon, OR. Cannon Beach is one of my favorite towns because it's got so much art and is so beautiful.

Clare, dear, you're going to kick some exam @ss!! Glad to know there are others out there who can appreciate an adoreable marine invertebrate! Thanks for the cold-smoked info too! I'll see if I can dig up some photos (I haven't taken any since I was living there, and that was before I had a digital camera!) for you.

Thanks! That is odd! Can you still get good flash-frozen fish? I'll try to get some photos up soon for you - it is truly beautiful along the coast here.

Hope things are (slowly and lots of movies later) getting back to normal for you! I need to explore more of the East coast too - LB is from the Berkshires and has spent lots of time in Boston and all over New England.

Ilva, I'll bring you one! Someday!

Karen, thanks for stopping by, and the nice compliments!

Cookiecrumb, awww, I knew if anyone would appreciate my egg it would be you! One caution on Chucks - I can't guarantee that the smoked albacore in a can (I think that's all they mail) is the same as what I can get out of the cooler there, just in case you were thinking of checking it out. But if you're ever up my way, do stop there (after or before gracing me with your company, of course!)

Hi Molly,
Aw, gosh, The Weekly? I'll drop you a line! Don't worry, my email isn't on the site - I keep meaning to add it, but keep forgetting...

Melissa CookingDiva said...

Crabs are fantastic. We have a special kind here called "centollo." They are from the San Blas Islands and are HUGE!!! Got a couple yesterday for dinner, just to find out I didnt have a pot large enough to cook them----

Smoked fish is great too!!! Have you ever done it yourself?

A big hug!