Summer is at the door and it's about time! For Toqué! the arrival of the best season of the year - from a culinary perspective - is always welcome and cherished. The reason is simple: We create dishes from seasonal products. The greater variety of products during the summer means more creativity and diversity.
But because the favourable seasons are so short in Quebec, we need to turn to other ingredients to remain interesting and original for much of the year. Increasingly, tea is one of them. Yes, tea - the traditional, aromatic beverage prepared from cured leaves.
Did you know that after water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world? And did you know that you can find great teas in Montreal? I have chosen to work mostly with Hugo Americi and Kevin Gascoyne of the Camellia Sinensis tea house in the Quartier Latin (the name of the boutique is the Latin word for the tea plant itself). We share common priorities, including finding the best products available on the market, and being able to trace them back to their origins. For Hugo and Kevin, that means travelling to China, India, Taiwan or Japan to meet with local producers and export the best teas they can find. They have been doing this for years, and recently decided to share their passion and knowledge in a great book that will be available soon.
They asked me to contribute two recipes. For research, I participated in a tea degustation with my chef de cuisine, Charles-Antoine Crête. One of my favourites was a Milan Xiang Feng Xi Oolong. This traditional tea, which can be classified somewhere between green and black, is commonly served in Chinese restaurants. But for me, it brought back childhood memories: When I was little, my grandmother made a fresh pot of tea every morning and used what was left of it at the end of the day to deglaze the meat she served for dinner. It's a great combination actually, because this tea has a cooling, slightly bitter, astringent flavour that enhances the taste of beef.
Charles-Antoine, on the other hand, had a coup de cœur for a Matcha Kinrin, a type of green tea. The one we tasted had an aroma of berries and dark chocolate. We decided to pair it with strawberries - a delicious, local, summer product we like to display.
Strawberries with Jellified Matcha
8 medium to large strawberries
3 sheets gelatin
250 millilitres cold water
2 teaspoon matcha powder
Cut strawberries down the centre to make two equal halves. Take a sliver off the outside just so the strawberry sits flat. Set aside on a plate.
Soak the sheets of gelatin in ice-cold water and set aside.
Bring the water to 65 degrees and pour over matcha powder. Whisk well. Let steep until there is no more mousse and strain. Take the gelatin sheets and squeeze out excess water. Put sheets in warm tea mixture. Whisk again until the gelatin is dissolved. Cool over an ice bath just until the mixture is slightly thickened.
Place a very small amount of wasabi in the centre of each strawberry half. Spoon a small amount of the jellified matcha over each strawberry, working very quickly. If the matcha gets too thick, warm the mixture over boiling water until the optimum consistency is achieved.
Place the strawberries in the fridge uncovered to set for 2 to 3 hours.
Normand Laprise is co-owner and head chef of Toqué! in Montreal.
Editor's note: Kevin Gascoyne was incorrectly identified in the original version of this article. This version has been corrected.