Never too much duck
We finished up our annual duck festival over a week ago, and I’m now well into my Valentine’s menu with ‘aprhodisiac ingredients’ as the theme, but I still have one last duck dinner to go. This one is for a carpenter friend of ours (who has done much work for us recently) and who thinks he and his wife don’t like duck. François and I hardly believe this is possible, so decided to do them a favour and woo them back from the dark side with an enchanting evening of duck dishes. Better knock wood, but I’m counting on a successful turn-around.
In case you didn’t know, duck is my favourite meat. I mention it often, going on about the benefits of duck fat or plugging my favourite duck (Ferme Morgan) whenever possible. I planned on posting a full-on article about duck in all its guises to kick off our duck themed menu in January but never got around to it. The fact that I’m still enamoured with everything duck as I finish up a month of bathing in duck fat, cooking it daily (and nibbling all the odd bits) is a good sign. I just don’t seem to tire of it.
With three local breeds (Muscovy, Moulard, Peking) and all their respective parts to play with, there are endless possibilities. I change the menu every year but no doubt, there are the tried and true classics that return although never served the same: Smoked duck breast, duck proscuito, duck consommé, duck eggs, roast duck, duck confit, duck chips, duck egg desserts… Although mostly French inspired, I always have to take one course ‘à l’orientale’ duck being a natural with soy, star anise, sesame and co.
Duck is easy to love and versatile, usually good no matter your inspiration, but it always comes down to pumping up the savoury with salt/umami and spices and then balancing the savoury richness and fat with touches of acidity and sweetness. Pungent, earthy and green notes help there too. Here are some no-brainers:
Berries, Grape must/saba, aged balsamic, salsaparilla, juniper
Exotic fruit flavours, pineapple, vanilla, sweetgrass, tonka bean
Earthy – Beans, Wild mushrooms, Root vegetables, Cabbage
Herbs – thyme, rosemary, herbes de provence, or basil, coriander..
Spice – ginger, allspice, nutmeg, pepper, star anise, clove, cinnamon, cumin, coriander.. and all such combinations (curry, 5 spice, quatre épices)..
Tart/Piquant to cut the richness – Citrus, good quality vinegar, sumac; mustard, horseradish, ginger, wild ginger, crinkleroot, garlic, chilli heat
Greens for the same reason - garlicky greens, bitter greens, crunchy lettuce
Each duck has its place in my mind. My favourite to eat as is from the pan, is Muscovy; it has a higher meat to fat ratio, the flavour is more complex, and the meat often less tough, allowing me to cook it closer to medium than rare, 15 min stove top is all you need for a supreme.
As with most game birds, the breast and legs should be cooked separately because the legs require a longer cooking time and do better with moist heat in a braise or confit.
My favourite duck to roast whole is the smaller Peking but I don’t bother trying to do a proper ‘Peking’ duck with all the tedious boiling and drying. (However, I do have fond memories of ordering it in fancy Chinese restaurants with the little crepes). I just marinate it for a day and roast it for an hour and a half or so until it’s just done. After an hour or so, you have to pour some water or broth in the pan. After a rest, I pick it all apart, cut it up and mix it into the degreased juices. This makes a great stuffing for a Momofuku style bun or any sandwich, although this year I served it with mushroom fried rice.
I choose Moulard for charcuterie; Muscovy works fine but is more expensive. My smoked duck is a recipe I concocted years ago which involves curing, then smoking followed by a sear and finish in a low oven. I came up with this method to safely be able to minimize/eliminate nitrites and it turns out that cooking develops more flavour to stand up to the smoke, contrary to drying it raw like most do.
Duck proscuito is a different story, more subtle so simply cured raw and dried. I looked to Paula Wolfert for guidance the first time around, but over the years I’ve tailored my own recipe – I’ve found the seasoning I like and most importantly have discovered the perfect conditions for the 3wk-month drying period. This is the trickiest part of making proscuito – you need a stable, cool, dry, airy dark place to hang your duck for 3 weeks to a month, a fridge is typically too cold and too humid. I make mine once a year in a closet at the restaurant over Christmas when we are closed and the heat is off. Don’t tell the MAPAQ. I don’t have a suitable spot once the mild weather sets in, but that’s ok; I quite like my traditions; the short windows for some wild plants have taught me that some things should only be made once a year.
Duck sausage is a good idea in theory, but to make a traditional sausage succulent as opposed to mealy and dry, you need to add a percentage of fatty pork because duck is naturally too lean and the fat is too soft. I’ve made several successful (and less than stellar) duck sausages, from summer sausage to chorizo to boudin blanc, but this year didn’t want to battle with the fact that pure duck does not easily make good sausage. So I made Mexican chorizo style meat balls. I also made a mousseline style terrine studded with flambéed duck filets and smoked duck, the cream and eggs making up for the lack of fat.
Duck eggs – Twice the size of a chicken egg with a bluish tough shell, the duck egg is truly a special ingredient, rich and deeply flavourful, with more yolk than white, and the white is high in protein, very springy. You can use them in savoury or sweet dishes, anywhere/anyhow you would use a chicken egg, but beware of meringue that will jump out of your mixing bowl and take over the kitchen when whipped. François loves duck eggs year round, simply fried or baked with cream and mushrooms; I like them scrambled, more for dinner than breakfast. I particularly liked a Spanish style tortilla dish from a prior menu. They make good crepes too (pure egg diluted with a bit of water). Dessert wise, this year, I made a frozen wintergreen chocolate soufflé and coconut sweet clover cake, but the sky is the limit; in previous years spectacular floating islands, pavlova, lemon meringue pie and multiple ice cream/parfait variations. I always select a duo of egg-based sweets – one that relies on the yolks and the other the whites.. At home, I would opt to keep it simple because fresh duck eggs are difficult to separate white from yolk, and forget about hard-boiled eggs (unless you let them age), they’re a bitch to peel.
My coup de couer, la salade.. Duck confit salad is not a staple on bistro menus for no reason! There are so many ways to take this theme.. My version consisted of duck gizzards & hearts, bitter greens, duck fat croutons, beets, pickled daisy buds and my wild ‘chimichurri’. It’s the mix of hot & cold, the constrast of luscious savoury dripping confit with bitter greens and a sharp, herbal vinaigrette alongside hits of sweet from the beets and pickles that made this salad a winner. Not only a salad girl like me swoons, but the meat & potato men too, a man’s salad if there ever was.
The confit treatment is really the ideal way to cook gizzards and hearts by the way - painless, a tender result guaranteed. You get the glory of confit (leg) with less time and hassle, no need to cure for days or debone. The longer you leave the gizzards the better, but you need to be careful with the hearts, stopping the cuisson when they are fully cooked but still pinkish (say an hour instead of two)..
Every one associates duck with fattiness, but it is actually a lean meat, you need to keep some of that outside fat for most preparations, which is why it is so good cooked in its own fat.. Don’t forget that duck fat is a good fat!
Speaking of fat..
Foie gras (the liver of a Moulard) – This time around my terrine ‘torchon’ was flavoured with elderberry and juniper, which was nice, but I think I prefer my regular sweetgrass - quatre épice treatment. And the ‘incontournable’ pan-seared foie seduces everyone, regardless the preparation. With caramelised onion, parsnip, porcini, Jerusalem artichoke purée and a cider sweetgrass sauce – I had all those earthy flavours mingling with a touch of sweet and zing in the form of malic acid from the apple. Cooking that much foie gras really smokes the place out and is costly, but customers’ faces tell me it’s worth it, the treat of treats, despite any ethical controversy (happily non-existent in these parts). I’m done with that subject anyway. http://soupnancy.squarespace.com/blog-journalessays/2009/2/3/enough-about-foie-gras.html
Duck fat potatoes – I made latkes with crinkleroot, but any potato duck fat dish is delicious: Roasted potatoes, fries, layered in a gratin/ pave/Anna variation, or tortilla (potato onion omelette), you really can’t go wrong.
Duck skin chips - So scrumptious they are criminal, they make a terrific crispy garnish more than a snack. I once served them in bowls to munch on with the l’apero but customers ploughed through them, not the ideal start to a 3hour meal. Not to mention too labour intensive to see inhaled for free on my end.
I’ve found the best way to make these duck ‘oreille de crisse’ is to slowly render the skin in the oven for hours, patting dry and cutting out strips before a final crisp up in the oven. Removing the skin from cooked confit legs and putting it in a 250F oven between parchment coated sheetpans for a couple of hours does the trick nicely. Or I coat and deep fry them for utter complete decadence. Once a year is enough for that delicacy.
If you want to cook duck at home..
Pan-roasting a magret or supreme is the way to go for starters.
You can purchase good quality Moulard & Muscovy duck as well as foie gras at our favourite butcher shop, Le Prince Noir at Marché Jean Talon. http://www.montrealplus.ca/montreal/venues/boucherie-prince-noir-fr
At the Canard Libéré on St-Laurent, a store devoted to duck, you will find Peking Lac Brome duck, as well as all the duck inspiration you need, a wide array of pre-made dishes if you want. http://www.canardsdulacbrome.com/fr/boutiques/
If you can get a hold of a supreme from Morgan farms, it’s worth it. www.fermemorgan.ca
Marinate it, pan-roast and serve it as is, or deglaze and make a sauce.
For one Duck supreme 600g, serves 4p
Heat a good pan to high. Put room temperature duck into pan skin side down and turn the heat down to medium. Leave for 10 minutes, pouring off accumulating fat regularly. Flip over, cook 2 more minutes then turn off the heat. At this point, it should be rare-medium rare. If it feels softer, leave in pan to finish with the residual heat.. Otherwise, pull it out and let it rest a good five min while you make the sauce with the pan drippings. Pour out the last of the fat, deglaze with a splash of wine, some stock, reduce down. Finish to taste with a good cider, balsamic or sherry vinegar, a swirl of butter, salt and pepper ..
My two favourite marinades (a couple of hours or overnight)
Marinade 1: EVO, drops chilli and sesame oil, drops soy, drops maple syrup, drops Sherry vinegar, pinch curry powder, pinch five spice
Marinade 2: EVO, rosemary oil, drops Aged balsamic, drops soy, drops worchesterchire, steak spice, allspice, pepper, thym
For further duck delights, cravings or discoveries, I encourage you to come to Les Jardins Sauvages. It is the star of the menu in winter, but I do serve it year round and have all my duck charcuterie as well as some prepared sous-vide dishes (confit, filets in wild ginger sauce, cassoulet, soup..) available at the Market as well as at the restaurant..
As we ring in the new year, it is traditionally a time of celebration, but also inevitably one of contemplation - looking back, taking stock, thinking ahead, making wishes and resolutions for the future.
Here are some of my favourite quotes that fit the season to inspire you..
'Live in each season as it passes, breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.' Henry David Thoreau
'God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.'
'I'm a great believer in luck, and I find that the harder I work, the more I have of it' Thomas Jefferson
'Everything in moderation, including moderation.'
And last but not least...
May your joys be pure, and all your pain champagne!
Ok, better go check on my moose osso bucco in the oven; it's almost time to crank up the rigodon and crack open the bubbly..
Peace & Love
one of those spontaneous recipes, ie. foie arrancini come to mind
I was running out of ideas of what to do with all my winter squash.. Since the fall, I have been squashing away with roasted and puréed accompaniments, fritters, soup, gratin, pasta, polenta etc; I’ve frozen and roasted off a whack that I put up sous-vide for future soups, gratins, pasta and polenta. Enough already. I still have a ton, what to do?? I'm so busy with everything else, the lingering squash are not on the top of my list. But as I tackle year-end & inventory, I know it’s time I clear out the fridge, and I must empty the pretty baskets and process the impressive specimens decorating our dining room to make way for poinsettas.
With my mega tourtiere and paté production underway, the idea of ketchup dawned on me.. I’ve done a squash mostarda before, and made eglantier ketchup (the fruit of wild rose), the pulp resembling apricot and tomato – full umami, vegetal sweet, mild, in fact very squash like. Natural. And I’m already out of classic ketchup, which customers ask for at this time of year when there are no tomatoes .
With a ton of other things going and many other priorities, I didn’t have much time to fuss, I haphazardly threw a few onions, a red pepper and one of our hot peppers along with some spices into a pot with brown sugar and cider vinegar, then added roasted squash. An hour later, I had my ketchup. Not bad, I have to say. Actually ‘pretty f-ing delicious, and who needs tomatoes?’ was my first thought upon tasting. A bit stringy, but I’m not sure I want to purée it Heinz style so that it looks like baby food. I do like a chunky old fashioned condiment, even though the only time I eat ketchup is with tourtiere at X-mas. Maybe I’ll add a touch of wild in the form of crinkleroot or wild ginger, but then again, maybe not, it’s good as is.
Funny, hey.. Occasionally, the best of recipes come out of thin air, without being thought out at all - from a crazy whim, an accident or out of frugality, necessity.
This reminds me of my now classic foie arrancini. Without an à la carte, I don’t have many classics, I’m always changing my menu and like it that way. When a journalist or customer asks me for a recipe, I’m always stumped. There are certainly recurring themes and favourite ingredients or preparations that I riff on differently, but never exactly the same. And none of them involve foie gras or arrancini. I do plan and put a lot of thought into my menus, I usually know what will be winner, and we have a selection of favourites that we package to sell. But then there are the creations chosen by customers that take on a life of their own, sometimes unexpected – like my Champi-Thai soup, or the foie arrancini.
One day several years ago, I had way too many duck and pintade livers on hand and a few bits of foie gras so I made a shitload of mousse, put it on the menu alongside some charcuterie, packaged some up for sale, I didn’t know what I was going to do with the rest. It so happened that I had a catering event that week and needed an extra app, so I somehow decided to make risotto and fold in some liver mousse instead of cream/butter/cheese at the end, made little balls, breaded and fried them, and voilà foie arrancini. I served them with a blackberry juniper jelly, which may very well have been a gelified-tarted up version of a coulis I had running on my menu or perhaps drained off juice from berries for a tart, who knows, I can’t remember exactly. But Lo and behold, this appetizer was a mega hit. Not only the client but guests at the party hired me to do subsequent catering events and requested the same foie arrancini with that same jelly. I had to make them again and again, people still ask for them. But when you don’t have the left-overs on hand, it’s a royal pain in the ass. It’s not a dish I would have dreamed up on my own for the sake of it, it came down to the clock and what I had on hand. Any chef knows this story well. I can attest to daily table d’hôtes forcing my creativity back in the day. But the foie arrancini, such a stupid, delicious concoction that is now unconsientously a part of my repertoire, this always makes me laugh.
Now, it's squash ketchup – similarly not thought up and done on the fly, but I really don’t think it’s so stupid. However, I have yet to see if it’s a hit with anyone besides me and my staff and tourtière.
Holiday Cooking feels so good
Yes, I’m officially in X-mas cooking mode, several weeks in actually. My kitchen has taken on a permanent réveillon scent (ie poultry/butter dough/pork&spices), and so have I, which is fine – a nice change from my shroomy perfume of fall.
Besides Saturday night dinners at the table champêtre, the odd corporate party and catering event, I am mostly focused on prepping for the Christmas market. The main event is in L’Assomption (December 1st to 23rd - a magical market that takes over the main street of this historic town with wooden cabins, fire-pits, carollers and a festive, old-fashioned ambiance), where the region’s artisans offer up a wide array of edibles and X-mas gifts. www.marchedenoeldelassomption.ca
Our staff from the Jean Talon market moves to L’Assomption, selling our products, gift bags and a whack of my cooked dishes (frozen, sousvide) - soups, sauces, charcuterie, braised meats, tourtieres and etc. It’s the big spoke in the Jardins Sauvages wheel once the green/ mushroom season comes to an end, and we all have a lot of fun with it. While I cook up comfort food in my steamy kitchen alternating between CBC and X-mas carols, our staff on site have a blast with companion artisans, volunteer workers and joyful customers in the holiday spirit, all while trying to stay warm..
Not being a girl that likes being caught with my pants down, prior experience told me I needed a solid head start this year. I have the classics checked off my list by now: Confit de canard, Smoked duck, Foie gras terrine (with sweetgrass), Mousse de foie (wild ginger), Cassoulet, Braisé de cerf, Pintade aux chanterelles, Lapin farcie (trompettes), Lapin braise.. BBQ Porcelet and Braised lamb, check. I’ve also made a point of stocking up on our clients’ favourite sauces: Champignon, Morilles, Chanterelles, and of course my beloved soups: Champignons classique, Champi-Thai, Ortie-Arroche, among others, adding a few seasonal ones like Squash and Root veg parmentier with crinkleroot. Our regular line of products is in stock, the little girls busy packaging and labelling away.
Paté production is well underway, with 50 or so glistening pies ready, twice that to go. Starting with my tourtiere – a deluxe mix of braised venison, duck confit, pintade and rabbit mixed with some ground pork and veal so that it still resembles tourtiere. I have turkeys coming in this week, with which I will make turkey pot pies and a dynamite soup to be sure. Stuffed birds of all kinds, pot au feu, ragout de pattes and more on the agenda..
I always get caught up and carried away with whatever it is that each season brings. But like with everything in our a-bit-of-this-&-a-bit-of-that business, I know have to be careful, to regularly take a step back and crunch numbers, to balance quality and efficiency, without losing the magic. For instance, the way I make tourtieres makes it a break-even scenario, but it makes customers happy and it makes me happy to mark the season with a tradition and follow through.
I also have a massive private order for these dishes (12/24 portions of each), which is where the ragout de pattes comes in, because this is not something I normally do. But it was a good client who asked for it, someone I supply with a variety of prepared meals for her freezer on a monthly basis. The best kind of customer who understands the work behind, is willing to pay for it, and loves everything I cook. She started ordering from our regular offerings but now I make an oven-full of osso bucco, guinea fowl or hachis-parmentier just for her, a big pot of bisque, whatever she wants. We have several loyal client fans like this, who come stock up regularly on prepared meals. We have another great customer who is a hunter and fisherman who brings me his haul/catch, I cook or smoke it for him and deliver it all in little ready to eat packages for his freezer. When he goes to his hunting camp, I prepare all his three course meals labelled #1, #2, #3 (for each bag and container, app, main, accompaniment, dessert) etc. It’s not like I could make a living doing this, but it’s a fun, winner side that just kind of happened over of the years with restaurant customers. These are pretty much the only people I cater for now too because they are worth the hassle, not because we charge them anything more but because they are a pleasure to cook for.
By the way, the customer with the big X-mas order (among others) find it hard to believe that I have never made a classic ragout de pattes & boulettes. What can I say other than that I’m anglo, it’s not a part of my traditions and somehow it never got incorporated into my own despite the years of being so engulfed in Franco-Quebecois culture. Maybe it’s because I’m not that into big fatty, meat dishes, especially when there is always so much more on the holiday table. Anyhow, I have cooked pork hocks from the top to the bottom, and have made a shitload of meatballs in my lifetime, so I’m quite sure I can nail it, but it just might not taste like her grandmother’s! When it comes to trad Que cuisine, I’m not too worried, it always comes down to sarriette (savory), with a pinch of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, ha.
I am just as into my Fancy-Nancy menu running at the restaurant. More elegant fare or not, there is that same thread of soulful, homey X-mas spirit wafting through. The winter season naturally lends a hearty dose of love and a nod to tradition that fits, that makes it such that I am not looking back or missing the abundance of summer. In any case, we still have all our Quebec veg, we aren’t yet sick of squash or root vegetables or apples or pears. Plus we know we can count on all our preserves, mushrooms, peak-season vegetables and fruit put up for the year. And there is always Daignault (Jardiniers du Chef) when I want a crisp green or pretty garnish.
We’re ready for winter, and the holiday season is a nice transition between complete madness and relaxation, with its half-mad but merry feel. I dig it, I can deal with sore hands from rolling dough, especially with Christmas carols playing.. I held off ‘til December, but now they’re cranking (especially when I’m alone!).
We need to stop Big Harry and we don't know how. The prospect of the petrol industry setting up in the Lower St-Lawrence is worrying to say the least. This is a call from people we know, love and work with there to urge us to do whatever we can make people aware, to get more media attention, anything to help.. For sure this is a cause close to our hearts and business given that we work so close to nature, foraging and cooking the greens and fish from that region. But I know our customers would find this scandalous too, eaters and Quebeckers in general, so we have to do what we can to spread the word and wake people to rock some boats. Claudie, the queen of marine greens, says it better than me, but in French:
Appelle d’aide de Claudie du Bas du Fleuve (Jardins de la Mer) – important!
Je transcrit ses mots (une partie d'un long discours) :
‘C'est concernant notre mère la mer, le golfe St-Laurent, qui a besoin qu'on prenne sa défense... tu comprendras que les Jardins de la Mer, les plantes des battures et les sirènes ne peuvent pas composer si bien avec des industries pétrolières en mer.....
Nous devrions tous être préoccupés par ce projet industrieux "Old Harry" compromettant la santé de tout l'est du Québec.
Vite comme ça, la compagnie Corridor Ressources veut forer notre mer en 2012, et ce, selon les conditions actuelles, d'un gouvernement qui est incapable de mettre des limites à l'industrie, et d'une industrie qui se crisse profondément de l'environnement.
Selon l'info, la compagnie a une petite assurance de 30 millions pour tout éventuel désastre!!! On va pas loin avec ça! Qui va payer la gaffe? le peuple encore!
C'est de la privatisation de la ressource et de la socialisation des coûts ....bref tu connais la chanson. Pour en savoir plus, le site de la coalition st-Laurent en dit les grandes lignes: www.coalitionsaintlaurent.com’.
Moi personnellement, je ne sais pas ce que je ferais sans arroche de mer, salicorne, spergulaire et etc – tous ces plantes marines fabuleuses de notre terroir que je cuisine depuis plus d’une dizaine d’années, que François et Claudie ont travailler si fort a faire connaître au plaisir de nos clients. Une vraie richesse, parmi tellement dans ce coin. Et le poisson! L’environnement! La vie de ces gens en région, il y a tellement plus à protéger. Il faut diffuser l’information, sensibiliser le monde, qu’on fasse toute notre petit quelque chose pour faire du bruit - comme chef, gourmand, citoyen, québécois.. De cuisiner du poisson et des plantes de la région et d'en parler, de repeter, repeter.. NH
The race is over.
There is still a small trickle of hedgehogs and yellowfoots coming in from the Gaspesie (where it didn’t snow), and a few Tricolome up here, but the season is pretty much officially done. We just finished up our annual mushroom event, this year with 30 varieties on the menu! It was a wild success I would say, if not for a few too many last minute cancellations and a touch of staffing stress. All in all, so rewarding though and much fun was had. We’re exhausted.
Off the menu, the customers loved the 'fromage frais aux morilles', the smoked polypore pickles, both of which we sold a whack on the side. The puffball lasagne was a favourite, and many were turned onto rabbit which was my coup de coeur. But as usual, it was the series of mushroom sweets that wowed the most - panna cotta, candies, cookies, cake and ice cream. It really is surprising what desserty aromas come naturally from mushrooms, especially in the bolete family.
For more photos, here is a slideshow of Mushroom Festival highlights:
I think we can happily call it a year - and with more than a ton of wild Que mushrooms processed at the restaurant only, that’s enough mushroom for a while thank you. That’s not counting the tons that went to market, only what passed through my hands. A crazy amount of work.
All summer/fall, we wonder what the hell we’re doing amidst the insanity, and every November 1st or so, we pat ourselves on the back and bask in the glory for a few minutes, drink a bunch of mousseux and celebrate a feat accomplished, another year down, with the fresh sweet memories of all the estatic customers..
While it is slowing down at the Jean Talon Market too, we are still there, now only Thurs-Sun. And we remain open on the weekends at La Table for regular business with our equally enticing but more varied 5-7 course menu..
From now on though the winter, apart from Saturdays, we open following the reservations. Which is fine. I have a backlog of orders for products and plats-sousvides, catering gigs, the inventory to do and all other ménage that has been put off, not to mention much less staff from here on in.. Slow down or not, we can’t take it too easy, just a little. François is no longer picking mushrooms - besides some wild mustard greens foraged today, he is mostly busy cutting down trees and chopping wood these days.
But before we get into serious catch-up mode and production for the X-mas markets, we will be taking a day to roast a few pigs on our new spit machine and drink more wine. To close the season, we are hosting a big staff/family party for the market and restaurant team, and all the people who helped us with the house (which is coming along, although still a construction zone, sigh). Mechoui and Oysters and a buffet sans shrooms, Weehoo!.
Apart from that, I’m psyched to be back in my kitchen, cooking up anything and everything, not just mushrooms. Can’t wait to make squash soup, some sausage, experiment with some bread.. Rabbit terrine today.. Soon, it will be tourtiere time!
I love autumn and have my fingers crossed that this isn't the extent of our Indian summer. Dreaming maybe, but I'm ready for winter too. Bring it on, cuz that's when I really play.
The mushroom season has officially been a GREAT one! Not that it’s over. Many summer varieties came late, some didn’t come at all, and certain autumn ones showed up early. Overall, it has been abundant and all at once - we’re in the thick of things now. The last week of August and all of September has been insane. I’ve been processing 400lb a week. Needless to say, one mushroom or another appears in every dish on my menu. In a couple of weeks, it will be 3 per dish. Some poor mushroom hater came to eat last weekend thinking he was safe, opting to visit before the mushroom event. Not an easy case, but I think I turned him around.
No records for big puffballs, but we got more than our share of mid-sized marvels- firm, white and pristine. I love giving them an eggplant treatment, frying slices up in batter or baking with herbs and olive oil. Layered in a lasagne or gratin or frittata, they perfume the whole dish. This week, I made a flan with zucchini, eggplant, sea spinach and peppers with a puffball base, all lightly binded with some egg and a dusting of parmesan that pleased. So rustic and very old school, yet beautiful and tasty. It helped that I served it with a slice of rolled lamb belly, brined, smoked and cooked sous vide then crusted, and some yellow-foot and hedgehog mushroom-tomato ketchup.
I have never seen so many Bolets à Pieds Rouges, a variety I love for desserts but worry about running out of. This year, it may very well make it into our mix, bonus. Same with the Bolets à Pieds Glabrescent. It was an awesome run for Porcini too, but the autumn ones are by far the best; in summer, they are rarely worm-free. I’ve never seen so many perfect little firm bouchons, and tall firm ones too with a long meaty tender stem (the best part when young). It is a lucky year when you can eat cepe tartare for a month straight.
It was a magnificent season for Yellow-foot chanterelles, and I think they are my new ‘coup de coeur’. So delicate, yet flavourful, pretty and delicious fresh or dried. It took me years to ‘get’ this mushroom, and I don’t see why. Initially, I wasn’t taken with the way they went limp, but now I don’t mind that, and they do retain a certain chew. It has always been my go-to to candy, so cute and tasty when raisin like or made crispy, tastes like caramilk. But it is equally dynamite in savoury dishes when you want a little mushroom enhancement without it taking over the dish, say with fish or in a soft salad..
Amanites des Césars, trompettes de la mort – both always rare and hard work, but François was rewarded albeit with much time and mileage. These mushrooms are priceless. The first so buttery soft and unique, just gently sautéed; unfortunately there are never enough to go around. The latter is definitely one of François’ favourites (mine too!); he likes to make black omelettes, quite yummy. I prefer them at dinner and like to put them up to stretch out all year – to use in our mix, to make fresh cheese with, to take a potato dish up a notch. I say who needs truffle when you have trompettes – they have a similar complex earthy, musky aroma, but less stinky, more delicious - notes of cheese, artichoke, licorice, caramel, deep and lingering.
Now, it’s Armillaires and Matsutake, Polypore Hen of the Woods occupying my fridge space and time. More pickling this week! We should have stakes in the mason jar business.
The nasty ones were everywhere - a good season for ALL shrooms!
The first signs of autumn beauties are appearing, the last flight.. Bolets jaunes, cepes des meleize, pleurotes d’automne, coprins, lepiotes, tricolomes... Hoping the fall will live up to the summer!
One more month or so of dirty fingernails, mushroom fumes and dreams..
Mushroom season is in full swing..
The summer mushrooms were late, but now everything is shooting up at once! Every year, a scramble of some sort.. Lots of rain and almost enough sunshine, some wind - ideal conditions in many parts of the province, too wet in others. The pickers really have to time their picking.
Chanterelles, Lobster and Pied de Mouton are coming in by the crate. Yellow-foot chanterelles and various boletes too.
In fact there is a Chanterelle glut in the market now, imagine. This is good for the consumer (take advantage!), but no one else, never sustainable with people dumping their load, at best trying to cover costs. Maybe if the supermarkets sold local mushrooms, there would be enough buyers, fair prices and foragers could count on a paycheck. Every Joe Blow with a chanterelle patch is trying to sell to François, who has his own; I doubt they will be around next year. Longevity requires knowledge, networks, years of loss. That's another story.
The Trompettes have been a struggle as always though. François spent a lot of time and milage on very few. Thankfully, there are the others! Five giant Vesse de loup so far - early (very promising). There has been a constant trickle of pholiottes, boletes (and cepes), but it's tricky to find the pristine ones, to get there at the right time, to work them while they're tops. We were lucky to harvest a good amount of Pied Glabrescent and Pied rouge, compared to other years, both favourites to stock up on for dessert with their butterscotch, nutty, chocolate, fruity aromas.
Many of the Gaspesie mushrooms are big, firm looking and juicy (the picture perfect mushroom but in effect, water-logged), making them ultra perishable, so we're avoiding those for now.. Hopefully, they won't give up because besides François, that gang is our best.
Talk about reduced yield when drying.. I'm looking at 5% yield here for many batches. 10% is the max on average with normal stock, so honestly, I don't know how the imports can be sold for so cheap. The staff must be making 10 cents an hour.
Anyway, it's worth it, our Quebec mushrooms are stellar. I have processed 200 lb so far this week, with a couple of hundred already under the belt. Only a ton to go.. Between the freshly cooked on menus, the pickled, the dried, the derived products. That doesn't count the market. And people wonder what I do when we're not open..
Must take more pictures.. My walk-in is a sight. I'm quite sure none of you have ever seen so many mushrooms.
Now that I'm starting to feel the mushroom mania mode, I will have my mushroom event menu up shortly. I better! The reservations are coming in and I haven't even planned it yet.. I always wait until I'm living it, breathing shroomy aromas day in and day out, holding off to the last minute until I have a very good feeling of how the season will go.. Still forever a guessing game, as many varieties are nowhere near ready..
Where’s the veg?
I’m no vegetarian (actually wary of them), but I eat greens every day. Radishes, cucumbers and tomatoes too. Always another vegetable or two – fennel, salicorne, broccoli, eggplant; there isn’t a vegetable I don’t love.. At this time of year, it’s gorging time, I am way beyond the Canadian food guide. But even year round, this is my minimum. Not because I’m on some diet, purely for gustatory reasons. Because my body craves it. At least Five Veg a day, plus fruit in the morning. People don’t believe me, but it is true – every day.
Luckily I have a steady source for quality produce and a fruit&vegetable loving partner all in one package (once a farmer, now mostly a forager with the best farmer contacts). Not only can he find edibles in the woods, he has a magical green thumb, and he will scour the market for the ripest, healthiest specimens be it tomatoes, herbs or kohlrabi. He can sniff out the best melon, better than any chef.
Every night that we eat together, we start with the same salad – Tomatoes, Radishes, Cucumber, scallions, fresh Cheese, anchovy stuffed green Olives with a generous drizzle of good olive oil and a smaller drizzle of chilli oil (both Pettinicchi), a splash of 12yr balsamic, and a green salad on the side. Sometimes, we add endive, wild greens, a new arrival depending on the season, but the TRCFO backbone is religion. Then we move on to fish, pintade, onglet, moose or some good meat (200g or so for two) and another side or two of cooked veg – asparagus in spring, corn in summer, cauliflower, string beans, sea spinach etc., always cooked simply with a bit of butter or olive oil, salt and pepper. I make a point of having an accompaniment such as rice, potatoes or polenta too - something to compliment the meat and sop up the sauce. François could do without both but I need my sauce and starch; the protein is like seasoning – essential but bonus. Regardless. In our home, salad and vegetables come first. On the nights after service when I eat solo, it’s the same salad, the same pattern. No matter how late it is, no matter what happened that day, it is my one simple extravagance - a good, balanced meal with a glass of wine; my reward, a comforting ‘period’ at the end of my day.
Living the country life with a small business, I don’t get out all that much, but when I do, I can’t help but notice that I almost always come back from dinner craving a salad. I’ve had many great meals in Montreal fine dining restaurants and bistros (more often these days it’s somewhere in-between) - often super tasty, inspired and enjoyable.. But seriously, amidst the large chunks of protein and fat laden delectable, carb rich sides, I find myself asking, where are the veg? Stellar wines, professional service, neat artwork, spectacular dishes and tricks up the ying-yang, so much thought put into every detail.. But where are the veg? It’s summer! A smear of root purée and a baby carrot, a few micro-greens, that’s it? No salads without beets and goat cheese, poached eggs or pork belly on the menu? If you’re local and seasonal (as everyone claims to be), for god sake, serve up some greens and vegetables in summer beyond a pretty garnish!
Maybe it is just me/us who is weird.. Maybe customers don’t want too much veg - that they feel like they’re getting their money’s worth with the big slab of meat. I can’t help but think of Les Chevres (which I thought was fabulous), but caused a stir back in the day with its veg driven menu.
I can say that I had a couple of refreshing meals recently, at Inferno and at Tuck shop, in that I didn’t rush home to eat a salad immediately. At Inferno, the salads and entrées were lively, loaded with fresh herbs, crisp radishes, zucchini, tomato, greens.. At Tuck shop, there were D’Avignon radishes with my tartare, fresh peas and corn in my Lobster salad, there was a hearty green salad that came with beans and more veg in the mélange. Like in other Montreal hotspots, the main courses are meat hefty; I’ve learnt that if I order enough appetizers, I am more likely to get my veg fix.
I realize that all Chefs should be true to themselves, serving it up however they want, and there is room for all kinds of restaurants, menus and markets. I love Martin Picard for doing his thing, even if I’m not dying to eat there on a regular basis. I also understand that most restaurateurs are going to play it safe and cater to the majority, who apparently are impressed with ridiculous portions in general, with more meat and pasta as opposed to veg. Personally, this is one trend that I hate. That makes me less inclined to go out to eat.
It makes no sense anyway. Everyone should be eating more local, fresh produce and less meat in general. Who needs such a heaping plate of anything. Quality over quantity. If you’re sourcing top quality natural meat, or even little veg from a farmer you know or you’re growing your own, making homemade bread and fries, you can’t/won’t overdo it, you won’t be piling it high without the customer balking at the price. Not to mention that less goes into the garbage in this scenario. Customers might actually wake up and value the good stuff if conscious and paying for it, encouraging restaurateurs to put more emphasis where it counts without them having to cut into their bottom line.. It’s all about relocating.. Everyone is so scared to take the big steak off the menu and buy a carcass to serve up more creative dishes in smaller portions, to spend more on local, fresh veg and serve up more veg. It all comes down to the customer wanting it.
It can’t only be me.
Sometimes, I don't know what to think about our local, sustainable food future despite our rich Quebec terroir, all the artisans, cooks and the swelling number of eaters so eager and excited about all that is happening here. The media promotes and carries the fervour; it all seems so promising. Yet behind the scenes, it isn't so rosy, actually so f-ing difficult on all levels..
When Genevieve came to deliver my lamb this week, I found out that my favourite little local producer (L’Agno et le Lapin in Ste-Julienne) would surely be shutting down soon enough, and my heart sank. I knew they were struggling, but I had hope. What to do.. No matter how passionate and hardworking, they cannot come out on top. They both have full time jobs now by necessity, so work around the clock. Five years in, they thought they would be ok; customers love their product and they sell it all, but every year there is some bad luck, an unexpected expense to eat up the minute profit margin, only constant hurdles always... Because nothing about our current food system favours the small producer who cares about quality, who dares to do something different. I saw Ferme Morgan fight to stay alive too for years whether they had the best organic duck, pintade, sanglichon and etc., or not.
Same with the gentleman farmer raising the venison adjacent to La Table des Jardins Sauvages. It costs him money to keep the operation going, and luckily he has enough to back up his love and determination to see it continue; but he too is just about ready to throw in the towel knowing he will never break even. When he told me there were 15 heads that were prime and ready, given that I can only feasibly take one now and another in a couple of weeks, I figured I’d put the word out and they’d be snapped up. Natural, top notch venison to sell at 5$Lb, what a great deal (no profit), I thought chefs would be all over it. But no - nothing. Hard to believe. This cerf rouge is the best. If you’re used to cerf du Boileau, you would not be disappointed. Ten times better than the beef you’re used to.
But the thing is, it comes by the carcass. Like most natural meat from small producers. It’s the normal way, the way it should be. It is not normal or sustainable to only eat chops and tenderloin. But apparently, this is what the chefs want because that is what the customers want. Restaurants are looking out for their bottom line, the easiest way to put food on the table and come in on budget. A whole carcass is more money upfront, and more labour, but cost efficient if you put the meat to good use. Obviously though, you can’t only have ‘ribssteak’ or 'cheeks' on your menu. Not even tongue (one per animal!). Hence, it requires creativity, passion and talented kitchen staff, which is hard to come by, granted. For most operations, ordering loins or ready to cook steaks they know they will sell is a no brainer, no matter how much they have to pay, regardless of the staff on hand. Most cooks don’t even know how to break down an animal anymore. Not that it’s rocket science, it’s just time.
It seems that everyone has been so out of tune with where their food comes from for so long that even amidst this trend of veering back towards local and sustainable, cooks and eaters have not grasped that this actually entails such inconvenient things as butchering and using the whole beast, or favouring perveyers that do. Not only on a special night out at some ‘nose to tail’ restaurant, but day to day. It comes down to really understanding that good meat should cost more than we’re used to, that it should be valued and perhaps used more sparingly, sourced and cooked carefully, and that a braise is as good as a chop, that you shouldn't have to buy bones for stock.
It’s not just chefs in their fast paced world of constraints who are to blame, it seems that no one wants to deal with a carcass anymore, not even butchers. We’ve come across several that order only cuts like restaurants. What? If butchers aren’t even butchering, our food system is more fucked than we think. It makes me laugh when I think of an article I read in the NYTimes a year or so ago about how ‘hot’ butchers were. Quelle joke, in Quebec anyhow. There certainly remain a handful of hardcores that serve a loyal clientele. But very few of the small guys doing things from scratch can survive, like the farmers. The abbatoirs are miles away now, they fear for their animals and know the quality wont be the same, they have to pass on the excessive costs to consumers who want the convenience of the supermarket. And the butchers want to compete with the supermarkets too.
It comes down to the industrial system winning out because consumers are supporting it. How else can you order a case of tenderloins or strips if it isn’t mass production? Where is the rest going? The only kind of farmer that can do this has to deal in numbers, forget about pasture, no choice but to use antibiotics and fattening feed, none of which makes good meat. To have their own slaughterhouse, their own butcher, it takes a huge enterprise. You can mostly forget about local, once happy, natural, traceable meat in this scenario. I can think of one operation that made it from small to medium-big retaining minimal integrity and other communities of small producers that collaborated in coops; there are solutions.. But these still fall into the small segment that is undervalued and not having an easy time..
Although there may be a handful of foodies starting to worry about how their meat is raised and the hidden truths behind those neat packages, the fact is everyone is so used to cheap meat, clean cuts and convenience now, that change in the marketplace is impossibly slow to non-existent.
I’m just sad. I might lose my best producers shortly. I stuck by them and did what I had to do even if it was not easy to balance the books, even if few customers realized the extra value on their plates they weren’t paying more for. What will I put on the menu now besides the wild plants? I will have to find other courageous, passionate producers who have not yet given up, go a little further afield. Or go back to sourcing the same industrial system as everyone else.
You know what? No. Whatever happens, I refuse. I’ll fold too if it comes to that.
That might make the MAPAQ happy. If it isn't the MAPAQ, it's Revenue Quebec or some other govt agency coming in to put sticks in our wheels (French expression), ie. making survival difficult for small business and artisans. Especially if you don't fit into one of their neat boxes and they don't understand what you're doing. But that's an other can of worms; we have our own set of hurdles that have me worn down. A blog post on the subject specific is bound to be a blog post one day.
An introduction to wild edibles and a Slowfood feast in bites
Slowfood members and guests will be communing at la Table des Jardins Sauvages for a cocktail dinatoire featuring tastes of all kinds of wild edibles and local products, preceded by a brief overview of what we do and an excursion on the property and into the woods to see what is good for the picking. It is late in the season for a lot of wild greens and flowers, but there may be some mushrooms! But maybe not! There is always lots to showcase here in any case; a fun time will be had by all.
Sunday August 21st at 11:30am (activities start at 12pm). A great deal at 45$pp/60$for non-members; bring your own wine. On reservation only via Slowfood.. http://champetre.eventbrite.com/
In French. View the menu below (or at www.jardinssauvages.com).
Please follow the link below for more details.
You can check out our slideshows for an aperçu:
La Table des Jardins Sauvages https://picasaweb.google.com/114806860691793381895/ALaTableDesJardinsSauvages#slideshow/
Menu Cocktail Dinatoire
à La Table des Jardins Sauvages
21 Août, 2011
Crevettes nordiques au persil de mer et sumac, arroche de mer, boutons de marguerite
Fromage frais de la Suisse Normande parfumé aux bolets, chip de sarasin (Moulin Bleu), tomate
Jambon de canard maison, pomme d’été au thé du labrador, champignon Lobster fumé
Pakora de legumes au pollen de quenouille et curry avec brocoli d’asclépiade et polypore poule des bois, chutney au gingembre sauvage
Epis de quenouille au beurre, sel de champignons
Braisé de cerf du domaine au sureau et au genièvre, pomme de terre au carcajou
Granité aux fleurs d’asclépiade et églantier
Pot de crème au chocolat et
au thé des bois
Gâteau aux fleurs de mélilot,
petits fruits au foin d’odeur
Votre chef : Nancy Hinton
François Brouillard, spécialisé en plantes sauvages comestibles depuis 25 ans
ATTENTION CHEFS - Fresh local Venison! A few heads available..
Top quality happily pastured venison (cerf rouge) available by the carcass 5$ a pound (180-220lb); We have approx 15 heads (a year) to sell that we don't use. At 18 monthes now, which is the perfect size (for yield and taste while still tender). Available with one week notice if called in before Monday. Needs hanging time afterwards depending on your taste. If interested, call me at JS 450-588-5125 or email email@example.com. We are not taking a dime on this; it is a great deal for tasty, natural local meat.
Summer, so sweet..
Summer abundance across the province.. green everywhere, flowers in bloom, berries asking to be picked, mushrooms popping up, roadside stands spilling over with corn.. The mosquitoes have even calmed down. The country is the place to be, in the kitchen or not..
The Wild Edibles..
I just love the elderberry (not quite ripe yet) but the flower even more with its characteristic aroma; it smells and tastes like candy. It's delicate, with floral, citrusy, fruity and tangy tea notes. I hate not being able to describe it better. It's delicious. I dry it for the tisane, I make syrup, I use it in jellies and sauces both savoury and sweet. Goes great with poutlry, cheese, fruity desserts.
This coveted wild edible puts us in the juice every year, the window for picking being so short, and the prime spots not always easy to get to.. Hours of peeling the little spears follow, which I put up for the year for a fun vegetable side. Then its time to harvest the pollen, which I use in crepes and savoury batters and bread, or as a umami rich seasoning. Cattails make a good vegetarian stock too.
Milkweed from sprout to flower: tasty at every stage.. As a vegetable, it needs to be well washed and cooked through. The perfumey flower makes a great addition to either salads or desserts, exceptional to flavour a granité, syrup or fruit preparation. Next come the fruit which is more of a vegetable (we call the cornichon) or pod, not so unlike okra.
Marine greens - always a high point of summer: Salty, Crisp, crunchy and Green, they are all delicious raw, or even better quickly blanched and dressed or wilted with garlic and olive oil/butter.
The real weeds.. The usual suspects below might not be so welcome in a garden, but in the wild, it's a different story. Readily available, for a longer time frame than most, and we find a use. In salads, in soups, pesto or for a sprightly garnish depending.. I put some pigweed up blanched sous-vide like I do with the sea spinach, but most are just enjoyed as is here and there all summer. Oxalis (surette) tastes lemony - it's great added to a mesclun or compound salad, or to garnish a fish dish. The heart shaped leaves are so pretty too. Orpin aka stonecrop/live-forever is a juicy, crunchy green and not bitter at all when picked in shady, humid conditions. This is a salad green and that's it. I don't need to say anything about mint and chives, which we have growing wild along the river. Daisy is one of my favourite weeds, the sprouts taste sweet and licoricey. The buds are good for capers, but I like to get at the sprouts first.
Such a pretty flower, and not much more than a sweet touch and child hood memories to sprinkle over your plate..
Not so wild, but we like them too...
The nasturtiums and bee balm, our garden herbs, chard and tomatoes, the first corn at the market, the beans and little roots, the favas and squash - as close to my heart as the wild stuff .. Tomato sauce and ratatouille season are around the corner.
Not like I don't have enough mustardy tasting greens in my arsenal with the wild greens, but I do love nasturtium. To make a salad sparkle, to cut the fat or richness of a tartare or tataki, to add clean bite to a salsa verde or aioli, not so unlike sea rocket.
First Quebec mushrooms.. Beautiful wine caps kicked off the season alongside the morels. The chanterelles are starting now, Lobster mushrooms and boletes too, soon a smorgasborg (fingers crossed)..
You should see all the fantastic dishes I'm making with these wild edibles.
If only I could think to take a picture during service!
The last workshop-dinner of the season at Les Jardins Sauvages Sunday July 24th
Celebrate Food Day/La Journée des Terroirs with chefs and food lovers across Canada on July 30th
What is Canada food day? A celebration of Canadian food and cooks, and eating local www.foodday.ca
Our menu at Les Jardins Sauvages, where it's food day year round in that we are 99%local (yes, even in winter).. But what a perfect time to make the most of the season's bounty, share a feast and raise a glass to our rich terroir!
More from the Food day Newsletter FYI:
- The goal is to ensure that NO Canadian can ignore the fact that we have some of the finest food and talent (at all levels) on the planet.
- That there is NO PLANET B and helping one another is helping us all.
- That we know how to throw a heckava great party.
- That all Canadians can participate by posting their menus (and pics too) if they cannot get to a restaurant.
- The Best Heritage Menu (Parks Canada);
- The University of Guelph Good Food Innovation Award;
- The Best Brunch Award;
- The Healthy People/Healthy Planet Award;
- The Taste of Nova Scotia Lobster Award.
My Dentist moment – Flossing and Eating right
I happened on an enthusiastic dentist hygienist recently, an endearing chap from Columbia. You could tell he was passionate about his job and took it seriously. He was so careful and thorough, explaining every movement. So often, I’m curious about what they’re up to exactly, what a given tool or paste is, but indisposed to ask with my mouth wide open or drugged up, my questions usually go unanswered.
Dentists and co. have always been telling us to floss. They give you a new toothbrush and floss kit with every visit. I go through the brushes but not all the floss. I’ve always been an overzealous brusher and a slacker when it comes to flossing, perhaps because I have the right sort of teeth spacing that nothing gets stuck. Flossing and coming up with nothing makes you feel like it’s no big deal and more inclined to skip a day here and there. But anyway, this guy put an end to that. I have been flossing diligently since. It wasn’t out of fear, I had a clean slate (mouth), but it was his intensity and passion – he struck a chord in me. Imagine how frustrating it is for a dentist (or dental hygienist) to meet people who don’t take their teeth as seriously as they think they should?
It reminded me of myself going on about food and what I see and know to be important. Say, when it comes to avoiding industrial ‘food’, buying real food from small producers with integrity, and simply cooking ‘real’ food day to day. How can you not find the time to eat fruit and vegetables?? When people tell me they don’t have time to go to the market or cook, but manage to keep up with facebook, hockey, baseball, soccer, sitcoms, American Idol and etc, I’m flabbergasted.
When I tell friends and home cooks how to make their life easier with Mise En Place (planning and prepping for several meals in advance) and how easy it is to eat well, and they continue to order in, buy and eat crap from the superstore, I don’t get it. Knowing how simple it is to whip up a salad with every meal, or how easy composting is and how absolutely doable and delicious it is to eat fresh and local for most of the year, I sigh as I observe these tips falling on deaf ears because they are ‘ too much trouble’.
When I point out how essential it is to favour naturally raised meats or rest your roast and you don’t do it; when you buy margarine instead of butter, those pre-peeled pseudo carrots or cheap olive oil or pre-ground pepper - not valuing and appreciating your food or farmers, it bugs me and I feel sorry for you. No time? C’mon, with all of the above, we’re talking five or ten minutes here and there. It takes seconds to peel a carrot. All to improve your life, make you happier and healthier, while better for the local economy and planet too.
All to say, I understood this guy. And so yes, I can find the time to floss. It’s for my own good down the line! Like with taking the few extra minutes to shop right and cook for one’s well-being. With food though, it’s even better, a win-win no-brainer - short term pleasure AND a long term investment!
Some of the things I learnt this June
Besides my stint at the University of Guelph earlier this month which was major brain-food, a lot of my June brainwaves came down to waking up to the mundane - those day to day revelatory details, occasionally mesmerizing when you’re dealing in nature and the restaurant business.
Mother Nature, she's just crazy
Living in the country for years now working with wild edibles, I am necessarily in touch with the weather and Mother Nature’s cycles and moods, but I am just starting to truly understand what a real adventure this is, and how much we are at her mercy. Be it global climate change, or that these phenomena now meet business in my world, the singularity of each season and plant is striking. Things don’t happen the same way anymore; the order is skewed, the plants are different depending on the weather and the ‘je ne sais quoi’, and you can’t help but feel like you’re stupid/learning all the time. François who is so intuitive, closely in tune with his vegetation and the moons, is burdened by memory/history - so off kilter in his own way; I on the other hand, am always trying to understand SOMETHING/ANYTHING concrete. Forget about it. You can’t plan for it.
So this year, spring came late and summer came early. For some spring greens, this was good; they were plush and allowed a slightly longer life before the foliage came in fully. There was excessive water for others, and practically speaking, the swollen river cut us off from habitual harvest zones. Then when summer hit, everything sprouted so fast, leaving us a small window for things like day lily sprouts or milkweed sprouts. A few morels.. It looks like it’s already time for elderflower and cattails! Why can’t they wait? I have 100lb of daisy buds to pickle. The day lily buds are peaking, meaning more bud pickling to follow. François picked his first local cepe yesterday, the chanterelles are buttons. In other parts of Quebec, many summer Oysters are ready, the wine caps (like Portobellos) are in full swing liking this cold spell. And then there are the marine greens coming in, which I am forever ecstatic about.. I cannot not be psyched about summer abundance, but wow all the waiting, then all at once, so much to process..
As mother nature keeps me on my toes, I remain thankful for the recurring rhymes and rhythms that comfort and exhilarate - starting with the fiddleheads and the ramps, and on to the day lily, elderflower, berries, sea spinach coming into season one after the other or any which way. Just reliving each arrival, weeks late or early, so familiar yet new, is something else. I know that every year when I am reacquainted with a certain wild plant in season, and I cook it up in a myriad of ways, I get to know it better and I get better at what I do. There are unexpected lightbulb moments, the kind that only come with time. Time observing, time tasting, time dancing.
Spring beauty really does taste like corn sprouts, I paired it with lobster and crinkleroot, and for the first time, served it alone with a little cold pressed canola. And there is no way to put it up; like most of the spring greens, it is a pretty sprout you enjoy for a week or two a year and that’s it, period. It didn’t take me long to love crinkleroot, but to figure out how to use both the root and the leaf to their max, how to put them up best took a few seasons. I’ve got it down; crinkleroot really sings with tomatoes and with potatoes. Sea spinach was an instant coup de Coeur (still my favourite), but sea parsley was just ok to me, not exciting until a couple of years ago; now I put it in everything. To finish a soup or salsa, it is a major component of my versatile ‘chimichurri’ and gremolata. It took me years to really appreciate Elderflower, Labrador tea or salsify sprouts, even certain mushrooms; I had to spend some time with them, one week a year wasn’t enough. Milkweed flower was a revelation last year in granites, syrups, etc; this year, something else will get my heart, new tricks added to my bag.
I have to say the most memorable thing about June (no matter who you talk to in the country) was the voracity of the mosquitos. It is a BAD year - very, very difficult for François, our pickers, anyone gardening, even our screened in customers..
Which brings me to another thing I learnt, a good reminder in life in general.. Never get too high on your horse about anything. Me, so eco-friendly and all about essential oils, I’ve reverted to Deet on bad days, sorry.
Fun and games at the University of Guelph…
Breaking out of one's bubble and hanging out with food scientists certainly fills the mind. So many questions answered, so many possibilities that opened up (even if most of them cost too much on a practical level for us). Basically, I got to pick some brains to help me be a better chef. Lucky me. Thanks to Foodday!
-I was reassured about my calculations regarding coumarin concentrations in sweetgrass and sweet clover (I am WELL under the worrying ppms, more relevant to the food additive/perfume industry who deal in straight chemicals, not plants).
-My hunch that the fiddlehead hoax is not about a toxin, but more likely a microbial issue was confirmed - so if well washed and cooked (from a non-contaminated source), no problem. Apparently, a soak in a 5% brine before hand (osmotic shock) would allow me to stick with a shortened cooking time, maximizing colour and texture (omitting salting the cooking water). Fiddleheads need salt anyway for taste.
-Although I’m well informed and have never had any problems, I got to the bottom of the nitty gritty when it comes to potential dangers with all of the types of products we make, ensuring me that I was adequately processing things (sometimes excessively actually), all to equip me against the MAPAQ who explain nothing. I’m talking high acid (pickles and vinaigrettes) or high sugar (jams and syrups) here, nothing our grandmothers didn’t make without a worry in the world. These tips will help me in determining which products to keep as we diminish the unmanageable number going. If I were to upscale certain products, I might modify procedures, choose new jars etc.
-Same with oils and drying, which I wanted to know more about in depth, given that the MAPAQ is wanting to crack down, but above all, I need to figure out if we can make it more efficient so that these could one day be profitable. Was there a way we could improve yield with better extraction, all while following safety guidelines.. How many jars would I have to make?? How do I break that heat and acid stable emulsion boletes like to make? Ok, this was not solved, but at least I know it’s more likely a lipid the cause and not a protein.
-They got me very curious about freeze-drying (we dry so many mushrooms and herbs and flowers), and I might get to try it out, but I doubt we can make this feasible since we don’t deal in quantities that justify such $$ technological intervention. Not to mention that nature inconveniently gives us unpredictable amounts impossible to schedule, usually small amounts here and there.
-I was introduced to alternate extraction methods (when it comes to mushrooms or herbs), again not necessarily accessible. But there were contacts offered, suggestions for teaming up with universities and flavour companies, avenues to explore. Even keeping with traditional methods, I found out how to improve my process with respect to pressure cooking and tools for efficiency (reasonably priced lab tools like a centrifuge or separatory funnel that would be useful to me).
It was overall extremely stimulating to sit down with scientists. They have so much insight and knowledge parallel to our world, simply inspiring. Hilarious too. Sometimes, I found myself explaining something so basic to a cook, but so foreign to a scientist not connected to his food or taste buds. One suggestion when talking about food safety that killed me: Add 25% alcohol to extract toxins and kill bacteria – hello, taste?? Denaturing said luxury food?? Good thing everything else he had to say reinforced the fact that he was very smart. He obviously operates in a different universe. He looks at plants in a way I don’t.
At GFTC, I met with another gang much more used to dealing with food and food professionals who aren’t so professional; they were so generous and cool. But wow is bacteria omnipresent in their minds; irradiation is normal procedure in their circles. I guess that is the most important aspect of their job, as scientists counselling the food industry. There is no doubt that someone needs to be guiding and regulating any Joe-Schmoe putting food on the market. But I also realized that no matter how edifying this experience was, how much I know about food processing, the bottom line is that all I want to do is cook fresh food to be eaten immediately! What the hell was I doing there? I could be bringing a product to market, all subsidized. No, I went to ask general questions. I looked like an idiot artist - I am obviously not a hardcore business person. I just want to be better at what I do all the time, whatever it is. All knowledge helps, right.
Doesn't anyone want to work in the country?
Back to the restaurant business, my never-ending search for good staff taught me a few new lessons. For one.. Waiters - can’t live with them; can’t live without them.
Good staff is scarce, especially in the country. I better treat the ones I have extra special, and hope for the best when it comes to the rest. Be it on the floor or in the kitchen, at the market or in the woods. Not many people are willing to work hard and take pride in the little things anymore.
Waiter wise, I’ve given up on the normal demands for a restaurant like ours: someone with restaurant experience in the gastronomy realm, bilingual, flexible, with a love of nature and wild edibles. Now, I’m looking for someone who is reasonably presentable and good with the public, into what we’re doing and willing to learn the rest. What kills me is that candidates with no experience, pertinent knowledge or obvious talent expect a starting salary superior to mine. I have no choice but to take what I can get here, accept that reality and make the most of it.
I keep telling myself this is one of those things I chose to accept with this country gig. You can’t have it all. Take the good with the bad. I would not be happier with a big, talented brigade in a big, high stress operation making more to spend more with less quality of life. To be able to beat to my own drum and do the food I want at Les Jardins Sauvages, I sometimes have to cover for waiters, serve, peel potatoes and do my own dishes. Answer the phone, clean, weed, fix things and be everywhere when I just want to be in the kitchen. I do like weeding more than waitressing though. I find it hard to have my head in the dining room and in the kitchen at the same time..
Such is life in St-Roch de l’Achigan. An abundance of wild edibles and good produce, a paradise for a cook, a challenge for a business. Always so much to learn, so many possibilities. One day, I might actually get around to the high tech improvements now on my radar or the solar cooker on my ‘to do list’, maybe even achieve my dream of being able to hole up in my kitchen.. If ever I nail enough solid employees.
I’m not holding my breath. But going into July, I feel wiser and ready to face the circus. With everything blooming and sprouting, I can only jump in and go with the flow.
For the record, I do still think I have the best job in the world.
Spring has finally sprung! Yay.
Believe it or not, two weeks ago, there were still patches of snow in the woods. Even a couple of days ago while François was scouting his first fiddleheads in swampland, there wasn’t much happening in the forest. But in no time, the telltale whiff of garlic and crinkleroot came wafting above that of fresh dirt as I strolled down the path to the kitchen. That day, I knew François was out there somewhere on his hands and knees if he wasn’t in his bootsuit chasing fiddleheads..
Venturing out back, and then to the neighbouring maple grove, sure enough, there were promising tufts of green everywhere.. Ramp leaves shooting up in gangs, alongside a smattering of baby trout lily, the odd cluster of fiddleheads, and striking (but inedible) trilles. Brushing aside the dead leaves around the ramps, there was lots more to be found – the first crinkleroot, wild ginger, more ramps, ulvulaire, spring beauty and more..
Right around the table champêtre, the orpin (live forever) is now popping up, the dandelion is in full force, still baby primo and actually edible this year (all the rain?), and there’s the miniature first daisy, my ‘coup de coeur’. Violet, bee balm and garlic mustard are showing signs of life, edible leaves soon, which means the linden, the flowers, and the next slideshow is not so far off. Spring was late, but I bet summer will not be. Even if it snowed in the Laurentians last night.
In any case, within days, there will be a true bounty of spring greens, fixings for a meslun that explodes with flavour – providing that jolt of fresh, assertive green vitamin crunch our bodies crave after a long winter. A Green flavour boost that imported Romaine cannot deliver.
For the month of May, this forest is our pantry, and salad has to be on the menu. It is François’ favourite time of year because of the fiddlehead tradition, but also for the abundance of different edibles all growing together. Nothing beats the smell of the woods at this time of year either. It’s not all about mushrooms after all.
Of course, there is the squadron of female pickers who show up in spring, those patient enough to do the meticulous hand work that the sprouts and flowers demand. So different from the hardy gang of rough and tough beer swilling fiddlehead pickers. And trust me, this season, you have to be built strong to be doing fiddleheads, a girl my size would be swept away with the swollen river getting to the sweet spots. François skirts back and forth, the king of fiddleheads and part of the motley crew, but equally adept and at peace with the girls clipping and coddling roots and shoots, in there with his deceptively delicate man hands and feminine sensibility. It is in Spring that I see his most tender side, and his fiercest too, in terms of stamina. Out foraging in the rain, to and fro from the market, washing all those fiddleheads at the end of every long day...
It is busy yes, but smooth splendor for two weeks at least.. Picking in the same few spots. Silence apart from chirping birds. When the foliage comes in, all this dies and we move on. Then other things arrive in season, but dispersed, unpredictable, one thing at a time all over the place, so much prospecting, running around the province... A whole new kind of Hectic. Mushrooms are much more complicated still.
I wish I could seize a spring moment, capture it fully, remember it perfectly all year.. More than a picture or caption or singular thought, but that magical fresh feeling - the energy and excitement inhabiting everyone; the scents, the tastes, and hopes for the season; the invigorating comfort of communing with nature again, seeing and eating green again.
From one squat stance, reaching in all directions, with a few careful handfuls, you have the makings of a tableau or a lunch. With a half dozen plants, you have a combination of contrasting textures, notes of sweet to offset the pleasantly bitter, as well as a spectrum of fruity, floral, green and peppery aromas.. Ultimately a salad that is exciting for the palate, soul and body, loaded with iron, vitamins, minerals protein and antioxidants.. that tastes like spring!
Trout lily(cantaloupe), live-forever (snow peas), daisy (sweet licorice), Dandelion (bitter), Ulvulaire (walnut), crinkleroot leaves (mustard and horseradish), and tender Spring beauty (finesse)..
All you need is a good cold-pressed oil and some salt for absolute deliciousness. As a side, that’s fine, but these greens can definitely stand up to a punchy vinaigrette too. A touch of sweet to counter the bitter/astringent is often a good idea. I make a wild ‘chimichurri’ that works well, as does a wild berry vinaigrette, or aged balsamic or sherry vinegar based vinaigrette. I like to chop up some ramp leaves and any fresh herbs that are kicking around, especially dill, parsley and chives. Scallions are essential. Nut oil or nuts also make a good addition. Meat, meat drippings and fat all marry well, softening the wild greens, a marriage made in heaven. The smallest hit of umami in the form of bacon, smoked duck or cheese shavings will do the trick, taking healthy green salad to full-on gourmet entrée. Topped with shrimp or grilled meat, you have dinner.
Day lily sprouts can be thrown in too, but I like to treat them as a vegetable on their own– delicately floral and leek like, with a hint of truffle – delicious sliced thin and served raw in a light vinaigrette, or simply wilted in beurre montée. With fish, poultry, mushrooms..
Growing in the same woodland, scattered among the spring greens are two precious roots, easily identified by their leaves at this time of year. Feeling down the stem, a pencil thin root is revealed, linked to a larger network underground, quite extensive depending on the age. We only snap off the first link and sprout, leaving the rest behind, which seems to stimulate the plant if anything. For the record, François does not rip out any plants by the roots. Across the board, we have a healthy supply every year in the same locations François has been tending to for 10-40 years.
First there’s François’ family favourite (and now mine too) - Crinkleroot.. With its hearty bite of mustard-meets-horseradish, it is nutty and peppery, very arugula like; both the greens and the roots are widely used in my kitchen.. In chopped salads, sandwiches, condiments and sauces, with tomatoes, cheese, seafood and steak.
Then there is Wild Ginger- pungent like ginger-root but incredibly aromatic, floral and fresh smelling, exactly like the flavour of soap gum (Thrills), but cleaner, more natural tasting. Sounds gross maybe, an acquired taste not unlike coriander or saffron, but it is amazing to cook with in both savoury and sweet, when keeping it subtle. I use it fresh, I pickle it, I make it into mustard, paste, syrup and sugar – all handy ingredients to add wild ginger zing to preparations in different ways year-round. This week it’s in an Asian inspired vinaigrette for shrimp and fiddlehead salad; next week it will be with chocolate in dessert
Of course, among the spring things, I cannot not mention fiddleheads more than in passing. A week into the season, we have a thousand pounds in our cooler, with thousands to come in still. We have a ton on the property, but it is a shitload of work. François was one of the first to put these on the market and takes great pride in it. I will be serving them in a myriad of ways fresh for weeks to come. Some will get put up, some pickled, most sold at the market.
I prefer them cooked and served hot with bacon or something meaty, but early season, I am happy to eat them in salads with some crunch. After washing them well, I blanch them for 5 min in lots of water and either reheat to serve warm or toss in vinaigrette.
So many people think fiddleheads are touchy or dangerous. The Cdn and Que governments say you should cook them for 15 minutes or 10-12 by steam due to some unidentified toxin. No one seems to know what this toxin is but affirm that it is water solvent. Yet other govt agencies have tested fiddleheads and not found any inherent toxin even raw. All cases of stomach upsets (very few) came from uncooked fiddleheads from unknown sources. (Probably polluted and improperly washed and cooked). We all agree that they should be cooked (they aren’t good raw anyway). To be safe, just wash well, use lots of water, and cook them through, no straight sauteeing. These guidelines seem excessive, but I suppose they are conservative to protect every idiot, scenario and fiddlehead out there. Personally, I believe 5 minutes in lots of water is sufficient with fresh fiddleheads from a reliable source. In previous years, I decided that with small batches when I wanted to conserve the most green and crunch, blanching twice for less total time optimized color, texture with respect to maximum cooking and water flushing. But now, I don’t bother. I don’t care about ‘aldente green’ like I used to. For flavour, more is better with fiddleheads.. But quand même, not 15 min!
Vote NDP if you care about Food.
Food Quality, Food Security..
Doesn’t anyone care?
I can't help but notice that Jack is the only one to have mentioned farming, specifically the disappearing small family farm. In addressing ways to help young farmers get started, I got the impression he had a notion about this country's food issues. His party has also brought up environmental issues more than the others, and this is integral to our food chain. Ok, so Duceppe visited a family farm too this week (eight days later), so vote Bloc second.
For access to good food and a sustainable future, we need to farm locally, and for that, we need available land, good soil, healthy bees, a diversity of seeds, fair prices, and a government that favours local communities and small producers over the industrial system and foreign interests.
As it is, our dependence on petrol soaked industrial food has resulted in an unsustainable system that has degraded food quality, the environment and farm communities, making it next to impossible for our best farmers to survive.
Altogether, our food system needs attention and no one seems to care, certainly because most voters and politicians are city dwellers, disconnected from the source of their food. Taking the abundance for granted, unaware that everything good is in jeopardy. Not enough people have spoken with a farmer recently, read enough Michael Pollan or picked up Sarah Elton’s all Canadian Locavore I guess, to notice how AFU our food chain is.
But imagine not being able to choose what you eat! All GMO, only packaged in China, or by Kraft. Not ever knowing the difference between something picked by hand, carefully made and tended to by someone you can meet.. Not having access to peak of the season strawberries or corn, not having control over our food supply when it counts. Maybe then, people would revolt. But, that’s where we are headed.
While there is a promising mini-wave toward organic and local with farmer’s markets, CSA’s, supported by a blossoming group of patriotic/ethically minded/hedonistic gourmands , and chefs embracing terroir cuisine, small farms are still closing. Talented, passionate producers are struggling. Urban development is swallowing up farmland. Bottom line - Most people still shop at the superstores, addicted to cheap imports. Look how hard it is to find local garlic for god’s sake. Garlic grows well here; it’s just that no one can make a living doing it. Our short growing season, and relatively high labour costs don’t help. Same for so many other things. At Les Jardins Sauvages, we do mushrooms and we would have to take a 100% loss to compete with imports when it comes to dried, sometimes even fresh. But it's not the same thing.
More than that, it is the effect of big corporations and mass production dominating our food source landscape that is more troubling, not only diminishing flavour and personality, but making it impossible for the guy next door. The kind of enterprise you would ideally rather buy from because you would know what he's doing and he would have to answer for it if he's doing something wrong - well, he can't compete. All the laws and systems are made for big players - the economy over food quality. Perhaps that explains the government favouring big corp and sterile food.. With their trade policies, economy markers, fears of litigation, the easier the better.. Economies of scale might make sense for some things, but not when it comes to food.
Despite all this, in Quebec, we’re leaps and bounds ahead of most of the country in terms of fostering a modern culinary heritage that speaks of place; we have our ‘terroir’, our celebrity chefs, our cheese, farm fresh vegetables, Montreal melons and maple syrup, foie gras, lamb and venison, alongside the traditional dishes to proudly riff on like tourtiere, ragout de pattes, poutine and so much more. Every restaurant and boutique trumpets ‘Cuisine or Produits de Terroir’. There are many extraordinary producers with an army of fans beyond chefs. Strangely enough, though, most still fight to make ends meet. In reality, most restaurateurs don’t fully walk the walk, still relying on big suppliers and a lot of industrial meat and imported veg; this is not advertised on their menus. They would need to charge more and customers aren’t willing to pay more. The small producers remain marginalized despite all this amazing ‘terroir’ cuisine. Home cooks aren’t worrying about them either, reheating processed food, grilling a Costco steak, seeing 3$/lb pork at the supermarket and thinking this is normal..
Until it all blows up in our faces.. When gas costs so much that industrial food is no longer so cheap, and there are enough intoxications or food scares to drive people to naturally raised animals, organic veg and food from traceable sources close to home, then everyone will want the local stuff. But then, there might not be enough farmers with good land, seeds and know-how to provide.
We need to encourage local food producers, and government policy should favour them over big agri-business by forcing the greedy giants to internalize the environmental costs. Imports should be regulated at least as rigorously as locally made products. I don’t think free trade is all that good for our food. We should be paying more for our food, only for better food. Farmers should be able to live a decent life, they should be valued. Why should a trained, knowledgeable, hardworking pillar of society make less than a cashier? It makes no sense. Really, why is an actor, hockey player, doorman or secretary so much better than a farmer?
I would have liked a Mme.Payé moment to ask the candidates about agriculture/food policy. Not much is as important as our food; we eat daily; our health and joy, our general well being depends on it. I don’t believe in ‘the economy’ at all costs. We need not be dependent on the economy if we can feed ourselves. We have to think long term.
In fact, we don’t even have to think too hard – just tuning into our taste buds, stomach, heart and common sense after a clear look at the status quo, there is no doubt that big change is necessary. We can preserve the last of the little guys doing something good and bolster the young innovators with ideas about urban farming and greenhouses. We should be encouraging the few daring enough to go back to the land while everyone swarms to the city expecting to get fed without a second thought. We have all it takes to build a solid and tasty Canadian foodshed, but we need the average person and politician to give a shit, or we’ll be sorry.
I want a government that will make progress more likely. In the mean time, and most importantly, it is about all of us choosing good food and supporting our local producers, shunning the industrial system, day to day. Even if it means withholding on that latest Ipad or pair of stylish shoes.
I say vote NDP. Or Bloc. But more than anything, I want you to vote with your dollar every time you buy food. Go to the market. At the market, favour the farmers over the dealers. If you don’t live close to a market, subscribe to a CSA. If you don’t know a farmer or producer, make a point of meeting one. Date one if possible. It will change you. Get gardening or at least cooking from scratch.. Hang out with people who do. Think about your food and where it comes from, and fully appreciate it. Be willing to pay more for good food that is carefully made in terms of quality, with respect to the environment because it is real food that tastes good! If you go to the supermarket, read labels, ask questions. Buy local! Eat with a conscience; choose a restaurant that has a conscience when you eat out. Revive old traditions and have fun at the table. It's easy and delicious to embrace slowfood - what is fresh, local, fair and organic (in spirit anyway) is what tastes best, what feels right. If we all did this, the right people and businesses would thrive, we wouldn’t even need government. Unfortunately we do.
Simply put, the Green Party of Canada plans to create thousands of jobs through investment in renewable energy, expanding passenger rail and modernizing freight, along with retrofitting thousands of buildings to high standards for energy efficiency.
As for economic stimulus, their platform proposes to expand access to employment insurance for those who paid into it, while protecting the pensions of retired Canadians. As well, under the leadership of Elizabeth May, the Greens want to reduce unemployment insurance and Canada Pension Plan contributions for businesses.
I know the GreenParty is a good choice; I voted Green last time. But I guess I'm too eager for change, the NDP really has a chance, and I like Jack.
Really, it comes down to 'Anything but Harper!'
Of course, I understand worries about increasing taxes and gripes about poor management of our money. Even if I am as left as they get, I cringe at how much the government takes from a single girl like me and a small business like ours. It is so frustrating how inefficient a machine the government is - we could never get away with it in our line of work. Yet, I remain an idealist and I'm quite sure the NDP would spend our money better than the Conservatives. Although torn on the subject, I think I worry more about everything being privatized - there aren't enough ethical businessmen in this world.
It is insane and not good for anyone long term that big business/corps have so much power globally and in our current system. I say tax the shit out of them, not the average person or small business. At least chop their subsidies. Carbon tax yes. Make it harder for all to pollute and exploit and destroy for a buck. The fabric of our local communities, our land, our innovators, artists and artisans, all the best things about life are threatened by this. It isn't by bringing in big ass foreign companies who don't give a damn about us for a few jobs that you secure a healthy economy or sustainable future. In a proper climate that favours small business with personality and conscience, we can create more, better paid jobs, and a better quality of life all round. If people bought their food from a farmer, got their stereo repaired at the corner shop or got their shoes from a local shoemaker who could mend them when need be, instead of going out and buying cheap stereos and shoes from China every year, there could be plenty of jobs and less junk dumped.
As it is, the laws favour agri-business; with all their demands in paperwork, fees, equipment and labelling and etc - I need to make millions of jars of anything to justify it which we can't and don't want to do. Same with a farmer with a few heads of venison, lamb or pintade; there are no more small abbatoirs to accomodate them without complicated scheduling and excessive cost. All to mitigate handmade anything and diversity. It's been proven that this is the best way in cultivation and the only way with organics. Monocultures and assembly lines are 'productive', economic, but no good. The superstores aren't willing to go with a local small producer, it's too complicated. Equally, when it comes to so many other things - textiles, wool, candles, furniture made by talented people next door, all disappearing. Then that guy has to go out west to find work in the sketchy oil fields - c'mon, it is AFU. Maybe I'm dreaming about the good old days, but things do have to change, even if it is slowly. If everyone is scared about their pocketbooks all the time, we will never get anywhere. Perhaps we need to give up a few stupid luxuries like cheap TVs, SUV's, processed food and be forced to consider the value of things. We will end up richer if we have access to quality fresh food, if we have neighbours who can provide most of everything else, as long as we have a family doctor and bank that is controlled.
Even with a stellar performance, the NDP would be stifled, forced to move center; they are likely not ready anyhow. A coalition obviously, inevitably represents this vast, divided country the best, but will certainly be frustratingly inefficient again. What can you do, that's democracy. We shouldn't forget that we are lucky in the big picture.
Now that it seems unlikely that Harper will get a majority, I think any scenario, however imperfect, will be better than the status quo. And although I still don't have a family doctor, I care more about food, local farmers and small businesses like ours surviving.
My Greek Easter Soup with Lamb Lungs
Every time I get a lamb from Genevieve et Nathalie (L’Agno et le Lapin in St-Julienne), I break it down and use just about everything nose to tail style. The gigots get separated from the rack, the flanks go to belly/ bacon, the shoulder divided into roasting and braising muscles, the offal put aside for terrines or a mixed grill. The tongue and cheeks and heart are so small, barely more than a snack for the cooks. Bones and miscellaneous bits go into the stock. I even keep some of the fat for sausage or petit sale since this young lamb fat is mild tasting even buttery with the babies. Not crazy about the liver, I still manage to make a decent paté that is quite appreciated by lamb and liver lovers. But I never knew what to do with the lungs. So I vacuum packed and froze them. With a set of lungs per lamb, they have accumulated. Then this week, Genevieve gave me a bag of lungs that she had been collecting for a European customer who disappeared. She didn’t know what to do with them either.
Not particularly inspired by this organ, I now had no choice but to get creative and tackle a recipe or two. With the season starting, I need the freezer space and it just seemed wrong to throw fifteen pounds of protein into the trash.
I remember a fellow cook of Greek heritage telling me they made soup with it on Easter. Makes sense since they like to roast a whole lamb on a spit and historically let nothing go to waste, giving them something to snack on in the meantime.
With Easter around the corner, I looked it up – Mageiritsa; I was feeling gung ho. I liked the idea of onions, lemon and dill (always good), but didn’t want eggs in there. A quick internet search told me that there existed all kinds of lung dishes. In India and Pakistan, they made lung curries. There’s the Scottish haggis, Zuppa du Polmore in Italy, German sour lung soup, spicy Asian noodle dishes. In fact, most countries have a traditional lung recipe; apparently it is only in North America that we shun it, like most offal. Undoubtedly because the average family (or restaurant) here is far down on the food chain, numerous degrees of separation from the animal, nor living any real necessity of frugally making the most of every morsel.
When I think lamb, I think spices – cumin, fennel, mustard, red pepper.. Or herbs like thyme and rosemary, tangy condiments like preserved lemon and olives. This brainstorming had me salivating and eager to get started on my own Easter soup - a mix of the various recipes I had seen, a dash of my own style and a lot of what was in my fridge.
I had already put the lungs in a light brine to degorge (standard procedure for many variety meats), giving me a night to figure out what to do with them. I saw that I had to sous-vide the fresh ones first to rid them of the air so that they wouldn’t float. This turned them from a bright pinkish-red to purple. Hmm.
The next day, I threw them into some boiling water and simmered for 15 minutes to blanch and firm them up so that I could work them. Most of the recipes I had seen started this way, and it seemed right given the spongey texture (think sweetbreads or brains or testicles). Slicing the lobes open, I felt like I should remove the tough looking ducts and vessels, at least in large part. Then I cut them up and threw them into a sauté with onions and bacon fat (when in doubt, add bacon!). I added garlic and spices: thyme, bay, a hot pepper, some panch foran and a lemon wedge. I deglazed with some white wine, added some tomato and lamb stock and put it on a very slow simmer. Meanwhile, I put on some basmati rice to cook on the side with a clove, a bay leave, and black pepper, to add later. I had some crunchy Jerusalem artichoke from a sous-vide experiment that I diced up to mix in near the end. Sea parsley pesto kicking around - perfect. I was psyched.
Soon enough, the kitchen smelled heavenly, but the lung pieces didn’t seem to be changing in the cooking process. Maybe my heat was too low; I wanted them to become tender, but was fearing they would turn to shoe leather. After an hour, even two, I wasn’t thrilled with the texture or the taste of the lung, although the broth was incredible. I reasoned that I should be patient. There was no way I was giving up at this point.
Some time later, the texture had improved, going from tough and springy to tender with bite, like a properly cooked gizzard or heart. But the taste wasn’t going anywhere – it tasted like a washed out lamb heart, with a touch of liver. Discouraged, I started pumping up the mix- adding gremolata, salt, crinkleroot, a pinch of sugar, a touch of good red wine vinegar. The broth tasted kick ass, there was still hope. I sautéed swiss chard with garlic and threw that in with the rice and sunchokes. I was determined to make something good of this. Not to serve at the restaurant or sell, but at least for family and friends, something we would be happy to pull out of the freezer for a quick meal. By now, I was up to 20+ litres of the stuff, not to mention a huge pile of dishes. In the space of 12 hours, my enthusiasm had morphed into tempered frustration, relentless tampering, and a profound need to come out on top.
At 2am, I took it off the stove, finished with a tweak or two, some fresh herbs and called it a night. To my utter disappointment, it was just ok. I mean definitely edible, even surprising maybe for an average taster, but not what I had worked it up to be in my mind, with all the attention and love I invested. I don't remember ever having such a hard time making something delicious. Honestly. Humbling. But also, it makes me wonder about how far I want to push this whole nose to tail thing.
Ordering whole carcasses is better for the producer; it’s the way it should be, and of course, we have to make the most of every ingredient for minimum waste, economically and ethically. But there does seem to be a sensible limit to the nose to tail thing when you aren’t starving to death. I am quite sure that my customers would rather eat just about anything else even if I mastered the lung perfectly. I’ve had a hard enough time getting them to try tongue, cheeks and sweetbreads; even rabbit, not to mention all the wild stuff.
It is natural for me with all of the above ingredients because I love them myself and am confident that anybody reticent would be won over once they tasted. When it comes to lamb liver, kidneys and lung, I am not so sure. I don’t dig lamb organ meats. And in the end, I want to make food that makes people happy, I don’t need to challenge them across the board. I need to more than believe in what I am making and serving – on a hedonistic level.
That said, I have not thrown in the towel. I will treat my next lungs confit style. Gizzards shine this way, and I think the lung once blanched and cut up would work similarly. If confit treatment doesn’t work, then nothing will. And if I ditch the lung thereafter, then so be it. I tell myself that so many other chefs just order loins and chops and bones with no bother. The reality is that most of the time when you work a less noble cut or make use of the ‘scraps’, those transformed scraps end up costing the same as ready filet in labour cost. Which is fine. The tough cuts and most of the bits are better anyway. Although more expensive, ordering whole carcasses from a local producer, you get a fresher, better (and tracible) product. The crazy thing is that these farmers aren’t even charging enough. Because of the industrial system, people unfortunately think that cheap meat is normal.
I wish I could pay my lamb producer more than I do, which is already twice (or more) what most restaurants pay for their meat. But I then, I would have to charge my customers more, and I already don't charge what I should. As they struggle to make a living, I struggle to come into my cost buying their lamb, so I certainly want to make the most of it. Making something spectacular with the lungs would have been a real triumph and added value - for me, for them.
My Easter soup was a work of love, not a total success in my mind, but who knows. I will wait and see what my guinea pigs have to say.
Much to my surprise (and delight), it turns out that most of my peeps loved it, including my 'almost vegetarian' mother, my finnicky father, our well-travelled gourmand neighbour and my brutally honest boyfriend. Only my friend Elsa was not impressed. Like me, she could not get past the strange organ taste that no one else seemed to be detecting. Oh well, whatever. Lungs aren't for everyone. At least, my efforts were not for absolutely nothing. And now a dozen more people know what a lamb lung tastes like.
Blood, Bones & Butter, The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef,
by Gabrielle Hamilton
The chef memoir seems to be hot these days, and this one by Gabrielle Hamilton, Chef-owner of Prune in NYC indeed came out to much buzz. Who knows if it due to effective marketing, the novel female point of view, or because she is an actual writer as well as celebrity chef. It certainly didn’t hurt that someone coined it the female version of Kitchen Confidential along the way.
In any case, it’s not that. Aside from her inherent rebellious streak and years clocked on the line swearing a blue streak, this is obviously her own very personal story, more about herself than the industry.
On the route from life-loving inquisitive kid to naughty teen, to diligent, frustrated catering cook and finally to entrepreneur and mother of two, the unique path of her life is unravelled in an engaging yarn.. On the side, there are very real glimpses of life in the professional kitchen.
I had a hard time putting the book down. Mostly because I related so much. In the details of her day to day, in her feelings and reflections, so many lines resonated with me.
From rats in the back alley to the grating sound of the fan.
The rebellious, freedom seeking bad ass in her so drawn to life on the edge - yet thoughtful, happy to have a moral backbone to lean on, inhabited with a desire to please.
Solitary, hard working, beating to her own drum, ‘creating her own castles’.
Loving writing and cooking, questioning everything.
Her belief that women in the kitchen is a non-issue, while knowing damn well it still is.
The insane number of annoying details that you have to deal with behind the scenes that don’t seem to count – how the restaurant business is about so much more than the food, cooking and serving - all that meets the eye.
How breaking down your station at the end of the night and scrubbing away makes everything feel all right in the world.
Throughout, I felt like I was hanging out with a friend.
When she got on my nerves, it was often for the same reasons I get annoyed with myself, for her impatience, perfectionism and relentless analyses.
I love that she walked out on Iron Chef. I’m not into silly kitchen battles and faux dinner in 30min Tv shows that make a joke of our industry; it is indeed sad that this is the new barometer for success with seasoned veterans reluctantly obliging to stay in the game.
Of course I didn’t always agree with her. Especially when it comes to her Oh-so-cool now anti-local&organic stance, because it’s just the way it was and should be without talking about it. Ya! But! The fact is, we have strayed so far from there, so that most of what is available at the supermarket and from purveyors is industrial, not fresh, to the detriment of our local communities, health and pleasure. She even lamented the disappearance of the dudes with no teeth bearing the perfect produce - the face of the small farmer, the artisan.. Well that’s because we haven’t been paying attention and opting for the cheapest price. If we don’t talk about it, and make a point of choosing what’s best, while making the client value the difference, real food will never be normal again.
There is no doubt that she writes well for a chef. Her story is compelling; a strong voice and definite personality carries through. She is honest, witty and insightful, and I admire her spunk and ambition. When her tone gets tiresomely angry and griping, I can only sympathize. On occasion, I did find the writing contradictory and repetitive, but realize that both could be due to editing, or perhaps simply the truth, which is always fine by me.
All in all, this is a good read. I can only have the highest respect for a woman more or less my age who managed to build and maintain a successful restaurant of the kind I believe in most – quality but small, down to earth, personal and real… On top of having two kids, spending her summers in Italy and writing a prize winning book (just watch). Hats off.