Jan 2014

Cascadia Haemul (Seafood) Jjigae

I recently returned from the Puget Sound where I caught several Market Squid using squid jigs and I also harvested Foolish Mussels and Plate Limpets exposed during a low tide. With a collection of fresh seafood in the refrigerator and the house blanketed in cool thick winter fog I though I might spice up the day with a fiery Cascadia haemul (seafood) jjigae. Jjigaes are a Korean dish similar to our western style stews with a couple differences namely, like many Korean foods, they are spicy and are typically cooked and served in special ceramic or stoneware bowls piping hot. I first encountered jjigaes when traveling in South Korea several years ago on a birdwatching trip during the winter. A hot bowl of jjigae was just the ticket to warm the body after a long day watching swans and cranes feeding in the Nakdong Estuary. They are also great after a long day wading in frigid waters in search of winter steelhead.

This jjigae is Pacific Northwesternized version of a basic seafood jjigae. I dialed back the spice a bit for my own sake but you can easily adjust the spiciness by putting more or less red pepper in the dish. Additionally, my significant other is not a big fan of “fishy” flavored dished so I used chicken stock from our own pastured broilers rather than the traditional anchovy or fish based stocks. I on the other hand love the taste of fish so I added a bit of Dashi stock to my pot to compensate. Fresh ingredients are a must in Korean cooking as it is quite normal for Koreans to stop by the market daily on the way home from work to get fresh seafood and vegetables rather than shopping once or twice a week and storing the weeks food in the fridge as Americans typically do. Once you start cooking things move fast so have everything ready to go beforehand.

Cascadia Haemul Jjigae


Ingredients (Serves 2)

1/4lb of thinly sliced venison backstraps (I used some from a Black-tailed Deer doe I took a while back)
8-10 plate limpets (scrub the shells and rinse the snails feet prior to use)
6-8 foolish mussels (or similar marine mussel species)
1 large market squid sliced (10+ inches or two smaller squid)
1 green onion sliced
1/4 cup sliced white or yellow onion
1/2 zucchini (diced)
2 eggs
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 cups chicken stock (you can substitute any stock you would like)
2 tbsp korean red pepper flakes
2 tbsp sesame oil
16 oz soft tofu

This dish can be cooked in the traditional Korean “hotpots” on the stovetop in which case you can split the ingredients down the middle for each bowl. You can readily find these traditional cooking and serving bowls at any Korean grocery (H-Mart is an easy place to get them in the Portland area). Alternatively you can use a normal metal stovetop pot which requires only a minimal change in the cooking times as they heat and cool faster than the traditional pots.

1. Add the sesame oil and the Korean red pepper flakes to the pot while cool and heat on medium heat until the flakes soften. Mix occasionally until a paste like consistency is formed.

2. Add the yellow or white diced onion, soy sauce, and the venison. Stir-fry in the traditional pot for 4 minutes and for 2-3 minutes in a metal pot.

3. Add the stock and bring to boil. Boil for 3 minutes.

4. Add the zucchini first and then the tofu in large chunks. Simmer for 3 minutes and stir lightly once.

5. Add the seafood and cook for 2 minutes. Be sure that the mussel shells have popped open.

6. Many Korean dishes are topped with an egg. This is optional here but I don’t see any reason to break with tradition. If you are using traditional hotpots turn off the heat and crack an egg into each pot and add the green onions. The residual heat of the pot will keep it boiling and cook the egg. For those using a metal pot add the egg but keep the heat going for another minute. Afterwards remove from heat and add the green onion.

7. Serve immediately with a side of steamed rice and kimchi (if you have some available). I like to take spoonfuls of rice and dip them in the broth before eating. This allows you to pick up the more subtle flavors of the dish too and adds some carbohydrates to this meaty, spicy, and savory dish.



Team Spirit

Silver ghosts or the fish-of-a-thousand casts, steelhead have adopted many names. For both the beginning and the expert fisherman they can be elusive. I struggled to connect with a steelhead in the beginning but once I connected with my first fish others came easier. The challenge in steelhead fishing is the number of variables involved: water clarity, air and water temperature, turbidity, season, time of day, water flow rate, and habitat are just a few of the variables that a steelhead fisherman needs to bear in mind. Making it all the more challenging is that the structure (e.g. the gravel and rocks and how the current behaves) in the river is constantly changing and a boulder that holds fish at a flow of 3000 cfs may not at 1500 cfs. Additionally, there are a wide array of ways in which to target steelhead: bobber and jig, drifting eggs, pink worms, divers, plugs, spinners, spoons, yarn, beads, etc… and all may work on one day whereas only one may work the next.

It is safe to say that steelhead are not phantoms of the river and it shouldn’t take a thousand casts to catch one although my first certainly took that many. If you casting a thousand times or more for fish you are probably targeting rivers at inappropriate times or simply not working over the right water. Before the New Year I was consistently connecting with one or two fish on most outings. In the beginning it was the norm to come home empty handed and smelling decidedly clean but in the past couple years I consistently come home stinking of slime often with some work to do on the fillet table. However, on occasion I get into a fish funk and weeks can pass without a fish. Poorly timed to coincide with my big fishing year such would be the case for me in the past few weeks.

I find the most helpful thing for me during these slow periods is to go fishing with friends. When I fish for steelhead with friends it is a definitely a team sport. I am always pleased if just one of us can connect with a fish. Watching a buddy catch a fish is almost as good as catching a fish myself. For one it brings a lot of joy to me to watch someone connect with a fish because I know exactly the kind of joy that brings. Secondly it restores my faith that the river can and will produce fish. Lastly every steelhead fisherman has two or three steelhead methods that they confidently and frequently use. While there is usually some overlap I have found that I can learn a lot from my fishing friends even guys who are just starting out always have something to teach me.

This was the case this past week when two buddies and myself were out fishing on a nearby river. We stopped at a hole that has consistently produced for me in the past. During one extremely low water event a few years back my wife and I floated and fished this section and a discovered a 75 yard boulder field littered with rocks as large as small compact cars. I pulled one summer steelhead hen out of those rocks on that day but you would never know those boulders were there during typical flows. On this particular cold and wet January day the flows were substantially higher and all three of use were working over this section with brass spoons which happens to be one of my favorite techniques for catching steelhead. One of my friends is a big time egg fisherman. I’ve never liked fishing with eggs. They are expensive (unless you acquire your own), messy, and don’t last long on the hook. After a half hour of casting spoons he switches over to drifting eggs and in a couple casts hooks up with nice hatchery steelhead hen straight out of waters that I had previously worked over with a spoon. We were all super excited to bank a fish that day and most of all I learned how important it is to go back over the same waters with a different lure. Had I been fishing by myself that day I probably would have just left without trying anything else and would have learned very little. Fishing as a team increases your odds of success and of learning something new. I highly recommend it especially for the beginning fisherman.
A winter hatchery steelhead falls victim to cured salmon eggs drifted with Yakima Bait’s Lil’ Corkies.