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Smoked Salmon & Nettle Pie

nettle pie-28I’ve done a bit of chop-busting on here about how some of the local fishermen put most, if not all, of their salmon catch into a hot smoker. I believe I mention on the info page that I hope to offer my brothers & sisters fishing the Pacific Northwest, some alternatives to the nearly ubiquitous smoked salmon.
I’m not anti smoked salmon though. I’m a fan, it’s really is quite delicious. In fact, I’ve recently been window-shopping for a hot smoker of my own.
So, in an effort to be a bit more ZEN about all of this, I’ve decided that in addition to offering alternatives to hot smoking your salmon, I should also offer up ideas for what to do with your smoked fish as well.

For my opening salvo into this new, enlightened approach, I decided to use a wonderful, but little utilized, spring ingredient, stinging nettles.
Did you say stinging nettles?
That’s right: stinging nettles.
Yep, nettles are not only good to eat, they are also yet another reason I’m pissed off at my mom.

You see, in the area where I grew up, on the East coast, we had these sharp, thorny and rather common plants that my mother always referred to as nettles. They are in fact, actually thistles.
Years later, I’m out here on a warm Northwest spring day, in short pants, playing frisbee golf. A friend cautions me “Be careful where you walk, there are nettles over there”. I’m looking for plants that look like these – pointy with big, obvious thorns.SI Exif

What I wasn’t keeping an eye out for were these broad leafed plants, that have little hair-like needles under their leaves and on their stems.

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Of course, I ended up walking right into the middle of a big patch of nettles. Next thing I know, my legs are on fire. Thanks Mom. I’ll send you my therapy bills.

I know some of you are wondering if I’m really going to cook with those same weeds that stung the crap out of my legs? You’re damned right I am. You sting me, I cook and eat you. That’s the way I roll. You’re getting served, nettles! Literally.
I also know some of you have never heard of eating stinging nettles. Well clearly, you weren’t doing the snooty restaurant circuit a couple years ago, when nettles were the hot, trendy ingredient.
Trendy ingredient or not, nettles are pretty damned good when cooked: kind of like a cross between spinach and collards.

I got the idea for this particular dish from a nettle pie recipe by the Queen of Pie herself, Kate McDermott. She makes her nettle pie with Italian sausage, and it’s amazing.
Mine uses smoked salmon and it’s damned delicious too. But don’t take my word for it….

Smoked Salmon & Stinging Nettle Pienettle pie-29

  • 1 lb stinging nettles (if you don’t have nettles, spinach works well for this recipe too)
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 2 each leeks, trimmed & sliced thin
  • 4 each garlic cloves, chopped
  • 4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 6 each eggs
  • 1 ½ tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 lb hot smoked salmon
  • pie dough for one double crust pie

I’m not going to delve too deep into the pie dough part of this; it really isn’t my area of expertise. You can use a dry mix, or buy one those Pillsbury pre-made crusts. Although, if you want to learn to make your own, and I highly recommend that, I’m going to once again point you toward the magnificent Kate McDermott. Her article on the art of making pie crust is, quite simply, perfect.
You will want to line a 9 or 10 inch pie pan with dough, and then roll out a second dough circle for your top crust.

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I made my own, and as you can see, I wasn’t joking about it not being my area of expertise.nettle pie-14

That’s OK though, pie dough is more forgiving than you think, and it doesn’t need to be perfect.nettle pie-15

You can see here where I used a scrap of dough to repair a tear in the crust. As I said, not my area of expertise, but fortunately you need not be an expert to do this.

You can go pick your own nettles, if you have some growing near you and know what you are looking for.  Just be sure to wear gloves.  I’ve been getting mine from the foragers that sell at the farmers markets.

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Once you get the nettles home, the first thing to do is cook them in a pot of lightly salted water. Use tongs to put them in the water and cook them until they are soft. It only takes about five or six minutes.

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After the nettles are cooked, the sting is gone and they are safe to handle. If you got them from a really good forager, they would have only picked leaves and the soft tops of the plants. The batch I got this time was cut a little low on the plants, so it had some of the harder stems mixed in the batch. Clearly, not all foragers are created equal. Fortunately, I had purchased an extra four ounces of nettles (I was hoping to make some risotto too), so I was able to toss out the harder stems and still have enough to complete the recipe.

Once your nettles are blanched, drain them and cool them. Then, squeeze out the excess liquid from them. This is when you’ll feel any stems you have to remove. Remember, it’s okay to have stems in the mix, you just want to remove any that still feel hard after cooking.

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Although the recipe calls for 2 leeks, this one was so fat, it was enough on its own.

Next, rough chop the nettles. You don’t need to mince them, just chop them up a little bit.
Now set the nettles aside and move on to the leeks & garlic.
Heat the oil in a large saute pan over a medium flame. Saute the leeks & garlic until soft, about 5 minutes.
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All right, once you have your crust, your nettles, and your leeks done, the rest is a piece of cake … er, pie.

Once the leeks are off the heat, stir in the nettles, cheeses,  lemon juice, salt, and pepper.
Separate one egg, reserving the yolk. Stir the egg white and the other 5 whole eggs into the nettle mixture.
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Break the smoked salmon apart into flakes. Stir it into the filling mixture, taking care not to break up the salmon too much.
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Scoop the filling into the crust lined pie dish.
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Then cover the pie with the top crust.
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Trim off any excess dough from around the edge of the pan, then pinch the edges of the dough together to seal the crust.
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Once again, you can see where I repaired a small tear in the dough. It’s OK to make mistakes on this.

Mix the reserved egg yolk with 1 tablespoon of water, and brush it on top of the dough.
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Even though I had already made a vent hole in the center of the dough, I decided to cut a few more slits to allow steam to escape and keep the crust from cracking.
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Bake it at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes, until the crust is browned and the filling is hot. Let it rest for half an hour before cutting it.
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I turned the pie after about 30 minutes in the oven, so that the crust would bake evenly.One of the great things about this dish is that it’s a complete meal: fish, vegetable and starch, all in one delicious package.  It also reheats well in the microwave for later meals.

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