Although there is no cuisine that can be specifically identified as Oregon cuisine, regional Northwest cooking is distinguished by its pairings of meats and seafood with local fruits and nuts. This cuisine features such regional produce as salmon, oysters, halibut, raspberries, blackberries, apples, pears, and hazelnuts. A classic Northwest dish might be raspberry chicken or halibut with a hazelnut crust.
Salmon is king of Oregon fish and has been for thousands of years, so it isn't surprising that in one shape or another, it shows up on plenty of menus throughout the state. It's prepared in seemingly endless ways, but the most traditional method is what's known as alder-planked salmon. Traditionally, this Native American cooking style entailed preparing a salmon as a single filet, splaying it on readily available alder wood, and slow-cooking it over hot coals. The result is a cross between grilling and smoking. Today, however, it's hard to find salmon prepared this traditional way. Much more readily available, especially along the Oregon coast, is traditional smoked salmon. Smoked oysters are usually also available at smokehouses and are a treat worth trying.
With plenty of clean, cold water in many of its bays and estuaries, Oregon raises large numbers of oysters, especially in Tillamook and Coos bays. If you see an oyster burger listed on a menu, give it a try; there's no beef, just oysters. Plenty of mussels and clams also come from these waters. Of particular note are razor clams, which can be tough and chewy if not prepared properly, but which are eagerly sought after along north-coast beaches when the clamming season is open. After salmon, though, Dungeness crab is the region's other top seafood offering. Though not as large as a king crab, the Dungeness is usually big enough to make a meal for one or two people. Crab cakes are also ubiquitous on Oregon restaurant menus, and along the coast, you can find old-fashioned crab shacks that boil up crabs on a daily basis.
The Northwest's combination of climate and abundant irrigation waters has also helped make this one of the nation's major fruit-growing regions. The Hood River Valley and the Medford area are two of the nation's top pear-growing regions, and just a few miles east of Hood River, around The Dalles, cherries reign supreme, with the blushing Rainier cherry a regional treat rarely seen outside the Northwest. The Willamette Valley, south of Portland, has become the nation's center for the production of berries, including strawberries, raspberries, and numerous varieties of blackberries. All these fruits show up in the summer months at farm stands, making a drive through the Willamette Valley at that time of year a real treat. Pick-your-own farms are also common in Oregon. So famed are this state's fruits that its produce is shipped all over the country.
When hunger strikes on the road, Oregon offers what seems to be a regional potato preparation known as jo-jos. Consisting of potato wedges dipped in batter and fried, jo-jos are traditionally served with ranch dressing. These belly bombs are usually purchased as an accompaniment to fried or baked chicken.
Wild mushrooms are one last Northwest staple not to be overlooked. As you'd expect in such a rainy climate, mushrooms abound here. The most common wild mushrooms are morels, which are harvested in spring, and chanterelles, which are harvested in autumn. You'll find wild mushrooms on menus of better restaurants throughout the state, so by all means try to have some while you're here.
Wine, Beer & Coffee
Oregon's thriving wine industry has for several decades been producing award-winning varietal wines. Oregon is on the same latitude as the French wine regions of Burgundy and Bordeaux and produces similar wines. Oregon pinot noirs rank up there with those from France, and local pinot gris and other varietals are getting good press as well. Wineries throughout the state are open to the public for tastings, with the greatest concentrations to be found southwest of Portland in Yamhill County, just west of Salem, northwest of Roseburg, and west of Jacksonville.
Oregon is at the center of the national obsession with craft beers, and new brewpubs continue to open across the state. Such Oregon breweries as Bridgeport, Full Sail, and Widmer, which have long been at the forefront of the state's craft-brewing industry, have grown so large that the term "microbrewery" no longer applies to them. Although Portland is still the state's (and the nation's) microbrewery mecca, brewpubs can be found throughout the state.
Local wines may be the state's preferred accompaniment to dinner, and microbrews the favorite social drink, but it's coffee that keeps Oregonians going through long, gray winters -- and even through hot, sunny summers, for that matter. Although Seattle gets all the press for its espresso obsession, this dark and flavorful style of coffee is just as popular in Oregon. There may still be a few small towns in the state where you can't get an espresso, but you certainly don't have to worry about falling asleep at the wheel for want of a decent cup of java. In parking lots throughout the state, tiny espresso stands dispense all manner of coffee concoctions to the state's caffeine addicts.
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