In the final countdown to the May 19 launch of The Berkshires Farm Table Cookbook, we will be sharing more sneak peek recipes from the book. This one is adapted from The Dream Away Lodge, located just up the road from our home in Becket, MA.
A Berkshires legend
The Dream Away Lodge sits at the edge of October Mountain Forest in the hilltown where we happen to live. So our love of this place goes way back, to about the time when actor Daniel Osman purchased the property (in 1997). It was one of the first farm-to-table establishments we visited when writing the profiles for the cookbook. It’s more than a restaurant though—in fact, for us, it’s our neighborhood hangout. The 200-year-old farmhouse also houses (in normal times) a thriving venue and showcase for music, theater, cabaret, and spoken-word events. And it has a cozy bar where everyone seems to know each other.
But first and foremost, it is an eatery whose mission (per the website) is: “Food should be very fresh. Friends should grow it, produce it, and create it whenever possible. We source our ingredients to support local farms and businesses as much as possible. The amazing bounty of our region is featured daily on our menu.”
Or as Chef Amy Loveless, a Berkshire native, told us when we interviewed her for the cookbook profile: She is thrilled “this locavore thing has opened up in the Berkshires and that more chefs are devoting themselves to this.”
That commitment has continued during the crisis. Dream Away pretty quickly pivoted to offering Saturday dinner and pantry take-out, and Daniel is trying out an additional Wednesday pantry order. Amy changes the menu each week “to keep things fresh for our repeat customers, though some items are too popular to drop.”
You can call 413.623.8725 between noon and 4 pm on Thursday and Friday to place your order. (Here’s the link to the weekly menu.)
Cooking fish during the pandemic
At least according to an article by Pete Wells of The New York Times, Americans are cooking a lot of seafood during the quarantine. So we plucked out one of a few seafood recipes from the cookbook that calls for a fish we know and love—salmon. Besides being meaty and flavorful, salmon is one of the “fatty” fishes that are packed with health-boosting omega-3 fatty acids, and eating with nutrition in mind is of utmost importance right now.
Plus salmon is readily available and unlike more delicate, flaky white fish, practically foolproof to prepare. When possible, buy only the purer wild salmon rather than farmed, if you can.
What makes this dish particularly appealing are its familiar sweet-and-sour Vietnamese flavors, which Amy picked up decades ago from one of two Vietnamese restaurants in the area. “It was much more real in having French roots and the owner basically taught me how to cook his native cuisine,” Amy recalls. That included deep-frying a cod fillet until crispy and serving it with a sweet and salty tomato-scallion sauce.
When it came time to putting something like that on the Dream Away menu, she wanted to recreate that dish in a way that was “less deep-fried and more up-to-date.” Turns out she was right—it became a popular menu item at Dream Away.
It was definitely a first choice for including in the cookbook because it uses the freshest, locally grown ingredients—tomatoes, mint, cucumbers, and scallions—to complement the delicious salmon. (Admittedly these items are not yet in season here but by the time the book comes out you’ll be able to source them in abundance. And in the meantime, you can find more-than-adequate farm-grown produce at specialty grocers.)
While Amy suggests using Euro cucumbers “because they’re not waxed,” we opted to pick up some Persian cukes, as they were fresh at Guido’s. Amy peels them to be “stripy” and cuts them on the diagonal, about 1/4 inch thick. She also plates the salmon skin-side up “so the skin doesn’t get un-crispy because of the sauce” and keeps the rice separate, thinking people will want a taste of that on its own.
For a more relaxed meal, we’ve even served the fish and sauce on one platter and the rice on another, with the garnishes alongside. This way everyone can help themselves, like what often happens in a Vietnamese restaurant. However you plan to serve it, this dish is sure to be a bright spot in your sheltering-in-place repertoire, offering an easy but slightly exotic change of pace.
Inspired by The Dream Away Lodge
Known as Ca Chien Sot Ca Chua, this Vietnamese dish is traditionally served with jasmine rice, thick slices of cucumber, and a generous sprig of mint.
1 1/2 to 2 pounds salmon fillet, skin on, cut into 4 portions
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce (Three Crabs or Squid brand, if possible)
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons canola or safflower oil
1 1/2 cups small-diced fresh tomato (local red or heirloom mixed colors)
1/2 cup thinly diagonally sliced scallion, green and white parts
Cooked jasmine rice, for serving
1 cucumber, cut into thick slices
4 sprigs mint
1. Preheat the oven to 500°F. Keep all the ingredients close at hand, as this recipe moves quickly.
2. Run your finger across the top of the salmon pieces, searching for pin bones. If you feel them under your fingertips, use a set of tweezers or a very sharp knife to gently pull these tine bones out of the salmon.
3. Place the water, fish sauce, garlic, sugar, and pepper in a blender. Blend until the garlic is liquefied and the liquid is somewhat foamy. Pour the sauce into a jar and set aside to allow the foam to settle. Once settled, scrape off any foam and measure 1 cup sauce for this recipe. Store the remainder in a glass jar in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
4. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed, oven-safe skillet (preferably cast iron) over high heat. Add the canola oil and heat until almost smoking. Carefully, so as not to burn yourself with spattered oil, lay each piece of salmon, skin side down, in the hot pan, not touching each other. Fry over high heat for about 1 minute, just to crisp the skin.
5. Transfer the entire pan to the oven and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the salmon is done to medium; there will still be a bit of give when the salmon is touched. Remove from the oven—and with a set of tongs and a spatula, carefully transfer each fillet portion to a dinner plate, turning it skin side up for serving.
6. Return the pan with the hot oil to high heat on the stovetop. Carefully, watching out for spattering, add the diced tomato and stir briefly with a large spoon. Quickly add the scallion, stir briefly again, then add 1 cup of the fish sauce mixture. Bring to a boil and cook for about 30 seconds.
Remove the pan from the heat and spoon equal portions of the sauce around each fillet portion on the dinner plates (a little over 1/2 cup sauce per serving). Serve with jasmine rice, and garnish with cucumber and the sprigs of mint.