With his soft-spoken demeanour and his winter tuque pulled all the way down to his eyebrows, Geoff Hopgood comes off as sort of a shy guy at first. But get him talking and you soon learn that the Halifax native who opened Hopgood’s Foodliner in Toronto just over a year ago loves to have a good time. Most often, Hopgood’s fun is had at the restaurant – “it’s like a party every night,” he says – or at the apartment that he and his wife Lucy share nearby, in the city’s Roncesvalles neighbourhood. “My wife invites people over when she thinks I haven’t seen enough of my friends,” Hopgood says with a chuckle. The menu is often a mix of special and simple, such as these gorgeous butter-poached oysters as a starter and something basic and spot on, like a perfect roast chicken, to follow. He might pair it all with a Portuguese vinho verde to drink. “It’s a beautiful thing,” the chef says of the decadent oyster dish. “Usually when you butter-poach something you need an emulsification of butter and water, but in this case you can use the brine from the oysters.”
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30 oysters, preferably from the East Coast and “choice” in size
2 bunches leeks, white and light green parts only
1 pound unsalted butter, cold and cubed
1 (1-ounce/30-gram) tin Acadian Sturgeon and Caviar Inc. caviar (or trout or salmon roe)
Working over a strainer with a bowl underneath, shuck oysters and save the liquid (or liquor) from inside the shells. Slice leeks into the thinnest possible rounds and reserve.
Heat oyster liquor in a large saucepan and start whisking in cubes of butter over low heat. Wait until one cube is melted and incorporated before adding the next. When all the butter is incorporated, you should have a rich sauce thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Add leeks and oysters and gently heat until oysters are just warmed through. Do not let butter boil or the sauce will split. (This can be done in two pans if you don’t have one large enough to hold everything.)
To plate, divide oysters among 6 shallow pasta bowls, adding an equal amount of leeks and butter sauce to each. Garnish with a generous spoonful of caviar.
Suggested Wine Pairings
Geoff Hopgood says he might pair it with a Portuguese vinho verde.