Here’s what I’ll be shopping for this summer: smoked mackerel and Matane shrimp from the Gaspé Peninsula, as well as Arctic char and rainbow trout raised in inland farms. And, because my hometown of Montreal has a large Portuguese community, I’ll be attending at least one sardinhada, or sardine grill, when the oily smoke fills the alleys of the Plateau.
When it comes to seafood, though, I have to admit there’s nowhere like the West Coast: While the Pacific faces challenges from overfishing, it remains Poseidon’s bounteous kingdom compared to the heavily plundered Atlantic. If I pay a visit to my family in Vancouver this summer, I’ll have my pick of sustainably sourced seafood to feast on: sweet-fleshed Dungeness crab, juicy spot prawns, diver-caught sea urchins and butter-fleshed sablefish, preferably marinated in the lees of sake.
But the dish I look forward to the most is the one my dad takes such pleasure in making : his version of bouillabaisse, with clams and mussels and Pacific halibut in the place of rascasse, thickened with lashings of garlicky rouille.
I‘m tempted to book a ticket right now.
TRY YOUR SHUCK
How to buy oysters: Nicholas Budreski of Canesp Global Distributions, S.L, in Halifax distributes hand-picked and graded shellfish to fine restaurants and sushi establishments throughout Nova Scotia. When purchasing oysters, he says, look for tightly closed shells with a deeply cupped shape (the deeper the cup, the more meat you'll find inside).
How to cook them: Oysters are best served raw on the half shell, in their own liquor — that is, the flavourful liquid that naturally pools in the shell and gives these molluscs their flavour. To shuck them, a flat-head screwdriver will do the trick. Otherwise, purchase a shucking knife, with a long, smooth pointy blade: “You want to pry open the bivalve," Budreski says, “and you do that by clipping the membrane at the pointy end and then working it open with your tool."
How to serve them: Budreski suggests lining up the bivales on long, thin plate, either side by side or interspersed with small ramekins holding condiments such as hot sauce or soy sauce. Or set them out on a large, round platter, fanned around a bowl of lemon wedges. As for an accompaniment, Budreski recommends only booze. “That's the East Coast way," he jokes.
- Deirdre Kelly
FISH FOR COMPLIMENTS
How to buy pickerel: Make sure that the pickerel's scent is fresh and that the flesh feels firm to the touch, says Nigel Finley, the Nova Scotia-born chef at Catch, a new sustainable-seafood restaurant in Toronto. Store in the refrigerator and consume within 24 hours of bringing it home.
How to cook it: Pickerel is a dense, meaty fish best cooked on the grill and seasoned with nothing more than olive oil, flaked sea salt and freshly ground pepper, Finley says. Sear it on high, then lower heat and cook for about 20 minutes.
How to serve it: Present whole grilled pickerel on a platter overtop a bed of cooked seasonal vegetables such as fresh peas or fiddleheads. The key is to arm yourself with a stainless-steel fish spatula, Finley says. Its broad, flexible head slides easily under the fish so that you can transfer it to the platter without breaking the flesh. Filet the fish at table using the sharp point of a knife, cutting behind the head, along the spine and toward the belly just on top of the bones. With a large spoon and the fish spatula, gently lift the flesh off the bones and serve. (The head is attached to the spine and should be the last thing left on the platter once the filleting is done.)
- Deirdre Kelly
Beppi's wine match: Light enough to respect the fish's delicate flavour and flaky flesh, dry riesling — Ontario‘s most consistently excellent white — adds stone fruit and zesty citrus to the mix. There should be a slot labelled "riesling" in every freshwater-fisherman‘s tackle box.
SHOW (OFF) YOUR CLAWS