Smoked Salmon Candy

Sweet, salty, chewy and slightly peppery, you’ve probably never tasted smoked salmon like this before. I first discovered salmon candy on a visit to the iconic Granville Island Market in Vancouver, BC years ago and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it ever since. Canadian salmon – whether Atlantic or Pacific – is recognized globally as being abundant and delicious. What makes this preparation different from traditional smoked salmon is the curing process prior to the smoking time. This step extracts much of the moisture from the fish, giving it a unique and appealing texture. I like to eat is ‘as is’ but you could also crumble it over a salad, serve it on chèvre-topped crackers or cucumber rounds, or even use it as a garnish for eggs Benedict. This same technique can also be used to prepare smoked candied trout, if that’s your fish of choice.

Sweet, salty, chewy and peppery, this smoked salmon candy is a versatile element for any party menu.

Sweet, salty, chewy and peppery, this smoked salmon candy is a versatile element for any party menu.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds (900 g) boneless, skinless salmon fillets, cut in 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) strips
  • 2 cups (500 mL) kosher salt
  • 2 cups (500 mL) white sugar
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup (90 to 125 mL) maple syrup
  • freshly ground black pepper

Method

  • Mix the salt and sugar together in a bowl.
  • In a broad storage container (with a tight lid) that is more than large enough to hold the salmon, pour a layer of the salt/sugar mixture about 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) deep.
  • Put a layer of salmon pieces on top of the salt/sugar, making sure there is a little space between each piece of salmon.
  • Cover the salmon with more of the salt mixture, making sure it’s covering the salmon by at least 1/4 inch (.6 cm).
Placing the salmon strips in a salt / sugar mixture to cure for a few hours and draw out moisture is key to making candied smoked salmon.

Placing the salmon strips in a salt / sugar mixture to cure for a few hours and draw out moisture is key to making candied smoked salmon.

 

  • Place another layer of the salmon pieces on top, and cover it with more salt mixture.
  • Repeat until all the salmon pieces are nestled in the salt mixture. Mix up additional salt and sugar in equal proportions if you need more.
  • Cover the container and let the salmon cure in the fridge for 2 – 3 hours. I don’t recommend leaving it longer than 3 hours unless you like your fish really salty.
  • The salt mixture will draw moisture out of the salmon so you’ll note that the salt will be quite wet at the end of the curing time – this is a good thing!
  • Remove the salmon from the salt cure and very quickly rinse each piece under cold running water.
  • Pat the fish dry with a paper towel and lay the pieces out on a rack to dry. Put the rack of fish, uncovered, in the fridge for at least 2 or up to 3 hours. This step is important because it helps the salmon’s surface absorb more flavour during the smoking process.
Make sure you allow enough time for the cured salmon to air dry in the fridge prior to smoking.

Make sure you allow enough time for the cured salmon to air dry in the fridge prior to smoking.

  • After the fish has air-dried in the fridge, you need to smoke it at a low temperature for two to four hours. I like to use a small pellet smoking device with my gas barbeque for this step and I try to maintain a temperature in the range of 200 – 225F throughout the smoking time.
  • Put the salmon on a grilling rack (anything to keep the slices from falling through the barbeque grates) and place the rack on the grill, without heat on underneath it.
  • Every 20 minutes, paint the salmon with the maple syrup. This will add some sweetness and a nice lacquered finish; it also helps to remove the albumen (white residue) that can form during the smoking process.
  • After 90 minutes, flip the salmon pieces over and begin applying maple syrup to the other side.
  • When the salmon looks nicely lacquered, typically after at least 2 hours, remove it to a clean drying rack, brush very lightly with maple syrup one more time and sprinkle lightly with freshly ground pepper.
  • Cool to room temperature then pack into a clean container with a tight lid and refrigerate for up to a week or freeze for longer storage.

Makes about 1.75 pounds (800 g) candy.

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Quick Pickled Asparagus

In case you haven’t noticed, I am more than a little infatuated with asparagus this year. I don’t know if I still have ‘post-too-cold-too-long-winter’ syndrome or if our local farmers are producing extra-delicious stalks, but I just can’t get enough of asparagus right now. I am grilling it, slathering it with sauce, wrapping it with smoked salmon and even steaming it to devour with a little butter and freshly-squeezed lemon. Today, I decided to pickle some, just so I can enjoy it after the local crop has finished. While I will enjoy eating these tangy spears on their own, I suspect that a few of them may end up as garnishes for Bloody Caesars (being a proud Canadian, I’ll always prefer our homegrown version to the American Bloody Mary). One tip: do be patient and give the asparagus 48 hours in the brine before you dive in. I know it’s hard to wait, but it will be worth it as the flavour will be so much better.

You can make quick pickles - like this zippy asparagus - just a jar at a time and they keep in the fridge for up to a month.

You can make quick pickles – like this zippy asparagus – just a jar at a time and they keep in the fridge for up to a month.

Ingredients

  • 12 oz / 300 grams asparagus (about 24 medium stalks)
  • 1 1/3 cups (340 mL) water
  • 1 1/3 cups (340 mL) white vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons (22 mL) coarse kosher salt
  • 1 large clove garlic, peeled and halved
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) coriander seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) whole cloves

Method

  • Combine water, vinegar and salt in a small saucepan. Warm over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until salt dissolves. Keep warm over low heat until ready to use.
  • Gently crack the peppercorns, mustard and coriander seeds using a mortar and pestle or the bottom of a sturdy mug.
  • Quickly toast the pepper, mustard and coriander over medium heat in a small frying pan until they are fragrant, being careful not to let the spices burn. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
  • Rinse the asparagus and cut to fit in a 4 cup / 1 L canning jar. It’s best to cut the woody end off one spear and put it in the jar to test for height; you want to leave at least 1/4 inch of headspace at the top of the jar.
  • Pack the trimmed asparagus into the jar so you will know exactly how many stalks will fit. Remove asparagus from jar and blanch it by putting it in the bottom of a very clean sink, with the drain plug in (or use a large, clean heatproof baking dish).
  • Lay the stalks out in a single layer, leaving space at one end of the sink or pan. Pour a kettle full of boiling water into the vessel, enough to cover the asparagus by at least 1/2 inch (1.25 cm). Let stand 3 – 5 minutes.
  • While asparagus is blanching, put garlic slices, toasted spices, red pepper flakes and cloves into the bottom of the canning jar.
  • When asparagus stalks are just tender (begin checking after by piercing the thickest stalk with the tip of a sharp knife), immediately plunge them into cold water to stop the cooking process.
  • Pack the spears into the jar, tip ends up.
  • Pour hot brine over the asparagus, filling jar to within 1/4 inch (.6 cm) of the top. If you don’t have quite enough liquid, top up with a little bit more vinegar.
  • Put the lid on the jar and let it cool to room temperature, shaking gently every so often to redistribute spices. Note that the asparagus will change colour as it becomes infused with the salty, acidic brine.
  • Once cooled, refrigerate.
  • The pickled asparagus will be ready to eat in 48 hours and will keep in the fridge for up to a month.

Makes one 4 cup / 4 L jar.

Posted in Canada Day, cocktails, Drinks, Party, pickles, summer, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Butter Tart Squares

Butter tarts rank right up there as one of the foods considered to be quintessentially Canadian. Their origin is hotly debated – as is the inclusion of raisins – but they are nearly universally loved. If you’re pressed for time, these squares are a great alternative as they are easier to prepare than tarts, with the quick shortbread base a perfect substitute for pastry. I make these squares often because of their simplicity; if you want to go old-school, here’s a fantastic recipe for classic, corn-syrup free butter tarts.

These squares deliver all the flavour of fabulous butter tarts without the fuss of dealing with pastry!

These squares deliver all the flavour of fabulous butter tarts without the fuss of dealing with pastry!

Ingredients

Crust

  • 2 cups (500 mL) flour
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) white sugar
  • 1 cup (250 mL) butter

Topping

  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (250 mL) raisins (if you must)
  • 1 ½ cups (375 mL) chopped pecans or walnuts, lightly toasted

Method

  • Preheat oven to 350F.
  • Line a 9 x 13 inch (22.5 x 32.5 cm) pan with parchment paper.
  • Make crust by combining flour, sugar and butter in a large bowl. With a hand or stand mixer, beat together until crumbly.
  • Press crust firmly into the parchment-lined pan. Bake for 15 minutes.
  • While crust is baking, prepare topping. In a large bowl, combine eggs, brown sugar, flour, melted butter and vanilla until well blended (I use a stand or electric mixer; a whisk works fine too).
  • Pour topping over baked crust. Sprinkle raisins (if you must) and/or nuts over the topping.
  • Return to the oven and bake for 25 minutes.
  • Let cool thoroughly and cut into squares.
  • Refrigerate or freeze if not serving within 48 hours.
Posted in Desserts, Make Ahead, Party | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Tourtière Tarts

Tourtière pops up frequently on lists of quintessential Canadian foods. While we often tend to associate this meat pie with winter feasts, especially over the Christmas season, there’s nothing stopping you from enjoying the sweet-savoury flavours of tourtière any time of the year. For these tarts – perfect for a Canada Day Party – I’ve lightened up the texture a little by adding in a lot of chopped vegetables. Serve them with a variety of condiments, such as chili sauce, salsa or cranberry chutney. You can make the tarts ahead, freeze and reheat gently, or cook the filling a day or two before your party and then simply fill the tart shells and bake them at the last minute.

Including a lot of chopped vegetables lightens up traditional tourtiere filling, making it ideal for summer entertaining.

Including a lot of chopped vegetables lightens up traditional tourtiere filling, making these tarts ideal for summer entertaining.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb (500 g) lean ground pork
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) canola oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 1 small carrot, diced
  • 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) finely chopped mushrooms
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup(175 mL) chicken or beef stock
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) dried savory
  • 1/4 tsp (1.25 mL) each ground cinnamon and cloves
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • premade frozen tart shells
  • Salsa, chutney, or chili sauce, for garnish

Method

  • Cook pork in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring often, until no longer pink.
  • Add oil, then add onion, celery and carrot. Sauté for about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and garlic and sauté for 5 minutes longer, until all vegetables are softened.
  • Add stock, savory, cinnamon and cloves. Simmer for about 5 minutes or until almost no liquid remains. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let cool for 15 minutes then refrigerate or freeze until you are ready to bake tarts. If frozen, thaw meat carefully before proceeding.
  • Preheat oven to 425ºF.
  • Place frozen tart shells on a baking sheet and fill shells with meat mixture.
  • Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.
  • Serve warm.

Makes enough filling for about 30 tarts.

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Grilled Chicken with Strawberry Salsa

I just cannot get enough of juicy, ripe local strawberries. While we are now fortunate to be able to enjoy them all summer long thanks to everbearing plants, there is something irresistible about the first crop in June. I’ve been making all my berry-licious favorites, from scones to ice cream to wickedly wonderful grilled strawberry daiquiris. Last night, my tastebuds were leaning towards something savoury, which is how this dish came to be. I made a not-too-spicy, not-too-tart salsa which would be a very family-friendly version; you can easily torque up the heat and tang if that’s your preference. I’m often asked how to grill bone-in chicken so it cooks thoroughly yet doesn’t dry out; you’ll see my technique in the method below.  If you’re like me and swoon over all things strawberry, you might be happy to know that the salsa is also delicious on toast or as a dipper for pita or tortilla chips.

Salsa made with ripe strawberries, cilantro, cucumber and red onion is the perfect pairing with grilled chicken.

Salsa made with ripe strawberries, cilantro, cucumber and red onion is the perfect pairing with grilled chicken.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups (375mL) chopped fresh, ripe strawberries
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) finely diced red onion
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) diced English cucumber
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) chopped cilantro
  • Zest of 1 lime plus 3 tablespoons (45 mL) lime juice, or to taste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) maple syrup, or to taste
  • Several dashes hot sauce, or to taste
  • 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar

Method

  • Combine strawberries, onion, cucumbers and cilantro in a bowl.
  • Add lime zest and juice, salt and pepper, maple syrup and hot sauce.
  • Stir to blend well. Taste and adjust seasonings to your preference.
  • Cover and let sit for 1 – 3 hours; refrigerate for longer storage.
  • When ready to cook chicken, preheat grill to medium-high (400F).
  • Drizzle skin side of chicken breasts with a little olive oil.
  • Place a sheet of heavy duty foil just big enough to hold chicken pieces in one layer on the hot grill, then lay chicken pieces on top, skin side up.
  • Close the barbeque lid and cook for approximately 20 – 25 minutes, or until chicken is about 120F (measure the thickest part of the largest piece with an instant-read thermometer). Flip the chicken so it’s now skin side down on the foil and cook for about another 10 minutes.
  • When chicken is at 155F, flip it again and brush the tops (skin side) with balsamic vinegar.
  • Place the chicken breasts skin side down directly on the grill (moving the foil aside if needed).
  • Cook for about 5 minutes, until chicken reaches a temperature of 165F.
  • Remove chicken from heat, arrange on a platter and spoon salsa over top. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Posted in Grilling, Meat, poultry, summer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How do you love your lentils?

I have something to confess. While I have been a big fan of lentils for years, I only just realized yesterday that I’ve been missing out on some truly great culinary opportunities with these little nutritional powerhouses. Like many people, I’ve long been adding lentils to soups, stews and sauces, feeling good about feeding my meat-loving family some seriously tasty, healthy vegetarian dishes. As part of a great new national campaign to promote one of Canada’s most important crops, I learned a whole lot about the versatility of lentils yesterday. The campaign is the clever and delicious FundeLentil Tour, organized by Canadian Lentils. I can’t wait to share news of the fabulous FundeLentil contest, but first, a few facts:

  • Canada is the world’s largest producer of lentils
  • 95% of Canada’s lentils are grown in Saskatchewan
  • There are over 5000 lentil farmers in Canada
  • Canadian farmers planted over 3 million acres of lentils last year, yielding 1.84 million tons of lentils
  • Canada is the world’s largest exporter of lentils.

So now it’s time for some lentil love, and that’s where the FundeLentil contest comes in. This month, 24 restaurants across Canada are showcasing lentils in amazingly delicious and innovative ways on their menus. Participating cities include Vancouver, Calgary, Halifax, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg and Saskatoon; if you’re ready to drool, check out each restaurant’s chef describing their dish. While you don’t have to taste the dishes to vote, your tastebuds will be very happy if you do! You can vote once per day until the contest closes on June 30th. The prize – a trip for two to any of the participating cities – is pretty enticing, don’t you think?

fundelentils image

One of the key players in this delicious contest is well-known Canadian food advocate Anita Stewart, who is also the founder of Food Day Canada. As she explained during our lunch tour, she helped curate the list of participating restaurants, selected not only to represent a variety of culinary genres but also in recognition of their consistent participation in Food Day Canada and their commitment to showcasing the foods of their particular regions.

Here in Ottawa, the four participating restaurants are Atelier, the Wellington Gastropub, Absinthe Café and Murray Street Kitchen ǀ Wine ǀ Charcuterie. Having sampled all four dishes yesterday, I have to confess I’d be hard pressed to pick a winner.

Atelier – Red Lentil Fritter with Duck, Carrots and Beluga Lentils

Chef Marc Lepine crafted a delicious dish in his signature playful style. I loved the dehydrated carrot "Roller Coaster" (his words) that was as tasty as it was visually appealing.

Chef Marc Lepine crafted a delicious dish in his signature playful style at Atelier. I loved the dehydrated carrot “Roller Coaster” (his words) that was as tasty as it was visually appealing.

 The Wellington Gastropub – Stuffed and Roasted Saddle of Rabbit, Lentils Braised with Beau’s Lugtread, Pickled Carrot and Mustard Sauce

Chef Chris Deraiche presents a flavourful rabbit and lentil dish; quick pickled carrot ribbons offer a great flavour punch.

Chef Chris Deraiche of the Wellington Gastropub presents a flavourful rabbit and lentil dish; quick pickled carrot ribbons offer a great flavour punch.

Absinthe – Moroccan Lentil Harira with a Bacon-wrapped Quail Stuffed with Dried Fruits and Pistachios

The featured lentil dish at Absinthe is composed of a delightful blend of flavours and textures that just might see you mopping your plate with their terrific house-made foccacia.

The featured lentil dish created by Chef Pat Garland at Absinthe is composed of a delightful blend of flavours and textures that just might see you mopping your plate with their terrific house-made foccacia.

Murray Street – Lentil Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie

Chef Steve Mitton's VegHerders (Shepherds) Pie is so popular, it's been on the menu at Murray Street for over a year and fans won't let him take it off.

Chef Steve Mitton’s VegHerders (Shepherds) Pie is so popular, it’s been on the menu at Murray Street for over a year and fans won’t let him take it off.

I am feeling more than a little inspired after yesterday’s FundeLentils Tour in Ottawa and can’t wait to get creative with lentils in my own kitchen.  In the meantime, you can click the links below to check out a few of the tasty lentil dishes my family currently enjoys:

Lentil-Barley Stew

Luscious Lentil Soup

Lentil-Sweet Potato Soup

Disclaimer: On the Ottawa leg of the FundeLentils tour, I was a grateful guest of the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers/Canadian Lentils, however all opinions expressed are my own.

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Grilled Salmon with Asian Flavours

Grilling is such an easy way to prepare fish. Not only is it super speedy, since fish cooks very quickly over high heat, it’s also healthy and flavourful. Salmon’s mild flavour lends itself to all kinds of seasonings and I find a mix of sweet, spicy, sour and salty – common in many Asian cuisines – is just perfect. Serve this with grilled asparagus or zucchini slices and herbed potatoes and you’ve got a delicious meal that doesn’t take long to prepare.

Asian flavourings including hot-salty-sour-sweet are a perfect match for tender salmon fillets. Grill them up on a bed of lettuce leaves and they won't dry out!

Asian flavourings including hot-salty-sour-sweet are a perfect match for tender salmon fillets. Grill them up on a bed of lettuce leaves and they won’t dry out!

Ingredients

  • 4 salmon fillets
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) chili paste (or more, if you like more heat)
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) soy sauce (or tamari, for a gluten free version)
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) water
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) freshly minced garlic
  • 4 – 6 large lettuce leaves
  • Lime wedges, for garnish

Method

  • Combine the brown sugar, lime juice, pepper, chili paste, soy sauce, olive oil, sesame oil, water and garlic.
  • Put the fish in a non-reactive dish or ziplock bag and drizzle the marinade over top.
  • Refrigerate, covered (or sealed, if using a bag) for one to two hours.
  • To cook, preheat your barbeque to medium-high.
  • Lay the fish out (skin side down, if it is not skinless) on the lettuce leaves (try to have a double thickness of lettuce but make sure the salmon is not hanging over the edge of the lettuce). The lettuce will insulate the salmon from the intense heat of the grill.
A bed of lettuce leaves insulates the salmon perfectly as it is on the grill.

A bed of lettuce leaves insulates the salmon perfectly – place it on the lettuce before you slide it on the grill.

  • Slide the leaves and fish onto the preheated grill. Drizzle a lit bit of the marinade over the fish.
  • While the fish cooks, boil up the remaining marinade for 5 minutes so it can be used as a glaze.
  • Close the lid of your barbeque and let the salmon cook for 15 – 20 minutes, until the fish flakes easily when tested with a fork and it has reached an internal temperature of 140F.
  • Glaze the fish with the reduced marinade then carefully flip the fish over directly onto the grates to give the top a quick sear (1 – 2 minutes).
  • Remove from the grill and serve immediately, garnished with lime wedges.

Serves 4.

Posted in barbeque, fish, Grilling | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment