Location: North America
Population: 35 million
Geography: A wide array of landscapes, including forest, mountain, prairie, and northern tundra
Language: English, French
Signature flavours: Seafood, beef, pork, maple, potato, eggs, dairy, orchard fruits, berries
This is a special one. Not just because I was born a Canadian and Eric chose to become one, not just because I feel utterly bound to the unparalleled beauty of this land, not just because I grew up eating butter tarts, but because of all of those things together. I feel very Canadian, and it’s hard to pin down a reason why. Maybe it’s a combination of a connection to the idea of Canada and a more tangible connection to the clear lakes, cliffside cedars, and ancient, lichen-covered stones that go all the way back into history. Either way, this was my assignment.
Nova Scotia Lobster Roll: Mayonnaise-y lobster chunks in a buttery toasted bun, garnished with green onion.
Prep and cooking time: 20 minutes (if using already-cooked lobster)
Poutine: French fries coated in thick gravy and mixed with big, squeaky cheese curds.
Prep and cooking time: 45 min
Beet-Cured Salmon: Salmon cured overnight in a beet juice preparation, served with a drizzle of blueberry sauce on a bed of sautéed wild mushrooms.
Prep and cooking time: 24 hours
New Brunswick-Style Fiddleheads: Baby ferns tossed in butter and garlic, with a dash of white vinegar. Fiddleheads completely informed the timing of this assignment, since I was determined to have them on my menu, but their season is very short (if you wait too long, they’re just ferns).
Prep and cooking time: 20 min
Butter Tarts: Gooey brown sugar filling in a flaky pastry.
Prep and cooking time: 60 min
The Shopping List
I tackled this one in the midst of the Coronavirus lockdown, shopping for my ingredients at as few places as possible while hiding my face behind a thick cotton mask. The seafood came from the incredible Hooked, Inc. The wild mushrooms were sourced from Rowe Farms. I snagged the last bag of cheese curds from Leslieville Cheese Market. Fresh fiddleheads were found at Farmer Fruit on the Danforth. All other ingredients were from our local supermarket.
It’s been a long while since our last assignment. A long, long while. So it was great to get back in the kitchen, dive back into the chaos of a WSW assignment, and get the kitchen really, truly messy.
The first thing I started was the beet-cured salmon, an indigenous recipe from a beautiful cookbook called Tawaw. I coated a thick piece of salmon with sugar and salt, then poured beet juice over it and left it in the fridge for 24 hours. The result was a candied salmon, which I laid across a bed of Ontario chanterelle, oyster, and king mushrooms on a plate painted with blueberry sauce.
The sauce was supposed to be made out of Saskatoon berries, but I couldn’t find any. Either Toronto is too far east for them, or they’re just not in season. Regardless, the dish was beautiful to look at and a multi-sensory experience to eat. The colours of the blueberry sauce and beet salmon were fantastically intense, but the flavours were mild enough for everything — mushroom, salmon, berry sauce — to come through with each bite.
Breaking open a lobster with no tools, and just the optimism of a person who doesn’t know better is quite a task. It took me at least 40 minutes to extract all the meat, with considerable pinches involved. There’s no lobster like fresh East Coast lobster, but the one we had was very nice. As we ate our lobster rolls, we reminisced about sitting in the fishing village of Peggys Cove, Nova Scotia, eating the same.
Fiddleheads are tricky, not only because of their short season, but because they must be washed very well or they can cause food poisoning. I spent ages rinsing them under running water, rubbing away the bits of papery brown fibre that the internet said could cause problems. Then I boiled them for no less than nine minutes before pan-frying them. Fiddleheads have a unique flavour, somewhere between asparagus and eggplant. Their spiral shape makes them a great vehicle for the butter and garlic they were fried in for this recipe.
Ah, poutine. Why are you not enjoyed the world over? Potatoes, gravy, cheese. So simple. So elegant. So delicious. My poutine, made with homemade french fries, vegetarian gravy, and mozzarella cheese curds, was fabulous. Like, really, really good.
Butter tarts have a somewhat mysterious history. They are undoubtably a Canadian treasure, but it seems they could have a distant Scottish, or possible French, ancestor. Wars have been started over whether they should be made with raisins, or pecans, or neither, and I won’t declare my allegiance for fear of losing half my readership. But, well, I made mine with raisins. As they were intended to be made. I used a recipe from a bakery in rural Ontario where I’ve spent many humid summer afternoons, stirring buckets of butter tart filling. It would have been impossible to use any other recipe. The resulting tart was perfect. Crystallized sugary filling clung to the edges of the buttery pastry, and the gooey centre slooooooooowly escaped after we took a bite.
This feels like a time, with international borders closed, when lines on the earth seem all the more real. I want to say that I don’t think that’s true. All countries are imaginary, and there are no borders. WSW categorizes our culinary exploration by country, but we have found that food transcends the lines on the map, and spills over (like butter tart filling). The Canada I love spills over. I wanted this assignment to mean something because it means so much to me. I hope that when you explore this blog, you take away more than countries. I hope you take away histories that defy borders.
Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.