Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Black Cod with Chorizo

The Siskiyou Mountains, with Mt. Shasta in the distance, border Northern California and Southern Oregon.

     A dormant Southern Oregon landscape currently sleeps through winter's drawn out procession.  Constant, cold fog teased by mid-day sun keeps the ground damp, and the trees barren.  Green grass is the only sign of spring, even though it has been a very mild winter.  Most of the snow has melted from the Siskiyou Mountains, frustrating skiers and scaring farmers.  Hopefully, more will fall to replenish the watershed and thrill adrenaline junkies.  The weather is dreary enough to spice things up a bit.  Comfort food with a Spanish flare is what I fancy.  Black cod with homemade chorizo and pinquito beans served with a big hunk of crusty bread and garlic aioli will, undoubtedly, warm up the soul.

      I am presently educating myself in all things local, within the realm of sustainability.  There is much to learn in a new region with varying seasonal patterns, farming practices, standards of expectation, and limited availability.  The biggest challenge, however, is the lack of USDA certification inspection facilities nearby.  Many local ranchers cannot feasibly ship their product almost 200 miles for inspection, then back down to the Rogue Valley and market it as a 'local' product.  The benefit of local food, environmentally speaking, hinges on the pin of carbon emission reduction.  In order to buy truly local meat and seafood one must use a non-USDA approved distributor.  However, without overcrowding feed lots while administering hormones, pesticides, antibiotics and genetically modified feed, there is little worry for disease and bacteria, which would otherwise need to be tested for.
     I am reminded of my experience raising my own pig for slaughter in Southern California.  I had no idea what I was getting into, and although it may seem pretty straight-forward, raising a pig is like raising a little rhinoceros, or better yet, a giant gopher.  Sure, they are cute and funny, but also very strong, iron-willed, and always hungry.  It was not easy keeping the pig in the pen.  Pigs are professional diggers.  Although my pig, appropriately named Carnitas, was not sustainably nor organically raised, she was happy, healthy and received plenty of attention.  Vegetable scraps and leftover starches (to supplement the barley-corn feed) were commonly given to the pig instead of the local landfill.  Furthermore, when it was approximately 45 days to slaughter, I changed her diet to wild acorns and figs (which are easily foraged in Santa Barbara.)  Acorns are high in fat, and figs have plenty of sugar which also helps to increase the animal's weight and improve the flavor of the meat.  Raising one's own pig is not easy; I do not recommend it to anyone.  But, if you decide to do so, be sure to give the animal plenty of rummaging space, bury 12 inch boards into the ground below the fencing (or use electric fence,)  and consult your local city hall for zoning restrictions on livestock.  Oh, and be sure to dispose of the manure appropriately.

Mt. Shasta, beyond the Klamath River entering Yreka.

     It seems that hog farming can go one of two ways; it can be environmentally conscientious or  devastating.  The usefulness of omnivore ranching provides a dietary ease for the farmer, but it can destroy waterways from waste runoff.  Pasturing the animals enriches the soil, by turning up nutrients and quickly composting organic matter.  Also, the natural landscape absorbs animal waste instead of sheeting it into culverts and gutters down toward rivers and streams.  The varying diet of pasture foraging gives the pork a fatty meatiness far from any sort of 'other white meat' associations.  Willow-Witt Ranch, near Ashland, Oregon produces organic, sustainably-raised, pastured pork.  (A wonderful USDA approved product.)  Additionally, the ranch raises pack-trained goats for adventurers, milking goats, young chevon, eggs, meat chickens, and seasonal vegetables.  They even sell their own goat dairy, homemade sausages, and ready-to-use compost by the cubic yard.  Nestled high in the Southern Cascade Mountains, this 440 acre ranch has implemented many benevolent practices to appreciate.  Energy independence, sustainable agriculture, wetland restoration and holistic forest management are the greatest achievements a farm can produce in addition to their bounty.  Willow-Witt Ranch believes that "like pure mountain water, good stewardship here at the headwaters cascades through the entire watershed."

     My training as a professional cook in Santa Barbara, California taught me many things.  I cherished the amazing abundance of year-round produce and locally raised food.  Santa Maria style barbeque is a traditional meal, utilizing pinquito beans (a cross between white and pink beans) served with oak-grilled, top-block sirloin or tri-tip steak, fresh salsa, and tortillas.  The simplicity of such cultural food is what, I think, makes it so appealing.  These tiny little beans have found a special place in my heart (they don't take up much room in there.)  Even though we are far from the Central Coast of California, dried beans travel well and these seem to frequently find their way into my homemade chili and bean stews.

Cook pinquito beans the same way you would cook pinto beans:  

  • Pick through the dried beans to prevent any unwanted pebbles ending up in your food.  
  • Soak them in plenty of water overnight, and simmer in a large pot with a quartered onion, garlic cloves, salt and a dried chili pepper (I prefer chili de arbol.)  
  • There should be a small amount of excess water leftover from the cooking process.  (This helps keep the beans moist and enriches the broth of the finished product.)

     Chorizo is a pork sausage found in most Latin countries, in a number of regional varieties.  It takes on a different form and flavor in each of its beloved faces.  In Portugal the sausage is usually dried in shorter casings.  In Mexico, it is often sold fresh and made with native chili peppers and salivation glands (which melts into crumbly bits when cooked.)  Spanish chorizo is usually made with paprika and comes short, long, dried, or fresh.  To serve with the flaky, white, slightly firm flesh of black cod I prepare a fresh, Spanish-style chorizo with Mexican flavors.  Pork shoulder provides ideal taste and a perfect balance of marbled meat and fat for grinding into this light-cured, caseless sausage.  It 'ages' with the strong flavors of Mexican chili peppers, fresh oregano and garlic, smoked paprika, and tequila.  I would also serve this fresh sausage with clams, calamari, sea bass or along with kale and potatoes (if cod is unavailable.)
     Black cod, also known as sablefish, or 'butterfish' is abundant in the wild.  Commercial fisheries have not over-fished black cod, and mindful fisheries use hook and line instead of trawling gear (which destroys marine habitat on the ocean floor.)  Line catching also allows the fishermen to safely minimize endangered discards and by-catch.  These large round-fish are found below 656 feet, and as deep as 9,800 feet, in the North Pacific waters from California to Alaska and over to Japan.  Locally harvested off the coast of Oregon by Port Orford Sustainable Seafood, this very rich, sweet flavored fish has high omega-3 fatty acids making this a heart-healthy choice, as well.  For information regarding sustainable fishing practices the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has developed a fish watch website for habitat and harvesting information regarding most species found throughout the country.  Here is a link.
     Both the fish and pork, among other goods, are available to purchase through Rogue Valley Local Foods, a local cooperative that drops off orders at various locations within the valley.

Rogue Valley from Mt. Ashland

     Keep in mind, this recipe calls for the sausage to marinate for 24 hours, before grinding.  Also, this is a large recipe, but the chorizo freezes well, pre-portioned.  Using freshly ground spices dramatically increases the boldness of the flavor due to a timely release of essential oils.  Warming the peppers, cumin and black pepper at 250° - 300° F for a few minutes before grinding creates a deeper, more palatable tone to the spice mixture.  This sausage is moderately spicy, in my opinion, with a delayed heat revealed after a few seconds.  If freshly ground spices are unavailable, you may wish to increase the cumin and peppers.  Prepare the measured spices and chopped aromatics ahead of meat cutting to keep the pork cold.  Also, remove any glands from the pork shoulder as these will tarnish the sausage's flavor.  This dish requires two saute pans, a preheated oven, a small amount of dry sherry and room temperature butter.


2 egg yolks
10 cups light flavored oil (grapeseed, olive)
2 cloves garlic
1/2 lemon juiced
salt and pepper to taste

  • Using a food processor (or mortar and pestle,) crush the garlic with a tiny amount of salt.
  • Add yolks, blend till smooth.
  • Slowly add oil (while mixing,) incorporating as you drizzle.  (Mixture should thicken as it emulsifies.)
  • Add juice to loosen.
  • Add remaining oil (slowly,) then season with salt and pepper.
  • Aioli should have consistency of mayo, but with strong garlic and fresh lemon flavor.


5 lb pork shoulder, cut into 1" cubes (max. size)
1 1/2 oz kosher salt
2 Tbs ancho pepper, dried and ground
1 Tbs smoked paprika
1 Tbs cayenne pepper, ground
1 Tbs fresh garlic, minced
1 tsp cumin, ground
1 tsp black pepper, ground
1 Tbs fresh oregano, chopped

3 Tbs tequila, chilled
3 Tbs red wine vinegar

Fresh chorizo

Mix seasonings (except tequila and vinegar) with pork, thoroughly.

Pack tightly and marinate for 24 hours.

Grind through medium die on meat grinder.

Mix meat and tequila / vinegar.

Cook a small piece and adjust seasonings to taste, if necessary.

    Pan-Seared Black Cod

    8 oz. boneless fillet of black cod
    salt and pepper to taste
    cooking oil

    • Preheat oven to 500° F.
    • Heat large cast iron or steel pan with oil (canola, grapeseed, rice bran, or safflower) until barely smoking.
    • Season fillet with salt and pepper.
    • Sear on one side till golden, then quickly flip fillet and finish in the oven for approximately 4 minutes.

    Black Cod

    Plate Assembly

    • Heat a large saute pan with some oil until barely smoking, add 4 oz of fresh chorizo slightly broken-up.  
    • Cook through, breaking-up the sausage and stirring to brown the outer bits. 
    •  Add 1 oz dry sherry to pan (away from flame) and reduce briefly.  
    • Add 6 oz of cooked pinquito beans to the pan with about 1-2 oz water, or stock.  
    • Reduce a bit more and remove from heat, fold 1 tablespoon of butter into beans and chorizo, 'till melted, and serve immediately with finished cod on top.  Garnish with fresh scallions, chives (or fine herbs mix of chopped chive, chervil, parsley, tarragon, and thyme.)  

    Black cod with pastured-pork chorizo and pinquito beans.

         Deglazing the chorizo with dry sherry lends a velvety sweetness to compliment all the components of this dish.  The tiny pinquito beans are a fun and flavorful addition, while ciabatta bread has all the nooks and crannies needed to appropriately enjoy this meal.  Under the beautifully opalescent fish, this is a bean and chorizo stew, really.  The broth soaking bread and fillet of 'butterfish' make this an interactive meal of memorable proportions.  I would recommend serving a nice light salad on the side of this belly-stretching behemoth.