This is a foolproof way to steam fish. You can use striped bass, black bass, Mediterranean sea bass or even branzino; ask your fishmonger to remove the bones but leave the head on. You can buy one large fish or several smaller ones. The cooking times will be shorter for smaller fish, but use the method in the recipe to check for doneness. Fermented black beans are available in Chinatown, but in a pinch you can use black bean paste, which is available at most supermarkets.
Nordic cuisine is based on purity, simplicity, the changing seasons and what is local to the area on land and water. It emphasizes fish and foraged ingredients like vegetables, berries and fruits. And it uses modern techniques combined with old-world methods of preserving. Over all, it is a healthy, tasty and fascinating way to take advantage of what is around us.
Arctic char is one of the few Northern fish that are fresh at this time of the year. (Most other wild fish are frozen.) Char is exceptional and, when lightly brined, firms up while cooking. When I was recently travelling in the Nordic countries, sea buckthorn, a berry, was used in everything from purées to garnishes. It grows on a shrub that we also have here in Canada, and it’s full of healthy vitamins and minerals. Sea buckthorn is only available fresh in August, so you’re more likely to find it frozen. If you can find it, garnish this dish with a sprinkling of berries and serve with black or green lentils.
There is plenty of bad pad Thai out there – many versions are too sweet or ketchupy. A true pad Thai, however, is a thing of beauty – and can even be made at home. David Thompson could be the most famous non-Thai Thai chef in the world and I was lucky enough to visit his restaurant in Australia. His version of the stir-fried noodles bore no resemblance to any I’d tasted before. It was salty, sour and slightly sweet. Thompson’s credo is that the diner should finish the dish by adding more lime, fish sauce or chilies as they desire. The following is his recipe, adapted for the home kitchen. You will never go back to a sickly, sticky version again.
Tamarind is sold in several forms. The tamarind concentrate I use for this recipe needs to be cut with double the amount warm water. Salted pickled radish is available at Asian stores in packages, but you can make your own by adding 1 tbsp salt and 2 tbsp sugar to 1 cup thinly sliced daikon radish. Leave for 4 hours, then drain and chop.
Simplicity and freshness are the keys to creating interesting pasta dishes. Pasta shapes are important, too. The length, curves and texture of the pasta should dictate the kind and size of ingredients used. The dome-shaped orecchiette used in this dish are the perfect receptacles for the zucchini balls and capers, which would slide off long pasta.
In Italy, cheese is traditionally never used in seafood dishes, but times are changing – when I was last in Rome, cheese was offered with my shrimp pasta, probably an accommodation for American tourists. I personally avoid cheese on seafood. Butter, on the other hand, is used often in the Emilia-Romagna area for pasta dishes and smooths out the flavour of fish and shellfish.
Fried capers, which look like little flowers, are a trendy ingredient right now. Don’t take them out of the oil too early as they become soggy – you want them to have a nice crispness. As for fried basil leaves, they look like green stained glass, which ramps up the presentation of this dish.
Each year, chefs gather in Venice to vie for the title of San Pellegrino’s Young Chef of the Year. All under 30 years old, the cooks must prepare one of their dishes in the galley of a racing yacht. This June, Canada had a seat at the table for the first time, and I was on board one of the yachts with our representative, Danny Smiles from Le Bremner in Montreal. I can now say from experience that it is very difficult to cook on the water and keep your equilibrium. Smiles, however, remained steady as he prepared this memorable seafood soup. He didn’t win, but he made Canada proud.
Smiles used dashi as the basis of this chowder because it has umami flavour, making the soup richer than it would be if he had used water or fish stock. You can buy dashi in bottles or dried at Japanese stores if you do not want to make your own. The maple syrup gives the dish a familiar Canadian taste.
This dish was inspired by a Spanish rice, lobster and truffle dish I tasted recently. Since truffles are very hard to come by, I substituted them for a drop of truffle oil. The more expensive truffle oil is, the better it tastes, so don’t use an imitation – it is better to omit the oil entirely. If you do come across Australian truffles, shave them over top. I found excellent vacuum-packed frozen lobster from a Nova Scotia brand called Naked Lobster, which is carried at several supermarkets and some fish shops. It worked perfectly for this recipe but you could also use shrimp if you prefer them to lobster. Try to find Spanish rice, which is a medium-grain rice, otherwise Arborio will work (though the texture will be slightly different). Salmorreta is a slightly spicy Spanish sauce typically served on the side of rice and chicken dishes. While the Spanish would use Nora peppers, I substituted them for long red ones that are readily available.