Inside Renee Erickson's 'A Boat, a Whale, and a Walrus'

We've got ten reasons why the star Seattle chef's beautiful new book belongs on your Powell's wish list.

By Allison Jones September 15, 2014

James Beard Award-nominated chef Renee Erickson's gorgeously designed restaurants—The Walrus and the Carpenter, The Whale Wins, Barnacle, and Boat Street Café—are must-visits for any Portlander traveling up to Seattle. But if you can't make the trip as often as you'd like, her new beautiful book A Boat, a Whale, and a Walrus: Menus and Stories (out September from Sasquatch Books; $40; 320 pages) with satisfy your cravings for her innovative take on Pacific Northwest fare. Here are ten reasons why you should add a copy to your cookbook collection:

1. The book's 70 recipes are organized into a full year of seasonal menus, from a Fourth of July crab feast and Sunday brunch at home to a lamb and rosé dinner we'd like an invitation to. Whether you replicate a full, blow-out meal or simply imagine doing so while whipping up a starter or salad, it's easy to get caught up in the romance of Erickson's true cooking inspiration—the people she's cooking for and the places that surround them.

2. Photos of Erickson's restaurants, staff family, and favorite purveyors pepper the books chapters, and each recipe is accompanied by an evocative glamor shot, so reading the book is almost good enough to stand in for a trip to Seattle. 

3. The recipes capture Erickson's passionate blend of devil-may-care kitchen improvisation and traditional French sensibility—elegant and thoughtful with a big dash of seasonal spirit and self-trained chutzpah. Cases in point: fresh blackberry jam gets a hit of fresh bay leaves, beefsteak tomatoes are dressed up with vanilla bean salt, roasted lamb is rubbed with complex and spicy harissa and a cooling splash of homemade yogurt, and chile-marinated anchovies turn a simple tartine into an app worthy of any dinner party.

4. You get a recipe for my single favorite dessert of 2013: the deceptively simple Eton Mess at the Whale Wins, a beast of a post-dinner plate piled high with feather-light meringues, ripe apricots and berries, all tied together with a heft helping of thick whipped cream. I'll be making this one over and over again, and once you try it I'm sure you will, too. 

5. Tips, tips, tips galore: Erickson shares her five favorite rosés, where to buy her #1 choice for finishing salt (hint: it rhymes with Schaconbson's), and tips for preparing a dreamy cheese plate.

6. Every seasonal section of the book ends with a quick-resource guide featuring a handful of simple things to do with the market's fresh produce, from Spring's asparagus and nettles to Fall's brussels sprouts and pears). 

7. Erickson's love of pickling and preserves is evident in her "Early Fall Put-Up Party" menu, with recipes for preserved lemons, pickled fresh plum jam with chiles and coriander, pickled fennel with orange peel, pickled chanterelles with thyme and garlic, pickled watermelon with lemon peel, pickled carrots with star anise and saffron, and much more. Your pantry is gonna be EPIC.

8. Grilled dry-aged rib-eye steaks with anchovy butter and grilled lemon. 'Nuff said.

9. Paragraphs like this: "I believe in leftovers. These recipes make the amount of food I'd serve at my own home, but know that I am a restaurant cook. I like to open the fridge and remember the previous day's work, in the form of a bite of a savory butter spread on toast, or a wisp of dessert that I can sneak into a bowl next to my morning coffee. I also eat more than most people, perhaps because I'm used to restaurant-sized portions. So dig in, and expect to same some for later occasionally." Amen.

10. A final chapter of "Staples" will bring some of those chic restaurant standbys to your own everyday rotation—think homemade yogurt, duck fat-fried potatoes, garlic aioli, and the perfect pie crust—so you can add your own seasonal finds and begin to craft cookbook-worthy menus of your own. 

Erickson is planning a series of events in Portland to promote the new book, including:

  • A cookbook dinner at Ned Ludd's new Elder Hall space, featuring dishes from the book on Thursday, October 16. Call 503-288-6900 or visit the event website for reservations and more information.
  • A talk and demo at Pages to Plate on Friday, October 17 from 6:30-8 pm. The author will talk about her book and demonstrate one of the recipes, then open the floor for questions, book signing, and samples.
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