Sunday, September 26, 2010

Adapting to a new environment

For the majority of my life I lived in Pennsylvania. I knew what was in season, and that included deer, trout, and sunfish as wild game. You could always find some venison in my freezer and I most certainly had some fish every summer. Now I live in Oregon and while some things are similar, but there are some new meats in my life. Oregon has a lot of fish. Salmon and Steelhead trout swim in our rivers here, and Dan went out for Steelhead, so we have some tasty fillets in our freezer. The fishing industry is huge in Oregon. The thing to do here in the Pacific Northwest is to can your own fish. My friend from Alaska canned 20 pounds of Coho Salmon from the Columbia River just on the border of our city last year in one weekend, and that included a fishing trip. After hearing about that feat, I decided it was time to start canning fish. I started this year with the most common, and cheapest, fish-tuna. This was truly an adventure. It started with a road trip to Astoria, OR around 100 miles from Portland. We went to a small fish shop and purchased a 18 pound tuna, already 'loined out'. The price was $2.09/lb. and the charge a $7 fee for the butchering job, which is just fine by me. Since we were there we fit in a hike along the coast at the most northern point in Oregon followed up with a dinner of fish 'n' chips at a brewpub. The canning was relatively straight-forward thanks to the Blue Book (an essential for any canner), the processing was long...1 hour and 40 minutes, plus cooling. Pressure canning is cool because when the jars come out they boil for a long time, and it's kind of fun to watch. Why eat local tuna instead of just a can of chicken-of-the-sea? Because it's better for you and the environment. Many grocery-store tuna cans can't compare to this, in fact we once purchased a local tuna can of 6 oz. for $8 (it was amazing). The cheap tuna is typically imported from south-east Asia, questionably harvested, full of mercury, and over-processed. My tuna came off the fishing boat and went right up to the fish shop I bought it at the night before. The fishermen use the fish waste from butchering as bait that they collect from the shop later. Not much shipping or waste there, besides our car, to do a hike/adventure that we would have done anyway. Fish off the coast of Oregon are caught using hook-and-line methods which is much more sustainable, and since the water temperature is perfect for pretty much only tuna, there are few other fish 'accidentally' caught. The fisheries are abundant and sustainably harvested. Health-wise, Oregon tuna are amazing. They have very low mercury levels, since the fish are on-average younger and have had fewer years of biomagnification. (Then again, we wouldn't have to worry about mercury levels of fish at all if the world could just stop burning fossil fuels, but that's a whole other post.) A huge benefit of Oregon tuna is their Omega-3 levels. They have much higher levels of this essential fatty acid than imported (leaner) tuna. Canning methods count too. Most cans of tuna you find in the grocery store are cooked before being processed. The cooking process makes them loose some of their oils and also their flavor. At the recommendation of the Oregon Albacore Commission I used the raw pack method. This method involved cutting up the tuna into jar-sized pieces, packing them into jars, adding a half-tsp. of salt, filling the extra space with boiling water, and then processing. This retains the natural fish oils and flavors. I hope this post encourages you to adapt to whatever environment you find yourself in, and preserving some local abundance in season just may come into play for you too.

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