Cooking a local dinner in Oregon

I’m headed to Portland next week for the International Food Blogger Conference, and going out a few days early to explore the town and see some friends. One friend in particular is putting me up, and in return I’m guest-cheffing a dinner party at her place one night.

Since this is a relatively new part of the country for me (I’ve been once, briefly), the plan is to poke around town and find some cool local stuff to cook with. But being from Kentucky I’m not that familiar with local foods in Oregon.

I’ll probably do seafood (since I don’t get to the West Coast much, or for that matter the coast). What does that part of the world do particularly well, especially this time of year? Any vegetables they do better than everywhere else? Any classic local dishes I can riff on?

Finding the ingredients will be half the fun, but I didn’t want to miss anything great. I’m sure I’ll be able to find whatever I’m looking for in PDX.

Surprisingly, Portland is not a big seafood town (IMHO). There is salmon of course, and the Dungeness crab when it is in season is fabulous, but there just isn’t the seafood culture of San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, or New Orleans. The oysters are really good though.

It’s been dry lately so not sure what is available, but the farmer’s markets have an incredible variety of wild mushrooms: porcini, chanterelle, lobster, hedgehog, and more. Our berries are amazing. The strawberries may be past but marionberries, blackberries, and and possibly raspberries should be available. Northwest fruit is really good, peaches and apricots should be in season.

Basil, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, and other salad ingredients will be plentiful. Oregon potatoes are good and there is a huge variety at the farmer’s markets. Lots of good bakeries in town so make sure you get bread.

Coffee is big in Portland as is ice cream (try Salt and Straw). Oregon Pinot Noirs are outstanding. Something like espresso rubbed short ribs braised in Pinot Noir would be very Portlandish. Montinore, Stoeller, and St Innocent are some of my favorite wineries. The local groceries like Fred Meyer and Zupans have wine selections that rival wine specialty stores in other cities.

The Meadow has a great selection of salts, Pastaworks is a great source of Italian and Spanish ingredients, and Olympic Provisions makes local sausages and salamis.

Well, there’s part of your dinner, cucumber salad. Without the lettuce, or possibly served ON lettuce. Just slice up the cucumbers and tomatoes and onions and let them soak in vinegar with a little sugar and some basil. This is one of the best salads ever, if you can get good tomatoes.