DIY: Cooking Copper River Salmon

My first experience with Copper River Salmon was about three years ago at a sushi restaurant. This very seasonal salmon is filled with Omega 3’s and is very tasty. My understanding is that the adult Sockeye Salmon are ready to spawn and head to the fresh waters of the Copper River in Alaska and fatten up during the upstream swim. This bright orange, almost red salmon is delicious.

A few weeks ago, I was noticing one of my colleagues heating up her lunch. I commented on what a nice lunch she had. She said it was Copper River Salmon she picked up from Costco. It took me a a few seconds before I recognized the variety.  

I was cooking a lot last week and decided I wanted to get a hold of the Copper River Salmon from Costco. My colleague told me she got it from the San Leandro store. I called to make sure it was still available and the representative assured me they were carrying it. I don’t have a Costco card, so I convinced a friend to take me.

 I picked some of the reasonably priced salmon for $10.99 per pound. My only question now was how to prepare this delightful fish. I wanted a simple recipe so I could really taste the fish. After reviewing various online recipes, I ended up listening to my friend who said olive oil, salt, pepper, orange juice, and orange rind.  

  Mind you, I haven’t cooked salmon in awhile. I wanted to make sure to get the results of a tender, medium rare cook with a crispy salmon skin. After careful thought, I decided on using my cast iron skillet in order to get the pan really hot and enough oil so the skin would not stick. My intuition was correct. Let’s say I succeeded and was thrilled with my accomplishment.  

Here’s my instructions on how to cook the perfect salmon:

  • Salmon filet (preferably Copper River)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, additional 2 tbsp olive oil for cooking
  • 3 tbsp orange juice
  • 1 tbsp orange rind

Marinate the salmon with all the ingredients above for a few hours. Can also marinate overnight.  Heat a cast iron skillet on medium high. Heat enough olive oil to cover the pan, approximately 2 tbsp. When hot, place your salmon, skin side down in pan. 

  After a couple of minutes, use a spatula and ensure your salmon is not sticking to the pan. If it does, add additional oil. Let salmon sear for about 4-5 minutes. Turn the pan down to medium heat and cover the pan with a lid. Cook for an additional 3-4 minutes.  Remove from pan and serve.  

  The fish was tender and flavorful and I ate all of the crispy salmon skin. This was the best salmon I have ever cooked and a lot better than most salmon I have eaten at restaurants. After this experience, I feel much more comfortable cooking fish. If you like salmon, it’s time to run to the Costco in San Leandro and pick up the Copper River Salmon before it runs out.  

Taiwan Bento: Uptown Lunch Spot

I remember walking by Taiwan Bento in the Uptown District of Oakland with a coworker many months ago. The restaurant was not open at the time and there was a sign at the door indicating they were having soft openings. I peaked through the window to check out their menu board. It was a very small menu and it didn’t sound too interesting to me.   

I pretty much forgot about Taiwan Bento until I read Eddie Huang’s “Fresh off the Boat.” He kept talking about the foods he grew up with and I felt like I wanted to experience that. I don’t yet have immediate plans to visit New York City to try his restaurant Baohaus. For the time being, I had to try something more local. Taiwan Bento!

I went with a few coworkers to give this lunchtime spot a try. We each ordered our own bento box, but we shared. The bento boxes come with rice, pickled vegetables, edamame, and a tea egg. As I mentioned before, their menu is a bit limited. Each day of the week, Taiwan Bento features a daily bento lunch special which is slightly discounted.  
 Monday’s special is the roasted chicken bento. I liked the crispiness of the skin and the tossed sesame seeds.  
 The braised pork bento is Tuesday’s special. From reading Huang’s biography, it sounded like this is one of the most popular dishes in Taiwan and one his grandma makes best.  
 The fried pork chop is Friday’s special. The pork chop is battered and deep fried to a crisp.  
 Taiwanese sausage is Wednesday’s special. My friend ordered a side of the sausage. Leaner than the Chinese sausage that I am used to, it was really tasty. The generous amount of green onions and the gravy added a lot of good flavor.

 Although not a bento, Taiwan Bento serves beef noodle soup, another popular Taiwanese dish. I found this dish to be very familiar tasting because it’s common in Cantonese cuisine. The star anise is prevalent.  
 We also tried some hand made pork buns. The soft bun and the tender pork filling makes this melt in your mouth. In my opinion, this is the healthier version of the BBQ pork bun.
 Taiwan Bento is simple food, but different. I enjoy the concept of a bento box. In addition to your main course, you get a few fun bonus items. I imagine myself eating similarly to the millions of people in Taiwan. I think Taiwan Bento provides a good glimpse into Taiwanese lunchtime food.

The Gourmet Backpacking Trip

Backpacking has been something on my bucket list and my friends agreed to take me during the July 4 weekend. In preparation for it, we did a test run this weekend in the High Sierra. We began in the Mokelumne Wilderness on Saturday and made our way through Thornburg Canyon into the town of Markleeville on Sunday. My fitbit measured about 15 miles of hiking, but we hiked to an elevation of approximately 8500 feet. I don’t have an exact weight of my backpack, but I would estimate it to have been about 28-30 lbs.

 The highlights of the trip for me were the company, the breathtaking views, counting over 50 varieties of wildflowers, seeing a golden bear, having a gourmet picnic lunch, cooking over a campfire, and watching the bright stars shining at night.

 

 Since this was a short trip, we were able to eat a lot of fresh food. Since I was assigned to prepare one lunch, I thought it would be fun to make it gourmet. I planned a French themed lunch. I picked up a couple of quiche from Starter Bakery in Oakland and prepared ingredients for a niçoise salad.  

 After enduring multiple mosquito bites, my first ever bee sting, soreness, muscle ache, and some inflammation, I successfully made it through the test run. There were some lessons learned that will likely be applied to the July 4 weekend trip. One of which is that camp food probably won’t be as nice next time around. 

The One and Only Country Bar in Oakland: Overland

The entire Bay Area is cheering on the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. After all, it’s been forty years. I’ve been catching the games anywhere I can, but my favorite place to watch has been the new Overland Country Bar and Grill in Jack London Square in Oakland. It’s located in what my BFF calls the “cursed corner” on Broadway and Embarcadero. We have seen numerous places come and go.  

In order to be a good place to watch sports, there has got to be plenty of televisions. Overland has got that and an area in the back with a large projector screen. Another requirement is a full bar with drink specials. Overland has got bartenders in cowboy hats with plenty of drink specials. I’ve seen $4 Jack Daniels and they’ve got a frozen margarita machine pouring out $6 cocktails. When you are watching a game for roughly three hours, you have got to have good bar food. So here I am to review their food.
I’ve been to Overland twice and here are some of the various items I have eaten with friends. Hank style fries are french fries topped with pulled pork and ghost pepper jack cheese. I was a bit intimidated by these fries, but then pleasantly surprised. The flavor of the barbecue pulled pork, the french fries, and the cheese was well balanced with sweet, salty, and a kick of spicy. I was amazed how the fries remained crispy even with the pile of goodies on top. This is a great appetizer to share.
 I enjoyed some fried pickles which are cut, battered, and fried. I had these on my last visit to Texas and wanted to give them a shot. These were not quite as good as the ones in Texas. I think a lot of it has to do with the cut of the pickle. The ones in Texas were sliced about an inch thick. These were cut lengthwise in spears.  
 Overland serves a few different pizzas. They are made in the style of St. Louis which means it is cracker thin. We shared a pepperoni pizza. Personally I was not a big fan. To me it tasted like cardboard.  
 New on the menu are their stuffed burgers. One of my friends had one on the last visit, but preferred the regular cheeseburger he had the time before. I really enjoyed the regular cheeseburger I had. It was moist, juicy, and comes with delicious fries.  
 The second time I was at Overland it was Game 1 of the finals and the place was packed. I ordered a sausage sandwich which is a beef hot link served on a sweet corn hoagie. The link had been sliced in half and grilled. It came out completely burnt on the inside, but was turned over. I don’t know why I didn’t send it back. Maybe because it was so busy. I put some ketchup on it and it was definitely crispy, but surprisingly it was really tasty. I gave my BFF a bite without telling her and she really liked it.  
 I mentioned that Overland has a frozen margarita maker. It wasn’t functioning on my first visit, but I tried some on my second visit. They are served in cute mason jars and were delicious. 
 So when there are no sports to watch, Overland is a real country western bar and even has line dancing. My understanding is that on Wednesdays, it’s “wingo night” which is the night they serve chicken wings and customers can play bingo. Sounds like a good match for me. I hope Overland can stick around. If they continue improving and developing their menu, I am hopeful it might finally do away with the curse.  

Mastering Peruvian 101

Last weekend was another brilliant themed cooking dinner party! To tell the truth, when the theme of Peruvian food first came up, I was a bit skeptical because I was unfamiliar with the cuisine. As I looked online for recipes to make, I saw a lot of seafood recipes. I love seafood, but I don’t have a lot of experience with it. When the website piscotrail.com was shared with the group, it opened up a new world. The writer, Nico is a Peruvian native who resides in San Francisco. Peruvian food consists of a fusion of various cultures including Inca, Spanish, African, and Chinese. I had no idea that pisco, the alcohol used in many cocktails originated in Peru.  

So when the Italians immigrated to Peru, they brought a dish called Tallarin con Pollo (chicken and pasta) and this is Nico’s grandma’s recipe and the one I chose to make last weekend.
Ingredients

  • 6 chicken thighs skin and bone in
  • 16 oz can of San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped carrots
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped red pepper
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped celery
  • 1 cup diced red onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • bay leaf
  • cinnamon stick
  • salt, pepper, cumin, oregano
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 lb angel hair pasta

Instructions

Season the chicken thighs thoroughly with salt and pepper. In a large skillet, heat approximately 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. When heated, place the chicken skin side down until golden brown for about 5 minutes. Turn and cook the other side for another 5 minutes. Remove the chicken onto a plate.   

Using the same pan, sauté the onion and garlic. Season with salt (1/2 tsp) , pepper (1/4 tsp), cumin (1/4 tsp), and oregano (1/2 tsp). Add the chopped carrot, red pepper, and celery, and continue to sauté until it begins to brown. Remove from heat. 

In a blender, puree a 16 oz can of San Marzano tomatoes. Add the sautéed vegetables and blend until smooth.   

Dump the purée back into the pan with 3 cups of chicken stock. Heat until it boils and place the chicken back in to pan with a bay leaf and a cinnamon stick.   

Cover the pan and reduce to a slow simmer and cook for thirty minutes. During the last ten minutes, cook the pasta. In a separate pot, boil enough water to cook the pasta. Angel hair pasta only takes five minutes cooking time. Drain the pasta.

When the chicken is done, remove it from the pan. Mix in the parmesan cheese to the sauce to thicken it and remove from heat. Blend the cooked pasta to the sauce. Plate the pasta and the chicken on top and garnish with more parmesan cheese.

I enjoyed my dish because the sauce was light and flavorful, the chicken was tender, and overall comforting and easy enough of a dish to cook again. The hardest part was all the chopping prep beforehand. It was also a good balance with all the other dishes that evening. My fellow cooks did an amazing job and here’s a look at some of the wonderful Peruvian dishes we gorged on. Many of the recipes can be found at piscotrail.com.  

Revival Bar & Kitchen: Downtown Berkeley

On a recent weekday night, I had dinner with a friend at Revival Bar & Kitchen in Downtown Berkeley. It was our first time dining there, but we both knew we had been to this location before. Revival has been there for about five years, but before that it was a Restaurant called Downtown.    

The bar was pretty busy when we arrived. I had reservations so we were seated in the main dining area which was less busy at the time. I had a bad taste in my mouth at the start because we were told we couldn’t participate in the happy hour menu unless we were at the bar. I ended up skipping on the cocktail and went straight for a glass of wine to compliment my dinner.  
The menu lists small plates, large plates, sides, and cheeses. After reviewing the menu, we decided to order a bunch of small plates.  
Our first dish was the chopped curly kale caesar salad. I’ve noticed kale salads are becoming popular on menus lately. Revival’s version had kale, quinoa, almonds, fennel, avocado, turnip, romanesco, and pecorino cheese tossed in an anchovy vinaigrette. This beautiful salad was fresh, crispy, and deliciously flavorful. I really enjoyed all the textures. My friend absolutely loved it and tried to get the recipe. The chef told her the key is massaging the kale. 
 Our next dish was the fried soft shell crab. I hardly ever see this on a menu unless I’m at a Japanese restaurant so I wanted to give this a try. The crab was laying on top of a deviled egg sauce, lentils, and mushrooms. The crab was good, but the deviled egg sauce really elevated the dish.  
 We ordered the housemade lamb sausage meatballs. It came with a two bean succotash, green harissa, and smoked habanero honey. These meatballs were quite unique. They were coated, dense, and had exotic flavors.  
 My favorite dish was the spicy mushroom pho flatbread. It had yam purée, housemade ricotta, savoy cabbage slaw, porcini gastrique, fried onion, and serrano chili. The combination of ingredients on this flatbread was perfectly harmonious.   
 For dessert we shared the rhubarb upside down cake which was complimented with a carrot sorbet, puffed black rice, and buttermilk ice cream. This creative plate was really fun and pleasing to the palette.
 At the end of dinner the Warriors game was coming to an end so we moved to the bar to watch the last few minutes. I ordered a Cactus Red Cider which had a very pretty color. It was a bit on the sour side, but enjoyable.  
 We had a great dinner at Revival Bar & Kitchen. The chef is creating dynamic dishes that are both creative and delicious. I highly recommend dining here. It would make the perfect spot for pre-theater dining in Berkeley.

Be Greek for a Day: Oakland Greek Festival

 

This weekend is the Oakland Greek Festival, an annual festival held at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in the Oakland Hills.   I am embarrassed to say that this is my first year attending even though it’s been held in my hometown for 43 years!   If you look to the East and into the hills from practically any vantage point in the Bay Area, you can locate the Mormon Temple.  The Greek Orthodox shares a space right below it.  So now that you know where it is, bring your cash so you can exchange it for tokens to spend at vendor stations selling food, drinks, desserts, or gifts. 

I love Greek lamb chops so knew I would be having some with a glass of red wine from Greece.  I was a bit shocked by the size of them, but then quickly realized I had plenty of room to try other items.  The lamb was good, but a tad salty.  It was good thing I had the piece of bread that came with it and my wine.
 My next course was grilled haloumi cheese.  The cheese is grilled and placed on grilled pita bread and topped with a slice of tomato and some type of vinaigrette dressing.  This was really tasty and much more impressive than the lamb chops.  
 I also picked up one of my favorite soups, avgolemono, a chicken rice soup with egg and lemon.    The soup is meant to be tart.   I always enjoy it because it’s comforting to me and I was not disappointed.  
 Now it was time to search out the desserts.  I had contemplated getting the loukoumades,  golden fried dough bathed in honey and cinnamon.  Instead, I was brought to the dessert room where they were making fresh Greek coffee. 

 It was a difficult decision but I was sold on the galaktobureko, milk custard with layered phyllo dough and honey.  I enjoyed the crispy texture of the phyllo against the soft custard.  It was very sweet and quite rich, so I packed my leftovers. I didn’t enjoy the coffee.  Even with the addition of more sugar, I never got it to the right balance.  As I got the bottom, I was left with a thick black residue.  I should have just had a regular cup of coffee.
 With some hits and misses, it is still a fun event learning about Greek culture.  It’s a great place to people watch as everyone is getting their Greek on with food, drinks, music, and dancing!  There is a lot to explore that if you can’t get it done in one weekend, there’s always next year.
The Oakland Greek Festival runs through today (11am-9pm).  Entry fee is $6 for adults and free for kids 12 and under. If you bring a can food donation, you can get $1 off.  If you bring a ticket stub from any A’s home game from April 28 through May 17, you can receive free admission.  I’m not sure what will be left, but it’s also free after 5pm today.