Friday, May 27, 2011

Spring Vegetable Risotto

        Risotto is very versatile and once you have mastered the technique of slow cooking the rice you can experiment with many different variations. One common variation would be to replace the green pea puree with tomato sauce. I also like using butternut squash or mushrooms. While there are many great recipes for risotto that involve meat, this one is dedicated to the vegetarians out there (more on that in my final thoughts at the end). To lighten up the dish, you can omit the cheese. While technically this wouldn't be risotto any more, it would still be very tasty. Whether you're a vegetarian or an omnivore like me, I hope you enjoy this delicious risotto recipe!
  2 cups arborio rice
800 ml  vegetable stock
100 ml  white wine  
100 g    white onion, finely diced
  1/2 bunch asparagus
      4 baby zucchini, or 1 large zucchin
      6 patty pan (summer) squash or 1 yellow zucchini
300g green peas
100g grated Parmesan
100g  Migneron de Charlevoix, or other semi-firm, surface ripened cheese. 
  1/2  bunch chives (optional)
         olive oil, salt & pepper

1. Heat a small amount of olive oil in a 4L sauce pot and sweat the onions for 2 minutes. Add the rice and stir constantly over medium heat  for 2 minutes to toast the rice. 
2. Add white wine. Stir constantly until all the wine has been absorbed, then add hot stock 200 ml at a time, each time waiting until all the stock has been absorbed before continuing, stirring occasionally. Continue to cook the rice until tender, but still al dente. Add a little bit of water if necessary. 
3. Meanwhile, boil 200g of green peas in salted water, until tender. Purée the peas, then add purée to the rice
4. Dice the asparagus, zucchini and squash and sauté in olive oil until tender. Set aside a small quantity of vegetables for garnish and stir the rest into the rice. 
5. Stir in the remaining green peas and grated Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper to taste.      

To serve:
1. Divide the risotto among 4 bowls and cover with thin slices of Migneron de Charleviox or similar cheese.
2. Place the bowl on a baking tray and place under the broiler to melt the cheese.
3. Garnish with reserved sautéed vegetables and chives.

Final toughts:

 Among chefs, vegetarians often have a bad reputation for being picky eaters. As a chef and an avowed omnivore, I would like to take a stand in defence of the vegetarians. Whether their choice is based on moral or health grounds, I believe they have a point either way. An unfortunate fact of modern living is that the inexpensive cuts of meat that abound in todays supermarkets come at a great cost to our health, the environment and the well being of the farmed animals. Like most people, I'm not about to cut meat out entirely from my diet, but when I do buy meat I make an effort to make sure that it was raised in an ethical and sustainable manner. This recipe is meant to show that there are many great options for dinner that don't involve any meat at all. There are many fascinating books on the topic of sustainable farming. A good starting point is Micheal Pollen's The Omnivore's Dilema

Friday, May 13, 2011

Smoked Mackerel

To me, one of life's little pleasures is cooking with a smoker. There is something primal and satisfying about cooking with raw wood. I love the aroma of burning maple, hickory or apple wood. I enjoy smoking the typical favorites like salmon and pork ribs, but also smoke a variety of meat and fish all summer long in my little hibachi grill on my back porch. That's why for my first dish on Top Chef Canada, one that was supposed to represent my personality, I chose to do smoked salmon. I served the salmon with maple brandy butter and buckwheat pancakes. I will be posting that recipe soon, but for now here is a recipe for another fish that also has a real affinity for the smoker. I was lucky to find these incredibly fresh mackerel at the market, but if you can't find any, this technique works just as well with many fish, including trout, salmon, arctic char and sablefish. 

Start to finish 12 hours, working time: 1 1/12 hours


4 fillets mackerel
150g salt
100g sugar
8 juniper berries
2 tps black peppercorns
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 tbs coriander seed
2 bay leaf

wood chips for smoking, preferably a blend of 80% maple 20% hickory

1. To make the cure, mix all the dry ingredients in a baking tray large enough to fit the 4 fillets. Remove half of the cure from the tray and lay down the four fillets. Sprinkle the remaining cure over the fillets. Let rest in the fridge for 8-12 hours.
2. Remove the cured fish from the salt and thoroughly rinse with cold water. Pat dry with paper towel and return the fish to the fridge until the smoker is ready.

3. Soak the wood chips in water for 1 hour. Strain, then wrap them in a tinfoil pouch and poke several holes in one side.
4. If you are using a charcoal grill, light the smallest about of coals that you can keep lit. After the coals have been burning for 30 minutes, place the pouch of wood chips directly on the coals. If using a gas grill, set the heat to the lowest setting and place to pouch of wood chip as close to the element as possible, without touching the flames. If your gas grill has a layer of briquets, this is where you want to put the wood chips.

5. Fill an aluminum tray with ice cubes and place the tray on the lowest rack of your BBQ. Lay the fish on the highest tray and close the lid, with the vent open. The ice will cool the smoke to prevent the fish from overcooking, but will not result in a "cold smoke."  It is impossible to cold smoke on a normal barbecue. To make a real cold smoke, as is popular for salmon, you need a specialized smoker where the heat source is completly seperated from the meat or fish.        
6. Leave the fish in the smoker for 1 hour, keeping a very close eye on it. Charcoal fires have a tendency to go out at the low heat that you want to keep your barbecue at. More importantly, make sure the barbecue does not get too hot. If it does get too hot, spray a small amount of water on the wood chips to cool them.

7. Check the fish after 1 hour. The fish should have a light brown glaze, and a smoky aroma. Depending on the intensity of the heat and smoke, the fish might need up to 30 minutes more in the smoker. Be careful not to overcook the fish or it will become dry.

8. Marinate cooled fillets in olive oil with slices of lemon. Smoked mackerel, if fully submerged in olive oil, will keep for 2 weeks. Smoked mackerel that has been vacuum sealed will keep for one month.

Homemade smoked mackerel is great on its own, served on crackers with a bit of pickled onion. You can also try serving it with hard boiled eggs, potato salad and dill sour cream for a Scandinavian style lunch. My favorite way to enjoy it is on a bagel with cream cheese. Bon Appetit!