As the days get longer here in the Pacific Northwest, we tend to appreciate even the smallest window of sunshine. Months of soupy, steel-colored overcast weather allows us chefs to hibernate in our kitchens, both at work and home, to dream up new spring dishes. With our growing season being so short for most of the recognizable produce seen in the markets, we Northwest natives resort to foraging for our own “wild” produce during the small windows of sun. Those windows may only last minutes and a good Gore-Tex jacket and waterproof boots help with our more familiar weather. This time of year, one of the bothersome plants that we’ve all had run-ins with as children makes its way onto the table. These plants are found all over Western Washington, whether you're miles from the city or just walking the dog at a local city park. In the spring, new growth allows us to harvest these annoying weeds and put them on the table and they actually taste quite good – Urtica Dioica, or more commonly, stinging nettles.
Nettles are edible raw and unquestionably delicious cooked. They are very similar to spinach and are versatile as well. The plant is high in iron and other minerals that make you feel good about eating them too. Here at SkyCity, we use them in several different ways. Simply blanching nettles in lightly salted water enables us to puree them with softly cooked spring onions for a velvety smooth sauce to go with halibut or salmon. Make sure to save the “tea,” or blanching liquid, for a healthy tincture while you finish cooking. Or, add a little of that goodness back to the puree to thin it out just a bit for an incredible soup. Using the blanched nettles and not pureeing them opens the door for a different approach, similar to what we did for our 51st Anniversary and debut of our “Rub Revolution.” Simply chop the nettles and fold them into whipped butter, season with a little Alaska Pure Sea Salt and a touch of lemon zest, and what you have is a simple compound butter.
One rule of thumb I live by: if you entwine foods together that grow, walk or swim during the same time of year, in the same climate, the affinity is inherent. Nettles, spring-run Chinook salmon, rhubarb, and first-of-the-season onions makes for one heck of a meal. At an early age, I learned a method to cook salmon that I still use today. This approach allows less prep and more socializing time while the fish cooks on the grill. A couple layers of heavy duty aluminum foil folded like a fish shaped boat, the spring run Chinook placed skin-side down, a liberal sprinkling of Rub Revolution, slivered rhubarb and a few nuggets of nettle compound butter baked over a bed of coal makes for a delicious spring afternoon salmon bake.