Archive for the ‘shrimp’Category

Backhouse realizes Niagara’s great potential

Ryan Campbell of Backhouse in Niagara-on-the-Lake

Too bad the great French gourmand Christian Millau didn’t live long enough to visit Ryan and Bev Campbell’s Backhouse in Niagara-on-the-Lake (242 Mary St.; 289-272-1242; backhouse.xyz). In 1968, Millau revolutionized the way the French (and, given the era, the world) regarded haute cuisine when he announced that he had discovered “the best restaurant in the world” in the provincial town of Roanne. He might have said something similar had he discovered this grill-centric, hyper-locavore restaurant in a shopping strip at the edge of this Lake Ontario resort village.

“Best restaurant in the world” is hyperbole, of course. But the comparison to Les Frères Troisgros is more than fair. Backhouse serves brilliant food far from the metropolitan restaurant scene. Asador Etxebarri in the small village of Atxondo in Spain’s Basque country might be an even closer comparison. Etxebarri’s chef Bittor Arguinzoniz cooks everything with open flame and coals. So does Ryan Campbell, one of the most talented and obsessive chefs we’ve ever met. He uses the trimmings from local peach and cherry orchards that would otherwise be burned as slash.

Light my fire


Campbell knows the appeal of the grill, and he places the five-foot cooking box front and center in the restaurant. Diners can opt to sit at conventional tables—or line up in seats along the bar facing the fire. We chose the bar for a tasting menu. We wanted to watch Campbell work the apparatus and poke the logs while wearing his heavy leather blacksmith’s apron. He is so organized and calm that his motions seemed almost meditative.

chicken liver purses at BackhouseThat’s probably because so much of the menu is prepared ahead. Locavore cooking in a cold climate means lots of smoking, drying, pickling, and even freezing products during their seasonal glut. Most of us associate open-fire cookery with quick roasting. Not Campbell. The chickens hanging in the back of the fireplace are cooking ahead for the first step in his “bird on a wire” dish. For our opener, we ate these pastry purses filled with chicken liver mousse and tomatillo chutney. He paired the dish with barrel-fermented sparkling hard cider.

As soon as we finished this earthy combination, we found ourselves looking at a small bowl of fresh curds and whey with just a dash of maple syrup and a beautiful viola flower floating on top. The milk came from Sheldon Creek Farms, a single-herd microdairy. The combination was ethereal and a bright counterpoint to the chicken liver starter. We thought we’d caught our breath, but immediately Campbell set out a tiny ramekin of fried egg white mousse with a confit egg yolk topped with trout caviar. We couldn’t help but think of the pintxos creativos of Spain’s San Sebastian. In effect, the liver purses, curds and whey, and “Meg’s Egg,” as Campbell calls it, formed a trio of canapes that hinted at the restaurant’s range.

Bread and veggies


After a short pause, another trio of dishes appeared in a sudden flurry. Campbell treats his sourdough breads with house-cultured butter as a course unto itself, as well he should. His sourdough starter, affectionately known as “Roxane,” has been with him for years. The bread and butter clean the palate for the intense vegetable dishes that follow.

wild leek and potato soup from BackhouseThe first was a wild leek and potato soup, thick and green, served with a sourdough brioche toast float, a dab of crème fraiche, and thin matchsticks of homemade prosciutto. (Campbell buys only whole animals and does his own butchering. Nothing goes to waste.) Since local asparagus was still in season, he completed the trio with a plate of wood-roasted Niagara asparagus, a smear of black garlic aioli and another smear of garlic mustard. (He makes his own condiments, of course.)

The meat of the matter


First Ontario shrimp at BackhouseWithout getting too precious about it, Campbell treats animal proteins with an almost religious regard for the creatures. He said it took him two years to rise to the top of the wait list to be allowed to buy First Ontario farmed shrimp. The farm only produces about 300 pounds per week, and Campbell gives each Pacific white shrimp a place of honor atop local grits in this small bowl.

bird on a wire from BackhouseOur tasting menu moved on to a variation of the “bird on a wire” dish—so called because Campbell slow roasts heritage chickens strung on a wire in the back of a firebox. He then picks the meat and presses the smoky flesh into a tubular sausage. Thick slices are quickly grilled over the open fire before he plates them with a chicken leg, wood-roasted locally foraged wild mushrooms, and homemade gnocchi. The dish might be the apotheosis of poultry. The glass of Gamay Noir from a local virtual winery (13th Street) didn’t hurt either.

Desserts at Backhouse are seasonally inspired. We were dining in late spring, and maple was Campbell’s inspiration. (We never asked if he uses sugar, but we suspect that maple is his sweetener of choice because it’s local.) He presented a sweet potato custard, a melt-in-the-mouth shortbread, and a crumbly spice cake—all scented and sweetened with maple. Alas, we were too sated to try the plate of Ontario cheeses.


For an overview of attractions, restaurants, and lodging on the Niagara Peninsula, see Visit Niagara (visitniagaracanada.com).

Little Italy simmers with many new tastes

Different food approaches in Little Italy in Toronto
There are certainly fancier coffee shops than Café Diplomatico (594 College St., 416-534-4637, cafediplomatico.ca), but few that so consistently screen European soccer matches on the TVs. Since 1968, it’s been one of the principal landmarks of Toronto’s Little Italy. Ironically, that’s just about the time that the neighborhood was beginning to lose its accent.

We met Kevin Dupree, owner of the Culinary Adventure Co. (647-955-8357, www.culinaryadventureco.com), in front of “The Dip” for a walk around the neighborhood along College Street between Euclid Avenue and Shaw Street. Dupree’s company offers a full menu of neighborhood sampling tours and a number of other gastronomic activities—including a summertime canoe trip to the Toronto islands with a master chef who prepares a picnic.

But this particular evening, we concentrated on Little Italy. He explained that Italian immigration to Toronto began around 1880 and slowed to a trickle after 1930. The residential part of the neighborhood remained Italian into the 1960s, and it’s still full of Italian bars, coffee shops, and restaurants.

P.G. Clucks in Little Italy in Toronto That preponderance of eating and drinking establishments made this stretch of College Street a nightlife destination, and other cuisines have moved in to create a dynamic multicultural mix. We ducked into a streetfront stall—P.G. Clucks—selling “Nashville-style” fried chicken sandwiches. (They’re fiery hot with spices.) And we spent a while at Hapa Izakaya (602 College St., 647-748-4272, hapaizakaya.com), a Toronto offshoot of the Vancouver-based chain of hip Japanese bar-restaurants. Dark and loud, our area was bathed in the blue glow of UV lamps—which made the white menus glow in the dark. The sake sampler was eye-opening, and the whole mackerel warmed up with blowtorch blast (see top image) was delicate and delicious.

entrance to Sotto Voce in Little Italy in Toronto But we really felt the soul of Little Italy in the spot across the street from the Dip. Sotto Voce Wine and Pasta Bar (595 College St., 416-536-4564, sottovoce.ca) has been around for about 20 years, and it’s still serving the recipes of the Sicilian grandmother of one of the owners. The wine list is strongest on southern Italian wines, and the pasta plates feature red sauce without shame. We enjoyed some superb Sicilian meatballs made with pine nuts and currants and a bowl of gnocchi with wild boar ragu. The “fanciest” dish of the night was Gamberoni a la Puttanesca—spaghetti with tiger shrimp in a tomato sauce redolent of anchovies, garlic, black olives, and capers. It’s actually a modern Neapolitan dish that’s taken hold on both sides of the Atlantic.

The recipe below is not from Sotto Voce. It’s our own adaptation of many different approaches to puttanesca, but it has the same kind of umami punch as the one we enjoyed in Toronto.

SHRIMP PUTTANESCA


Serves 4 Shrimp puttanesca at Sotto Voce in Toronto's Little Italy

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
pinch of salt
can of anchovies (2 ounces)
1 head of garlic, cloves separated, peeled, and minced
6 ounce can of tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
26-ounce can or box of crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup capers (drained)
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
12 ounces spaghetti
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
8 ounces tiger shrimp tails with shells

In large pot, heat olive oil. Add chopped onions and pinch of salt. Cook at medium heat until onion begins to soften (about 5 minutes). Add anchovies and garlic, mashing up the anchovies with a spatula. Continue cooking about 3 minutes until garlic has softened. Add tomato paste, wine, and pepper flakes and stir well to mix. Add tomatoes, capers, and olives. Bring to a simmer. Cover and cook gently with occasional stirring for about a half hour. It will become thick and saucy.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil to cook spaghetti. When pasta goes into the water, add the lemon zest and juice to the slowly bubbling sauce. Add the shrimp and raise heat until the pot just barely bubbles.

When spaghetti is al dente (7-8 minutes), drain it, reserving some cooking liquid. Add drained spaghetti to shrimp puttanesca sauce and mix well. Add reserved cooking liquid as needed to thin.

Serve hot in bowls.

21

10 2016

It’s smart to get Luckee in Toronto

Bar area at Susur Lee restaurant Luckee in Toronto
Susur Lee was always my favorite contestant on season two of Top Chef Masters, but it took a while until I got to eat his food instead of watching him make it on TV. This year I finally made it to his jewel box contemporary Chinese restaurant, Luckee, at the Soho Metropolitan Hotel (328 Wellington St. W; 416-935-0400, luckeerestaurant.com). This polished restaurant serves some of the best meals in an already food-obsessed city. Much more than a gastronomic shrine directed by a celebrity chef, it’s flat-out good fun. I’m not the only one who thinks so. On my last visit Will Smith was in town shooting yet another movie where Toronto stands in as a generic North American city. He and his entourage took over a large piece of the bar area to eat and drink the night away. (That’s the bar area above.)

Chef Susur Lee of Luckee restaurant in Toronto In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, Susur Lee (right) is one of the most influential chefs of the last few decades, widely admired for his keen marriage of classical French technique and Chinese fine dining traditions. He is as well known in Singapore (where his restaurant Club Chinois recently changed its name to Tinglok Heen) and Hong Kong (where he started as an apprentice in the kitchen of the Peninsula) as in Toronto. Critics have tried to pigeonhole Lee as a “nouvelle chinoise” or a “fusion” chef, but what they often miss about his food is the reverence for traditional Chinese dishes.

As he put it when we sat down for a few minutes, “Invention happens all the time. Someone had to be the first to make har gow [steamed shrimp dumplings]. Now, maybe centuries later, we all make them, but that doesn’t detract from how good they are.”

Susur Lee makes Luckee Duck Dinner is definitely a treat at Luckee. Lee presents traditional dishes like Hunan wok-fried lotus root and Chinese celery with great panache, and his version of moo shi duck lives up to its name of “Luckee Duck” with deep flavors and a range of textures. (That’s Luckee Duck here on the left.) Lee has a special place in his cuisine for the traditional small dishes of dim sum. He keeps about a dozen on the dinner menu and offers them at all hours in the bar.

To get a full appreciation, though, it’s best to make a reservation for the weekend dim sum brunch, which is arguably even more fun than dinner. And, if possible, it’s even more crowded, so try to book ahead. One of the classic items on the dim sum menu (and the weekend carts) is siu mai, a steamed dumpling filled with meat or fish and vegetables and formed to capture steam inside the wrapper. Lee was kind enough to provide his recipe for Luckee Siu Mai. During brunch, he gilds the lily by placing a slice of scallop on top of each dumpling. You’ll know that you’ve formed it correctly if, when you bite into it, the dumpling exudes a warm fog of flavors similar to the gasp of soufflé when you puncture the top with a fork.

Susur Lee's Siu Mai at Luckee in Toronto

CHEF SUSUR LEE’S LUCKEE SIU MAI

Makes 24 dumplings

Ingredients

454g (16 oz) chicken (a 50/50 mix of white and dark), minced
8g (1 1/2 tsp) salt
16g (4 1/2 tsp) potato starch
360g (12 oz) shrimp, minced
120g (4 oz) wood ear mushrooms (fresh or rehydrated), thinly sliced
16g (4 tsp) sugar
4g (1 3/4 tsp) white pepper
15ml (3 tsp) sesame oil
5g (2 tsp) dried orange skin
24 gyoza wrappers (or won ton wrappers trimmed into rounds)

Directions

Mix chicken meat with salt and potato starch until combined. Add shrimp and mix. Then add mushrooms and mix. Add sugar, white pepper, sesame oil, and dried orange skin. Mix again.

Divide mixture evenly into 24 balls. (They will be about a rounded tablespoon each). Place a ball in center of a wrapper. Moisten the edges of the wrapper and gather up the edges like a purse, pleating around the top and leaving a small opening to vent the filling.

Steam in bamboo steamer for 15-20 minutes and enjoy.

02

12 2015

CIA classes bridge to Latin cuisines

CIA class helper
There’s nothing like a cooking class to build bridges across cultures, and the San Antonio branch of the Culinary Institute of America has a special interest in the cuisines of Latin America. Its spacious and modern campus opened in 2008 in some of the larger buildings of the former Pearl Brewery. It was a keystone in the development of the Pearl District, a lively area of restaurants and shops and site of a Saturday farmer’s market.

Chef Sergio In addition to professional chef training, the CIA offers enthusiast classes for home cooks. During Culinaria in May, we joined a Latin Boot Camp class for a crash course in several styles of South American cooking. The class was led by Sergio Remolina, who hails from Mexico City and studied in France. He wears two hats at CIA: He is the director of Latin Cuisine Studies, and head of the Center for the Foods of the Americas.

The objective of the class was to teach us several different approaches to cooking with acid — as in making ceviche — and to develop an appreciation for the flavor profiles of Andean cuisines. It was not necessarily a class for the kitchen beginner, as Remolina assumed that all the students had fairly well-developed cooking and knife skills. Most ingredients had to be prepped by hand, and if you couldn’t peel, bone, and chop quickly, there was no chance of finishing a dish on time to be served with dishes from other teams.

CIA tableOur team undertook a simple salad of oranges and hearts of palm, lamb kebabs marinated in a complex mix of ingredients, and an Ecuadoran-style shrimp ceviche. Other teams made empanadas, duck with rice, quinoa au gratin, and mashed potatoes seasoned with crab and cilantro. The class culminated with a grand buffet table and a satisfying feast. Here’s one of the more straightforward dishes, slightly adapted from the class version.

CIA shrimp dishECUADORAN-STYLE SHRIMP CEVICHE

Makes 8 appetizer-size portions

Ingredients for shrimp
2 lb. medium shrimp with heads and tails intact
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 cup medium diced red onion
1 tablespoon finely diced garlic
2 cups medium diced tomatoes, cored and seeded before dicing
1 whole red onion
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 teaspoon garlic paste
2 orange habañero chiles, seeds and veins removed
1/2 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped

Ingredients for marinade
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
4 cups coarsely chopped very ripe tomatoes, cored and seeded before chopping
1/2 cup fresh orange or tangelo juice
1/2 cup ketchup (to taste)

Ingredients for garnish
2 tablespoons finely chopped lightly toasted peanuts
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
plantain chips and/or popcorn as desired

Directions
1. Rinse, shell, and devein shrimp, reserving the shells and heads. Butterfly the shrimp.

2. Make shrimp stock: In a large sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-high. Sear the shells and heads until fragrant. Add the chopped onion, garlic, and tomato and stir until all ingredients are cooked through. Cover with water, bring to a boil, and reduce by half. Strain the concentrated stock through a fine mesh sieve.

3. Transfer strained stock to clean pot, bring to simmer and poach butterflied shrimp for 30 seconds. Strain the shrimp and chill shrimp and stock separately in an ice bath. Reserve 2 cups of stock for this recipe and reserve remainder for other dishes.

4. Slice the whole red onion in half, remove the heart, and finely julienne. Cover red onion with cup of orange juice and chill.

5. Toss the shrimp with garlic paste. Combine the shrimp, red onion mixture, habañero chiles, and cilantro and chill.

6. In a blender jar, combine the 2 cups of reserved shrimp stock, lime juice, ripe tomatoes, orange/tangelo juice, and ketchup. Process until smooth. Strain mixture through fine-mesh sieve and pour over the shrimp. Chill until ready to serve.

7. Just before serving, salt to taste and sprinkle with chopped cilantro and chopped peanuts. Garnish with plantain chips and/or popcorn as desired.

11

08 2014

A prawn by any other name

Shrimp strip 1
Few things are as quite as confusing as the wonderful array of crustaceans available in southern Spain. When we were in El Puerto de Santa María in February, we photographed some of them at the Romerijo fish market (www.romerijo.com). The same crustacean (per its Latin name) may have two or three different common names, depending on size and where it is caught. The six images here, for example, only show four different species.

Here they are, from left to right, above:
Camarón (Palaemon serratus) is the common rock shrimp (common prawn to the Brits) found in abundance at the mouth of the Río Guadalquivír. When they are small like this, they are comparatively inexpensive. In Andalucía, they are often fried up, shell and all, in a paper-thin omelet called a tortallita de camarones.

Langostino Sanlúcar (Penaeus kerathurus) is not what the French call langoustine or the Italians call scampi. In Spain it’s a large brown prawn with hints of red. Those from Sanlúcar are especially prized because they are sweeter and more tender than langostinos from other waters. They are usually steamed or grilled with olive oil and garlic.

Gamba blanca (Parapenaeus longirostris) is the North African white shrimp, which is often found in the Bay of Cádiz. It’s an especially meaty shrimp and is served in lieu of the carabinero (red prawn, scarlet prawn) fished in a different season.

Shrimp strip 2
Here’s the second group, from left to right, above:

Cigala (Nephrops noreugicus) is the French langoustine or the Italian scampi. It also goes by such monikers as Norway lobster or Dublin Bay prawn. It’s actually a member of the lobster family. In Spain, it’s usually cut in half lengthwise and grilled (a la plancha).

Langostino rayado (Penaeus kerathurus) is the same beast as the langostino Sanlúcar, but barely half the size. These were actually fished off the coast of Mauritania in northwest Africa. At this size they’re often used in baked rice dishes, such as paella de mariscos.

Quisquilla is a name applied, alas, to a couple of different shrimp or prawns. Often it’s the small brown shrimp that is mixed into rice dishes or into soups. Here it is a much bigger version of Palaemon serratus, the camarón and would be served steamed or pan-fried with garlic.

As confusing as the nomenclature may be, they all make terrific eating. At Romerijo, you can order them by weight and have them cooked immediately to eat on the spot. The fish market cum restaurant is located at Plaza de la Herrería, 1 in El Puerto de Santa María. The local telephone is 956-54-12-54.

26

03 2014