I love football and have loved the sport for a very long time. I remember throwing the ball with my dad outside our New York apartment the morning of the 1969 Super Bowl. Later that year, soon after moving to San Diego, we went to my first NFL game: San Diego’s Chargers against that same 1969 Super Bowl winning Jets team. My strongest memory of that game may be its color: the brilliant powder blue of the Chargers’ uniforms and the emerald green accents of the Jets’ kits. Strangely, as much football as I’ve seen since, as much as I’ve come to understand the game, it is still the color and spectacle of a game that remains one of the great joys of the experience for me.
But the single greatest joy may well be the tailgate. Over the years I had been to more than a few games – from the Sid Gillman era, through the Don Coryell era to the Chargers’ dismal years following their one Super Bowl experience. But somehow, the tailgate was never really a part of my football experience.
It was not until recently, when we bought season tickets for the Chargers, that I came to understand that as brilliant as it is to watch an NFL football game, the tailgate party preceding it may be still more brilliant. It is, of course, all about the friends, the food, the ritual and the scene — and, I suppose, there might just be some alcohol involved. Perhaps the alcohol fuels a bit of the scene…because the scene is, quite simply, not to be missed. Its one part Frat Party, one part New York’s Gay Pride Parade.
Something I’d never quite considered, though, is the way in which each week presents new culinary opportunities and challenges. Every game there is, of course, a different opponent. And each opponent comes from a different city, a different region, with a different culture…and cuisine. It is my hope, over the course of this Chargers’ season, to document our tailgate cuisine.
For the Chargers’ first game of the season, it was the Minnesota Vikings coming to town. While Minnesota may not be New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, Chicago or even Dallas in having a distinct culinary identity, it can boast a rich heritage and some characteristic ingredients. One of Minnesota’s main crops is wild rice. Its traditional ethnic heritage is German and Scandinavian – perhaps the reason their team is called the “Vikings.”
Those would form the basis of our tailgate.
With that in mind we made Wild Rice Pancakes with Gravlax (a traditional Swedish cured Salmon dish) and a Spicy Blackberry Relish (the Scandanavians might have used Lingonberry). It was, in a sense, a double play. On the one hand the dish – with its pancakes and berries – was a play on a Scandanavian breakfast dish. But it was also a play on the traditional Russian blini dishes I knew from my Ashkenazi Jewish heritage.
Wild Rice Pancakes with Gravlax and Spicy Blackberry Relish
For the Wild Rice Pancakes:
- 1 ¼ cups wild rice
- 5 cups water
- 3 eggs
- 3 cups buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground nutmeg
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons butter, melted
For the Gravlax:
- 1 salmon (about three to four pounds after cleaning and beheading), skin on
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 good-size bunch dill, roughly chopped, stems and all
- 2 tablespoons vodka
For the Crème Fraiche Mustard Sauce:
- ¼ cup mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons crème fraiche
- Juice from ½ of a juicy lemon
For the Spicy Blackberry Relish:
- Two baskets of fresh blackberries
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- 1 red onions, halved and sliced
- 1 tablespoon of ground
- 2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 cup apple cider wine vinegar
For the Garnish:
- Chive Oil
1. Make the Gravlax. Begin making the gravlax three days before service. Slice the salmon in half, lengthwise. Lay both halves, skin side down, on a plate. Sprinkle with the salt and sugar. Spread the dill over the salmon and splash with the vodka. Sandwich the fillets together, tail to tail, then wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Cover the sandwich with another plate and weigh it down with a can or two of tomatoes and refrigerate. Open the package every 12 to 24 hours and baste, inside and out, with the accumulated juices. On the second or third day, when the flesh has lost its translucence, slice thinly as you would smoked salmon — on the bias and without the skin.
2. Cook the Wild Rice. Bring the wild rice and water to a boil in a saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the rice is tender but not mushy, 20 to 45 minutes depending on the variety of wild rice. Drain off any excess liquid, fluff the rice with a fork, and cook uncovered 5 minutes more.
3. Prepare the Wild Rice Pancake Batter. Whisk eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla in a large bowl. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt in a separate large bowl. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture, beating well to make a smooth batter. Stir in butter and cooked wild rice.
4. Make the Spicy Blackberry Relish. Combine all the ingredients, except the vinegar, in a large saucepan. Stir mixture over medium heat until the blackberries burst. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add the vinegar and allow the mixture to simmer uncovered for 10 minutes over medium heat.
5. Make the Crème Fraiche Mustard Sauce. Combine all of the Crème Fraiche Mustard Sauce ingredients in a food processor and blend thoroughly.
6. Cook the Wild Rice Pancakes. Heat a lightly oiled skillet over medium-high heat. For each pancake, pour 1/4 cup batter on griddle and cook until browned, about 1 ½ minutes. Flip and cook until browned on the other side, about 1 minute. Continue with remaining batter.
7. Plate the Dish. Place a Wild Rice Pancake on each plate. Top each pancake with several slices of gravlax, themselves topped with a teaspoon of the spicy blackberry relish. Spoon some of the blackberry relish liquid between the pancake and the rim. Garnish with chive oil and a bit of the dill from the gravlax.