Springtime in Unalaska, as I am sure it is throughout the rest of the northern states and countries, is frought with excitement and anticipation. (Although, I must warn you all, it is not that time yet…believe me!) I can hardly wait for those first shoots of green sprouting out of the ground. And when they do, I am, oh, so careful about stepping on any of them. By June, I am just tromping all over the place, having come to my senses, knowing that I can not possibly creep around carefully all summer, afraid that I will trample a plant.
One of the first plants that we begin gathering in the spring is Qanisan, or beach lovage. Another name for the plant is a Russian loan word, petrushka, or petrushki, or given the Unangam tunuu spin – pitruuskax^. It is typically described as wild parsley, but unlike parsley, (and maybe this is why I think of parsley as BORING) the taste of this plant is very lively. In fact it is quite spicy. Most locals will say you must gather this plant in the springtime when it first comes out of the ground, and, yes, that is a really easy time to gather. But, you can gather it all season long – it just takes a bit more effort because you have to part the tufts of plants to look for the new shoots that are growing under the foilage. These new shoots will not be bitter.
Qanisan can be used fresh, or preserved several ways to last through the winter. You can dry the qanisan by tying it in bunches and hanging until dry. Or spread individual pieces on racks to dry. Store in airtight containers out of direct sunlight.
I like to freeze the qanisan. Freezing keeps the color more true. I freeze mine in either small plastic containers or zip lock freezer bags. I like the containers best because the qanisan does not get broken. The bags tend to get bumped around and squished in the freezer.
Boil a pot of water.
With a slotted spoon, or a colander with a handle, dip a bunch of qanisan into the boiling water for about 5 seconds.
Remove and drain on papertowel. Pat dry then place them in your container.
When the container is full – simply freeze it.
We would never think of cooking fish without qanisan.
A wonderful meal that can be made right where you catch your fish is just boiled fish, potatos, and qanisan. You start your pototos first – they take the longest to cook. When they are within 10 minutes of being done, add chunks of your gutted fish. (Make sure you scale the fish.) When the fish is within 2 minutes of being done – it only takes about 7 minutes to get to this point, throw in freshly picked and cleaned qanisan – as much as you want. Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes. Dish it up and if you are lucky enough to have some seal oil, drizzle it over the potatos and fish. If not, you can use butter, or not.
Baked salmon can be cooked in the fire at the beach. If you don’t have tin foil, just carefully gather putchky leaves (if the sun is out, or you can sense it behind the clouds, wear gloves, especially if you have a fair skin tone) – enough to wrap several layers around the salmon. Get a good fire going. Clean and scale the salmon. If you have onions and butter, chop enough onions to line the cavity of the fish. Add either whole or chopped qanisan that is freshly picked and washed. Drizzle or pat with a little butter, or not. Salt and pepper to your taste, or not. Wrap. Clear an area in the fire. Leave a layer of coals on the bottom of the clearing. Place the foil-wrapped or putchky-wrapped salmon over the coals, then cover with more coals. Cook approximately 10 minutes per inch. It really won’t take long.
You can do the same thing at home in the oven. Just cook at 400-425 degrees for 10 minutes per inch of thickness.
Use qanisan with any type of fish. You can’t go wrong. Throw it in your next fish stew. It is awesome in clam chowder. Add some chopped qanisan to spring rolls.
Kathy Dirks puts chopped qanisan in her fruit salad that she makes with a yogurt dressing. It is absolutely delicious.
And the next time I make fish pie, I will post the recipe with pictures.