Friday, October 5, 2012

Fiddlehead Finale


This is it!  I’ve cooked all the other recipes in the book.  I made the list and checked it twice.  Actually, I made an Excel spreadsheet. Yep. Of 152 recipes, only four remain: Prawns Oreganate, Poached Squid and Red Pepper Salad, Whole Poached Salmon, and Court Bouillon.  Get ready for the Fiddlehead Finale! 

Following the model of Julie in Julie & Julia (after all, that’s what inspired this whole thing in the first place), I planned a last supper to celebrate the project’s completion.  For my family and a handful of friends, I cooked a coursed meal entirely out of the Fiddlehead.

Here's the menu: 

Prawns Oreganate
God bless Superbear. I bought all my seafood there.  The Prawns Oreganate recipe is in the entrée section of the book, but I turned it into an appetizer by serving smaller portions and skipping the recommended rice or sourdough bread accompaniment.  I laid out the items ahead of time by the stove, and it came together very quickly.  Fresh oregano, tomato, and wine combine with feta cheese and green onion in this Mediterranean-inspired dish.

Prawns Oreganate in the pan.
Poached Squid and Red Pepper Salad
I’ll be honest. The thought of cooking, eating, and serving squid to others scared the heck out of me.  No wonder I put it off for so long.  I found some frozen squid at Superbear. Couldn’t really tell what it was going to look like until I defrosted it. More than thirty slimy, spotted bodies slipped out of the two-pound box, their eyeballs staring up at us. 

Where to start?  The Fiddlehead’s only instruction for how to clean a squid is maybe a sentence or two in the side margin.   We needed more.  A video online called “How to Clean a Squid” was clear and concise.  We watched it, then got to work.   

Cleaning squid reminds me of conducting a science class dissection.  First, slice right behind the eye and cut the tentacles away from the head.  Save those tentacles in a bath of fresh water. Next, pull the guts—eyes still connected to the head—and backbone out from the body tube. The backbone is like a cellophane twig. Discard.

Discarded squid guts on the left.
Body tubes and tentacles on the right.

The next step is to skin the body tube.  Running a fingernail along its length gets it started.  The rest of it peels off pretty easily.  Drop the body into the bath of fresh water along with the tentacles. Repeat.  
Pulling the cellophane-like backbone out of the squid's body.
We got the hang of it pretty quickly and it was actually pretty fun.  One time, Lena sliced too close and punctured the eyeball.  Ink shot across the kitchen, splashing against our white cabinets.  She cleaned it up and, like a champ, sat back to the dissection table, only to shoot ink again on her very next squid.  Doh!  Finally, the squid was cleaned.  I chopped the bodies into rings. 

The next step was to prepare a court bouillon.  Into the pot went lemon, onion, celery, Chardonnay, thyme and parsley. 

Court bouillon for poaching the squid
The mixture boils for 15 minutes, and then—you have to work quickly—strain the vegetables out, turn off the heat, add the prepared squid and poach them. It only takes about 3 minutes until they turn to translucent white. 

Poaching the squid in bouillon
Ready for the marinade!  The vinaigrette is a mixture of roasted red peppers, olive oil, vinegar, and spices.  To roast peppers, char under the broiler, then cool in a brown paper bag. 

Roasted peppers, ready to peel
Peel the charred skin, and slice them into thin strips. (It was at this point that I realized the squid was supposed to be sliced in the same fashion. Ah well, I ended up liking the rings.) 

Roasted peppers, peeled and sliced

Next, add the peppers and squid into the vinaigrette. Marinade at least four hours or overnight. 
Poached squid and red peppers marinating in vinaigrette
I was surprised how much I liked the squid.  The texture was creamy and the flavor was great: all vinaigrette, and no fishiness.

Whole Poached Salmon

The piece de resistance! 

I’d avoided this recipe until the last for good reason. What a process!  No wonder the FH allows three pages of instructions. 

To start, I cooked up a huge batch of court bouillon from boiling onion, clove, bay leaf, carrot, lemon and celery in a pot. 

Boil & strain. Lots of bouillon for all your poaching purposes. 

I’d wanted to catch my own salmon for this last hurrah, but when push came to shove, I wanted even more to just get 'er done. Thanks again to Superbear for this lovely Coho.  

It seemed a little silly to me that the first step in my whole fish was to cut the head and tail off.  

The body cooks in the oven, the head and tail separately on the stovetop.  This actually makes good sense, as most Alaskan salmon wouldn’t fit whole in the oven.

Create an envelope of tin foil around the fish. Add bouillon to one-half inch. 

Wrap well and bake at 350 for ten minutes for each inch of thickness, plus ten minutes for the envelope to heat up. 

Meanwhile, poach the head and tail in bouillon on the stovetop.

Remove all your cooked puzzle pieces of fish from their cooking liquid.  Refrigerate overnight. You serve this bad boy at room temperature.

The boning process happens the next day.  First remove the fins (and remember where they go so your fish can be anatomically correct when serving it).  Skin the top side of the fish (which, when served, will be the bottom of the fish).

Next, carefully lift the top half of the fish off the bones, filleting as you work.  Place this half on the serving tray. 

Remove all bones. Then, aligning the two halves of the salmon, flip the top half of the fish onto the half waiting on the serving platter.   

Add the head, tail, and fins back on. Now it’s decorating time! Cucumber slices served as scales, and per the FH’s suggestion, we started from the tail so our fish could swim upstream.  Herbed mayonnaise as a collar tied the head and tail together.

After days of preparation, it was time for the big meal.  My mom (bless her for hosting—I am not a tidy cook) took care of the table setting, including Fiddlehead cookbook napkin holders and the menu cards. 

Dinner was a success.  And that, folks, is a wrap!


  1. Wonderful job, ladies! Looks fantastic! You've inspired me to break into my Fiddlehead Cookbook that's collecting dust on my shelf. I'm Jennifer McGovern, and I'm working with Laurie Constantino on a contact list of Alaskan Food bloggers. I enjoy your blog, and we'd love to include you! We have the intention of creating a Alaskan community of food lovers. Would you be willing to be a part of our database? I'd just need all your email addresses and/or phone numbers (only to be used to contact you about events). We'd like to eventually have a food party and get everyone together. Thank you so much!! Your site is listed on Laurie's website under Alaska Blogs ( If you're interetested, please email me or message me back. My email is tedjenmcgovern (at) msn (dot) com. Thanks for your time!

  2. Congratulations!

  3. This is so awesome! I've learned many things in your post! So many ideas and techniques that would really help me in cooking such a fish recipe! Thank you so much for your help!

  4. Love to make this! So simple and easy to make! Perfect for our dinner tonight!

  5. are amazing, and I cannot thank you enough for having the patience to work all the way through our cookbook. Personally, I am afraid of squid. But I have been cooking my way through the book in my cabin in Haines for the last few years treasuring this legacy of the restaurant. You made it come alive again for all of us. With enormous gratitude, Deborah Marshall former owner and manager of the Fiddlehead Restaurant.


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