The Pacific Northwest owes its abundance of spectacular fresh fish, wild and cultivated fruits, and home-grown vegetables to its ideal climate and relatively unpolluted waters. Here, there are few special identifying recipes like those that evolved out of necessity and hardship in other areas of the United States. There's no one dish - like Southern grits or New England baked beans or New Orleans blackened redfish - that tells you what's best here.
It's the food itself, the wonderful freshness and variety of fruits and berries, the greens from gardens and woods, and the seafood from the inlets and bays, that make eating in the Pacific Northwest an adventure. Of all this incredible abundance, nothing says Northwest food to outsiders as much as fresh salmon. This is one of the world's prize fish. There's nothing more special. For the people who live here, it's a staple, readily available and inexpensive, but something that's treated with care and respect.
``We don't have a tradition of cooking a certain way and we don't really have any special dishes - unless it's the fresh salmon,'' says Harriett Fields, who cooks fresh local foods for her family, combining recipes handed down in her family.
Mrs. Fields, who grew up in Texas, says salmon is an all-time favorite with her two daughters and her husband, Ronald Fields, professor of art history and chairman of the art department of the University of Puget Sound.
``Before we moved here, I don't think I'd ever had salmon except for salmon croquettes, made from canned salmon, years ago,'' she says. ``Now during the season, all through the summer, we have fresh salmon at least a couple of times a month. We always serve it for company, and it makes a meal special whether it's served cold or hot.''
Any member of the Fields family would probably tell you their meals are just ``especially good American food,'' but a closer look indicates Mrs. Fields uses the very best of the Northwest's fresh produce, and uses it skillfully.
Cooking with an emphasis on seafood, Fields says dishes from her Texas background figure in her everyday meals, as do recipes from her husband's mother, who lives in Arkansas - for instance, cornbread and chili, grits souffl'e, and guacamole. ``One of my favorite family recipes is my aunt's cheese-grits souffle'. That's a family one I treasure, too.
``I wouldn't dream of serving my family any other biscuit than those from my mother-in-law's buttermilk biscuits recipe,'' Fields says. ``She's an excellent cook and her biscuits are the best.''
``I always want to sharpen flavors if the food is bland, with peppers, or spices and herbs,'' she says.``It's usually an addition of seasoning, a Texas trait, no doubt.
``We're lucky to have so many fresh foods here in the Northwest, not shipped in from other parts of the country. Wild mushrooms such as chanterelles are plentiful in season. They're rich enough to be served by themselves, so I usually saute'e them and have them as a side dish on their own.
``The small white butter clams are another nice food native to Washington. When I can get them, I make an Italian Clam Soup, somewhat like a bouillabaisse, a mixture of several kinds of seafood.''
Washington is known worldwide for its apples and pears, and Fields cooks several apple crisp recipes at a time and freezes some for later .
Hannah, 10, likes to do a some of the cooking. She does a good job with cookies, and one of her specialties is guacamole. Rachel, 14, is not especially interested in cooking, but will occasionally make quiche or pancakes.
When the Fieldses moved to Tacoma from Ohio 26 years ago, they knew little about seafood, except for catfish and trout. They know plenty now. Of the five kinds of salmon, Fields says they like silver salmon best, since it's not as fat. Her recipe for fresh salmon is very simple. She wraps and seals the fish in aluminum foil with a little lemon, onion, Italian parsley, and pepper.
``I bake it on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees until I can smell it,'' she says. ``It steams in its own natural juices with the seasonings. With it I'd serve brown rice with pine nuts and saute'ed asparagus or a fresh vegetable in season.'' She adds that the salmon should be cooked no longer than 10 minutes a pound.
RECIPES Poached Salmon With Caper Sauce 1 5- or 6-pound salmon, whole, cleaned Water to cover 1/8 cup vinegar to each quart water 3 to 6 black peppercorns 3 or 4 sprigs fresh dill or a pinch of dried 1 lemon, cut in wedges Fresh dill for garnish Caper Sauce (recipe below)
Remove head and tail and save for soup or stock. Place fish in deep baking pan or poacher. Add water to cover. Remove fish, measure water. Add vinegar, peppercorns, and dill to water in baking pan. Bring water to boil and add fish. Cover and simmer 45 to 50 minutes or until fish is flaky and tender.
Peel off one side of skin and place fish on large platter. Garnish with lemon wedges and fresh dill. Serve with Caper Sauce.
Caper Sauce 1 cup homemade mayonnaise 2 tablespoons capers 6 green, stuffed olives, sliced 1 teaspoon caper juice Dash of Tabasco
Combine all ingredients. Make ahead of serving time to give flavors time to blend. Spoon over cooked salmon before serving. Hannah's Guacamole 1 avocado 2 tablespoons salsa 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1/4 teaspoon cumin Dash tabasco Dash paprika 2 green onions, chopped Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Peel avocado and mash with fork. Combine with remaining ingredients. A favorite commercial salsa (green sauce) may be used or a homemade combination of tomatoes, onions, garlic and hot pepper can be added. Serve with crisp tortilla chips. Walla Walla Sweets With Feta Cheese 2 to 3 sweet onions (Walla Walla sweets) peeled, sliced thin 1/4 pound feta cheese, crumbled Parsley or green pepper, chopped, optional 1/4 cup olive oil 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano Salt and pepper to taste Sugar to taste, optional
Place onion slices and feta cheese in bowl, along with parsley or green pepper. Mix oil, vinegar, lemon juice, and oregano. Add to onions and cheese and marinate 2 to 3 hours before serving. Serves 5 or 6.
This halibut recipe is from a Norwegian friend of the Fields family in Washington, who is an excellent cook. Baked Halibut 2 pounds halibut (steaks or fillets) 2 cups sour cream 1/4 cup each green onions and chopped green pepper 2 tablespoons chopped parsley 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard 1/2 teaspoon basil Salt and pepper to taste
Arrange fish in buttered baking dish. Mix remaining ingredients and pour over fish. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 30 minutes, or until fish flakes easily with fork. Serves 6.
Fields says, ``I make several recipes of this during `apple season' and freeze them, uncooked, for quick use when company drops in, or when the children seem to need a special treat.'' Apple Crisp 6 to 8 tart Gravenstein apples or green Golden Delicious 1/2 cup sugar 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 2 teaspoons lemon juice Topping (recipe below)
Peel, slice apples; mix with spices in a bowl. Pour into deep dish pie plate or casserole, and top with crumb topping.
Topping: 1/2 cup sugar 3/4 cup flour Pinch salt 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts 5 to 6 tablespoons softened butter.
Combine and mix to crumbly consistency, using fingers. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 45 minutes or until golden. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream. Spiced Blueberry Preserve 1 quart blueberries, washed, stemmed 1/4 cup cider vinegar 2 cups sugar 1/4 teaspoon allspice 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon 1/8 teaspoon cloves
Combine ingredients and simmer until skins are tender and preserves are thickened, about 30 minutes. This makes 4 to 5 8-ounce glasses. Seal with paraffin. This is good for breakfast or as an accompaniment to chicken.