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From tangy smoked herring to citrusy fir tip extract
FIR BITTERS: The West Coast delicacy known as fir tips – tender young conifer shoots harvested in early spring and used as a fresh herb much like rosemary – are preserved in murky green bottles of Great Bear Rainforest Bittered Sling Extract from Kale & Nori Culinary Arts. “We wanted to capture the citrusy essence of all those sticky needles when first plucked from the tree,” says Vancouver mixologist Lauren Mote, who used locally foraged grand fir tips to infuse her complex potion layered with notes of spearmint, juniper, pine cone and angelica root. Designed for both bartenders and cooks, the concentrated nectar is meant to boost light flavours with a bright boreal backdrop. One drop in a glass of soda adds a minty exclamation point to an aperitif. But if you really want to kick up a roast chicken, use an entire 30-mL bottle to deglaze the pan. Available at thecraftybartender.com ($25 for 120 mL, plus shipping and handling). For a complete list of retailers across Canada, visit kaleandnori.com. – Alexandra Gill
DUCK FAT: Roasting a duck may sound divine, but there are practicalities to consider: One, a duck feeds only a few, and two, the best part of the bird is the fat you’re left with after the port has been served and the company has gone home. Now you can skip all that scoring and skimming and go straight for the anatine gold with a jar of pure rendered and filtered Moulard duck fat. Made in Quebec, Rougié gras de canard is a chef-quality product that will render your roast potatoes so crisp, golden and flavourful, they might steal the thunder from the rest of the meal. Also great for confit, homemade frites, sautéed mushrooms and even fried eggs, duck fat is not as nutritionally naughty as you might think – partially unsaturated, it is calorically similar to canola oil and even provides some vitamin A. What’s more, a little goes a long way, and the jar will last for months in the fridge. With a little self-control. Rougié Duck Fat is available at Williams-Sonoma stores across Canada for $16.95, or at williams-sonoma.com. – Bonny Reichert
FRESH GREEN PEPPERCORNS: In late summer and early fall, fragrant, fresh green peppercorns, still on the vine, are harvested in Vietnam, India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Brazil. Andrea Brockie, owner of Selsi Sea Rocks in Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market, brings three shipments of this hot commodity in from Vietnam every year. The flavour is outstanding – imagine the difference between fresh and dried herbs. “All the essential, volatile oils are still intact, so when you bite down, there’s a burst of very complex flavours: sweet, heat, peppery, green,” says Brockie. Customers include chef Jason Cox of Opus, who blends them with butter for a steak topper and whisks them into brandied peppercorn sauce. Brockie says the cluster should stay green and chewy for about 12 days, at which point you should use them up, freeze them or let them dry. And don’t put them in a grinder – just chop, smash, crush or use whole. $4.50 per ounce at Selsi Sea Rocks, St. Lawrence Market, 416-854-9088, selsisearocks.com. – Signe Langford
SALT PLATE: Mario Di Giovanni, owner of Just a Pinch, was chatting with his salt supplier in Northern Pakistan when he suggested that Di Giovanni start carrying those lamps carved out of rough chunks of rose-quartz-like pink salt. But Di Giovanni wasn’t interested in anything he couldn’t eat, so he asked his man to send him a slab and he started to play with it in the kitchen. After heating it up, chilling it, freezing it, putting it on the barbecue and sizzling a piece of salmon on it, the Himalayan salt plate was ready for its debut. The plate can be heated up to 450 F, and adds a little bit of saltiness to food. Anything that chips off can go into the salt grinder. At Velouté Bistro in Toronto, chef Fawzi Kotb chills his collection of salt plates in the freezer. “I love using them for carpaccio, tartare and my house-cured salmon. The presentation is so beautiful – the pink colour – especially with the salmon.” Available in three sizes: 5” x 10” $39.99, 8” x 8” $49.99 and 8” x 12” $59.99 from justapinch.ca and at selected fine-food shops across Canada. – Signe Langford
SMOKED HERRING: I’ve eaten plenty of herring in my day, but never have I encountered anything quite as complex and piquant as Le Fumoir d’Antan’s marinated, smoked and jarred variety. Situated in the beautiful Magdalen Islands (aka Îles-de-la-Madeleine) in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Le Fumoir is a traditional herring smokehouse where three generations of the Arseneau family have turned the humble fish into something exceptional. The process today is the same as in the past: First the herring is cured in a salt brine for 48 hours before being skewered on long wooden poles and suspended by the thousands from the rafters of the smokehouse. On the ground below, hardwood fires are kept burning for 60 to 90 days. Finally, the dehydrated fish is boned and packed in seasoned vegetable oil. The end result is a tangy, deeply smoky treat. Le Fumoir d’Antan (fumoirdantan.com) or Le Bon goût frais des Îles de la Madeleine (firstname.lastname@example.org); $6.75 for 120-gram jar, plus shipping and handling. – Bonny Reichert
(Le Bon goût frais des Îles de la Madeleine)