Thursday, March 1, 2012

Prince of Pickles

Allow me to interrupt KD's subtropical reflections with this near-Arctic specimen:

Last year, longtime Weird Veg ladyfriend Lacinato Parsnip gathered and pickled herring roe kelp from waters off the coast of Prince of Wales Island, Alaska, and assumed (correctly) that I'd be interested in eating it. I let the jam jar sit on a kitchen shelf awhile, its down-homeiness obscuring otherworldly undersea egg pods, until I brought it to dinner with a band of brewers including an awesome pickler.

We ate the whole jar, and agreed it tasted dilly and crunchy and briny and a smidge fishy. The eggs are barely bigger than poppyseeds! One brewer likened it to "eating little bubbles." Another called it "one of the crunchiest things I've had from the sea," and Mr. Pickle deemed them Mermaid Crackers. Their flavor made me think of the tuna salads of my youth – with sweet-pickle bits mixed in, eaten on Ritz for lunch.

But our consumption of this kelpy relish is the tail-end of the story, so I'll let LP – a medical resident who ventured north for a rotation in an Alaskan clinic last spring – explain its origins:

I went picking with an ex-Marine who retired to Southeast Alaska, built a house, and now enjoys fishing, hunting bears, and camping on islands that he boats to.

It was basically all everyone talked about when I first got there – herring spawn is coming soon! Herring egg soup is a dish much-beloved by the Native Americans of Southeast Alaska. Essentially, the lady herring lay eggs on the kelp and then the gents come along and spew their sperm all over. The first sign that the spawn has begun is that there are huge pools of milky white visible in the ocean.

One way of eating fresh herring eggs is to cut up the kelp, fry them in a bit of butter, and eat them with soy sauce. Delicious.

The spawn also attracts all sorts of wildlife. There are flocks of birds hanging out waiting to eat the eggs, and gangs of seals, sea lions, and orca whales that dive through gobbling up the fish that come to feed, and humpback whales frequent the same waters. Near the commercial operation I saw dozens of bald eagles hanging out for their turn at the feast.

Japan is a huge market for herring egg export, so commercial fishing operations set up these nets with contained kelp and then add their own herring.

(Ghostly egg-laden kelp after a commercial spawn!)

1 comment:

kale daikon said...

Salty weirdo sea vegetables! I want to sea Alaska. Welcome back, dear Eggplant Kohlrabi.