(Makes 15-20 hors d’oeuvres, depending on the number of lettuce leaves – Recipe courtesy of Ryan Morgan, Executive Chef, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry)
I had the pleasure of attending the Oregon Berry Festival’s Gala Dinner back in 2015, and the myriad berry-themed dishes were all gorgeous and sumptuous. But I found this appetizer the most intriguing. For one, it features a few native PNW flavors, such as salmon and spot prawns. But the cherry on top is Oregon’s most beloved berry.
Oregon is the largest commercial producer of blackberries in the United States, cultivating over fifty varieties for market. Of those dozens of varieties, one blackberry stands out, honored above all its hybridized siblings, parents, and even its own offspring. That berry is the Marion blackberry, commonly marketed as ‘marionberry.’
The marionberry hails from Oregon, but isn’t a native in the sense that it existed in the Oregon wilderness for thousands of years without introduction by humans. Quite the opposite, marionberries are manmade, so to speak, created in 1945 and released to the public in 1956. They are the result of painstaking research and intensive breeding, a collaboration between the USDA’s Agricultural and Research Service in Corvallis and Oregon State University. While plant breeders and geneticists continue to develop new varieties of blackberry, the marionberry is still tops in flavor, and a source of great Oregon pride.
When I was first handed this hors d’oeuvre, I thought it odd that a marionberry would be paired with seafood. But one bite and I was dumbstruck that the fruit and fish complemented each other so well. Never would I have thought to pair marionberries with prawns and cured salmon, but the combination with the minced herbs and lemon juice was perfectly balanced, tasting so…fresh!; just utterly delightful.
This is an incredibly light and healthy bite of food, yet fat on flavor. It’s the perfect nibble for dinner parties during those sizzling summer days at the peak of berry season.
1 pound whole spot prawns
1 pound salmon lox
¼ teaspoon fresh tarragon, minced
¼ teaspoon fresh basil, minced
¼ teaspoon fresh cilantro, minced
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste
1 head butter lettuce, leaves pulled apart
1 pint fresh marionberries
Heat a large stock pot of water to a boil, and drop in the prawns—head, tail, vein and all—and boil until just pink. Quickly remove the prawns from the pot and plunge them into a large bowl of ice water to halt the cooking. Once cooled, clean, peel, and devein the prawns and give them a rough chop. Place the meat into a large bowl and set aside.
Dice the cured salmon into a comparable size as the prawns and add to the bowl. Now add the minced herbs, fish sauce and a touch of the lemon juice and zest. Season with a little sea salt and fresh cracked pepper and mix thoroughly but gently. Taste the mixture and add more lemon juice, salt, or pepper if necessary. Once the seasonings are spot on, allow the mixture to sit for an hour, allowing the flavors to meld.
Spread the lettuce leaf cups onto a large platter and place a couple spoonsful of the herbed fish mixture onto each leaf. Top the mixture with a plump Oregon marionberry and serve.