Seafood


31
Mar 14

PEI: My Island Pictures

PEI1

There are some trips that you make which seem a little magical and dream-like even at the time. Of course; memory softens the edges; that annoying wait for the car that one afternoon or the rainy morning which made you pout, they all melt away with time. But there was something special about Prince Edward Island right from the start.
PEI3
The sharp bright colours of the island made you feel as though you’d stepped into a child’s drawing; the sky so blue, the grass and trees so green and this vivid, almost-glowing red soil and red sand. The coastline dotted about with reminders from the past and standard bearers for the future; lighthouses painted with quaint deckchair-stripes next to bright white bands of wind turbines stretching their arms as they scraped the sky.

PEI4We took a sightseeing trip in a small plane, rising just high enough to make the illusion of it all being a child’s colouring book seem real. We saw the cold, clear waters where some of the world’s best lobsters, mussels and oysters thrive. That iron oxide-rich soil which grows such sweet flavoursome potatoes, the lush green grass which feeds some of the most-prized cattle in North America.

PEI6Over the next week I’d eat and drink so many delicious things – all from just a few miles away from where I was staying in its historic capital Charlottetown. I’d meet some of the warmest and most hospitable people I’ve encountered anywhere in the world; a friendly acceptance and a delight in sharing and showing the best that they had, that felt as gracious as something from a more sepia-tinted age.

almorrisonOne afternoon I met an elderly man in a cafe and fell into conversation with him. He insisted on giving me a copy of a book, ‘My Island Pictures’ a History of Prince Edward Island by folk artist, A.L. Morrison. The pictures have that child-like dreamy quality that the island conjured up for me. I wish I knew if it had been the artist who gave it to me; I was in a rush but adopting island ways, I made time to stop and talk. But I put the book in my bag as I left and didn’t look at it until I got back home to Vancouver; now I can’t match the hazy memory of the lovely old man with the author shot on the book. Flipping through its pages now, it’s all as I remember it, almost like he drew it for me just as I remember it. He must have been the author –  who else would carry around spare copies of their book but an author? And where else would such a thing happen but PEI?

I travelled as a guest of the Canadian Tourism Commission and Tourism PEI but as ever, all my words are 100% my own.

More information:

Tourism Prince Edward Island

Air tour in a Cessna 172 Skyhawk thanks to FD Airtours

 

 


1
Aug 13

Adventures on Vancouver’s North Shore: Kayaking at Deep Cove

Get ready to take the plunge

Get ready to take the plunge

I’m not a sporty person. I fall too much. Slip over. Lose my balance and hurt myself. I’m a natural-born loser when it comes to competing with Vancouverites who seem to be always racing up mountains on the thigh-burning Grouse Grind, gracefully paddleboarding across the silky waters of English Bay or merrily gliding along on rollerblades. I may as well book myself a nice bed in hospital before even starting out on any of those. But it seems like I may have found a sport that even I can’t screw up: kayaking.

No one told me that it was possible to do exercise and enjoy a doughnut at the same time, yet that was precisely what I did half-way through my happy paddle along Indian Arm at Deep Cove. I thoughtfully bit into my glazed doughnut, paddle balanced across my kayak, and beamed with delight at the mountains soaring up before me, the hills green with dense woodland and the sea an endless midnight blue bobbing all around me.

The perfect view

The perfect view

I was anxious before I started. If anyone was going to wind up soaking wet, clinging to the kayak and embarrassed it was almost certainly going to be me, but I was told that no, it was ‘almost impossible’ to fall out of this kind of kayak (once I’d got over my initial fear I tried wriggling about to see just how true that was and I felt perfectly safe).

Getting from the kayak to the water was a concern but happily all I had to do was get comfy and settle myself inside it on the little beach by the water. I would be pushed into the water rather than having to try and shuffle down myself. The only ‘technical’ information was about the rudder which is controlled by your feet. You adjust little straps to bring the peddle close enough and then press right to turn right and left for left. Easy!

Look! Doing sport! (Doughnut out of sight).

Look! Doing sport! (Doughnut out of sight).

There’s a tremendous sense of accomplishment with kayaking, you can feel like you’ve got the hang of things incredibly fast. Within ten minutes I’d worked out that I could paddle in a circle, stop, go backwards – I felt like this was something that I could easily do again. And wow – what a place to do it.  I’d taken the ferry from the heart of Vancouver across to the North Shore – just a few minutes – but I was deep in dazzling nature after a brief car ride. Deep Cove is gorgeous: just beautiful. We’d stopped in at Honey’s to get doughnuts on the way to the kayak hire shop, later we’d enjoy a post-paddle feast of perfectly-crisp calamari and a garlicy humous with summery Aperol Spritzes at the Arms Reach Bistro. I may have been less than an hour away from the bustle of Vancouver but I felt I was on holiday. Feels like fun’s always a sure thing on the North Shore.

Reward for a good day kayaking.

Reward for a good day kayaking.

I paddled along as a guest of Vancouver’s North Shore tourism – but as ever – views are 100% my own. You should do this: it’s fun! 

Find out more:

Vancouver’s North Shore Tourism  

Deep Cove Canoe and Kayak


29
Jun 13

Fish and chips: a taste of home

I guess it would be traditional for me, as a Brit, to crave the taste of fish and chips. When I was growing up it was a regular Friday night treat – I guess a hangover from more religious times of always eating fish on a Friday. I loved to ride in the car to the chippie with my mum or dad and wait at the counter – that way I didn’t have to set the table, my brother would do that -  and it meant that I could enjoy the theatre of the chip-lady chatting to all the customers while handling the bubbling vats. I would rest my chin against the heat of the cabinet and watch; the chips flying out of the basket with her practiced flip, the delicate dipping of the fish fillets into the creamy-white liquid batter before being submerged in the fryer with a hiss and a fizz of bubbles.

I enjoyed her brisk ‘Sal’vinegar?’ (I don’t think anyone ever said no, but I always asked for extra vinegar) before she anointed the steaming crisp fish and chips with a good shake of both.  I’d stare at the pies, they seemed oddly mysterious, almost exotic in their golden cases – we were not a pie and chips family so I never got to try one until, I think, I was in my teens, when I became fiendishly addicted to the cheese and onion pies filled with a dense sauce that tasted so good with the salty chips and the tang of the vinegar. My mum, brother and I had cod and my dad alternated between chicken and haddock. If I was good I’d get a can of Dandelion and Burdock and sometimes a little container of gravy too.

A la recherche du fish and chips perdu

A la recherche du fish and chips perdu

I can taste those cod suppers now. Warm, satisfyingly fatty and oh – so, so good, they tasted of the start of the weekend and the end of school. Which is why I was feeling a little homesick the other day, I knew what would fix it; fish and chips friom the summer-season window counter of the Raincity Grill, a restaurant around the corner from my flat in the West End on English Bay.

I love the ethos of the Raincity Grill, they were the first restaurant in Vancouver to base their menu on the ’100 mile diet’ – ingredients gathered from a 100-mile radius – a philosophy built on sustainability, seasonal eating and cruelty-free farming. I ate dinner there a few months back and adored every mouthful. Heaven. It’s set at an amazingly good price point too but the real bargain is to be found at the window; fish and chips, with a tangy coleslaw salad and house-made tartare sauce all for $13 in a biodegradable carton.

Perfect flakes of heavenly fish.

Perfect flakes of heavenly fish.

The chips were pleasingly fat – crisp on the outside and almost buttery-soft inside. The fish was perfect; thick juicy flakes of fresh-caught local halibut wrapped in possibly the best batter I’ve ever had, light, crisp and without too much of a greasy aftertaste. I ate it on my balcony and it tasted like home and pure happiness. Just writing this on a Friday, a little after 6pm and I feel my tastebud-memory kicking in. I want to go and eat it again. I’d love one more of those family dinners, being small enough to rest my chin on the counter that now I’d most likely rest my elbows on. Like Proust had his madeleines, I guess I’ve got my fish and chips so when I’m in search of my ‘lost times’, I can go down to Raincity Grill and find them again.

Interested in the 100 mile diet? Read this great interview by Kat Tancock in Canadian Living.


12
May 13

Vancouver Spot Prawn Festival: five things you need to know about spot prawns

They love their spot prawns here...

They love their spot prawns here…

So, today was the much-heralded Chefs’ Table Society Spot Prawn festival down on Fishermen’s Wharf. In its seventh year more than 2000 sustainable seafood fans poured into False Creek to dive into the new season of spot prawns. Sweeter than many other prawn varieties and much-loved by BC chefs, there are several spot prawn festivals and dinners (like this series at yummy Italian Campagnolo)  across BC for the season. Try to get along to one of them because oh, those prawns are good!

Gotta get 'em while they're here

Gotta get ‘em while they’re here

1. No one knows how long the season will be. I chatted with Chris Sporer, the Executive Director of the Pacific Prawn Fishermen’s Association, who told me that, “In 2009 the season lasted for 66 days and in 2012 it was just 44 days. The fishery is monitored to check the health of the stock and count the number of spawning prawns. When the threshold is reached, that’s it, season over.” This is what makes the BC Spot Prawn season one of the most sustainable there is.

2. Prawns change sex. Seriously. Spot prawns have a natural four-year life cycle. All prawns are born male but around aged two, they become female and then start to spawn in their last year, so every adult prawn you eat is a female.

Boil 'em up for two minutes...

Boil ‘em up for two minutes…

3. Commercially-fished BC Spot Prawns go through vigorous checks. Spot prawns are caught in traps which get dropped to the ocean floor – so there is no trawling. The traps stay on the bottom and the fishermen can only haul up once a day. The first check comes from the prawns themselves – the holes in the traps are fairly large, so first the smaller ones swim in, then the larger ones arrive and chase the little ones out. Once they are hauled in, because they are hand-sorted, any remaining young prawns are thrown back in the ocean and those that remained are checked against a size requirement.

Buy your prawns fresh off the boat - the queues were huge!

Buy your prawns fresh off the boat – the queues were huge!

4. If you buy them fresh – off with their head! Yup, turns out that unless you want to cook and eat those prawns immediately, if you’re keeping spot prawns at home in the fridge, you need to take their heads off as soon as you get them home as they start decomposing and that affects the taste. I drove home from Fishermen’s Wharf with my bag of prawns jumping away on the floor next to me, raced upstairs, boiled them (heads on to get the best taste) for a minute and a half and then doused them in cold water to stop the cooking. Then I ate them dipped in aioli. Oh, yes please! So when you buy them from a fishmonger, make sure they’re live in a tank or already have the head off.

Just an hour from dock to table. That's what I call fresh

Just an hour from dock to table. That’s what I call fresh

5. Support sustainable fishing – ask where the prawns came from You can buy spot prawns from Washington State or Alaska – but nothing beats the taste of a fresh-off-the-boat BC spot prawn. And nothing feels better than knowing that you’re supporting one of the most sustainable fisheries in the world. Sure, the season’s short but that makes it all the sweeter… Ask questions and make sure you support the good guys!

Nothing tastes as good as sustainable seafood!

Nothing tastes as good as sustainable seafood!

Everything you ever wanted to know about spot prawns from Organic Ocean


10
May 13

In which I get all fan girl-ish about Organic Ocean’s Steve Johansen… and eat a LOT of Spot Prawns

So... these are mine. What are YOU having?

So… these are mine. What are YOU having?

If there was any kind of polite or non-insulting way to compare someone to ‘Moby Dick’ I would absolute declare that right now, I feel a little like Captain Ahab. For the past four years I’ve heard tales of this mythical character who roams the oceans… I’ve listened to stories about him from every single great chef I’ve met in Canada and I’ve gleefully cleared my plate whenever one of his fish has been on it. So when I realised that the ‘Steve’ I was sitting next to tonight at dinner was Steve Johansen from Organic Ocean I had this sudden flash of fan-girl Ahab-ness, but there the metaphor kind of breaks down because A) he’s the fisherman and really, B) you can’t call someone ‘Moby Dick’ and hope to not be slapped in the face with a haddock next time they see you – but I hope you see my hideously laboured point? You do? In that case, I’ll go on…

I’ve been so inspired by Steve’s vision of sustainable fishing; it simply wasn’t something I gave a lot of thought to before but the more I stay here in Vancouver eating the freshest, most seasonable produce and learning more from the excellent folk at Ocean Wise about sustainable fishing, the more I see he’s quite the visionary.

The A Team

The A Team

I’ve been reading and hearing about the Spot Prawn festival for so long and this weekend I’ll finally get to experience it. I quizzed Steve about starting it along with Chef Robert Clark seven years ago: “For years almost all our Spot Prawns went to Japan, and here we were in BC eating farmed Tiger Prawns – all exported.” he said, rolling his eyes, “Robert and I were talking one winter and he said,  ‘I want these prawns to stay here.’ So we came up with the idea of the Spot Prawn festival. The first year there were 300 people, last year there were 2500 people. People love the idea of a local sustainable seafood and these prawns right here,” (he jabs the glistening silver-pink raw prawn on his plate for emphasis) “They were caught just six miles from this table.”

I was booted out of the way by iPhone-waving seafood fans - so apologies for this not-great image!

I was booted out of the way by iPhone-waving seafood fans – so apologies for this not-great image!

He’s right – it’s a great story and one that Chef Ned Bell is telling from the kitchen at the Four Seasons Yew Restaurant. I’d been invited along to taste the very first of the season, and for once being late paid off for me, I skittered across the steps by the hotel just in time for the first catch of Spot Prawns to come in. There were TV crews there, hordes of eager photographers all to snap the first sight of the Spot Prawns. Steve and his fellow fisherman Frank bounded out of the back of the truck with their haul and raced inside to the kitchens with the chefs.

Quivering slightly and translucent, the raw ones tasted candy-sweet

Quivering slightly and translucent, the raw ones tasted candy-sweet

We were treated to five courses of table-bangingly wonderful food – a joint venture between the chefs Clark and Bell that was a deft masterclass in showcasing wrigglingly-fresh ingredients. I ate raw candy-sweet Spot Prawns and Thai-style pickled ones with a peanut-y crunch, spiked with mint. I could have happily inhaled a satin-smooth pea soup made rich with prawns cheerily bobbing under the surface and spangled with salty crisp fork-shatter bacon. But best of all, a ‘Surf ‘n’ Surf’ where Spot Prawns met the most juicy succulent halibut and basically made out all over my plate.

Oh. My. God.

 

Thai-style with an un-Thai like (but perfect) Mascarpone-lime swirl

Thai-style with an un-Thai like (but perfect) Mascarpone-lime swirl

There are just a few short weeks of the Spot Prawn season, Yew are running a ‘Fans & Followers‘ five course menu from Saturday May 11th till Friday May 31st. Dive in; it will be wonderful.

I was a guest of Yew but – as ever – my words are 100% my own. I loved this. Really, really loved it.


8
May 13

Celebrating a BC Spot Prawn spring

Spot prawn season begins...

Spot Prawn season begins…

I’ve never lived anywhere so ‘seasonal’ before; and I don’t just mean the weather, Vacouverites seem to live and breathe seasonality in their food. I noticed it first just before christmas, it was ‘pumpkin season’ and everywhere there was pumpkin pie, pumpkin latte, pumpkin doughnuts, pumpkin ales… you get the picture. Then it was ‘egg nog season’ and  again – ‘nog was to be found in absolutely everything. Then the arrival of the exotic King Crab… most recently there was halibut hysteria when, remarkably, even the big name supermarkets were proudly shouting about their fresh, seasonal, sustainable fish.

Spring morning on English Bay

Spring morning on English Bay

I spoke to a friend Sophia about this and her theory is that because the weather is so fiercely seasonal, people are more in tune to eating what’s fresh. She may be right, you are in no doubt what time of year it is in Vancouver; in autumn, you crunch ankle-deep through a patchwork of colourful leaves, in winter you wilt under relentless torrential rain and grey, grey skies with snow-covered mountains appearing once in a while through the gloom, and now spring is here flowers are bursting from ever corner. I cannot wait to see what summer has up its sleeve. There’s also the matter that chefs here in Vancouver are rock stars, followed and adored by their foodie fans. And of course, these rock stars want the very best produce to create their masterpieces – which means sticking to the seasons.

I took a photo. You never want to forget your first time...

I took a photo. You never want to forget your first time…

The Spot Prawn season began yesterday at precisely 12pm, I was lucky enough to get my first taste at Yew and I’m off to the Spot Prawn festival (seriously) at the weekend. It’s a four-to-eight week season and I intend to dive in head first and try them as many ways as possible. If living seasonally is the way to live in this town, count me in. I love the excitement and anticipation of enjoying something for a brief period of time. Now I know that when the last of the cherry blossom has fallen, it’s Spot Prawn season… I wonder what happens next.

 


29
Apr 13

Wine for Waves

I’m a huge fan of the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise programme. I wrote about them for En Route – you can read here why it’s so crucial that we choose our seafood wisely. We’re at a tipping point with many species and if we want to continue feasting on good things from the ocean we have to make smart choices and not fish and eat species into extinction. Restaurants across Canada have signed up to pledge to serve Ocean Wise sustainable seafood on their menus, when you visit Canada, definitely make the effort to support them, after all, we only have this world on loan from the next generation,
it’s really not ours to strip bare.

Cool touch

Cool touch

As well as being the social conscience of the seafood world, those splendid Ocean Wise types from the Aquarium like to have a party, so I headed down to the Four Seasons to join them to toast the Naramata Bench wineries’ first spring releases. I’ve tried hard to immerse myself in BC-only wines and now spring is on its way, I’m excited to have the chance to finally head up to the Okanagan and see where these ambrosial wines come from.

Shh! It's under the seal...

Shh! It’s under the seal…

I’m amused by the sassy names of some of the wineries in the Okanagan; Therapy, Monster, Misconduct – no stiff French formalities here. I tried a decent spread of reds and whites and my favourites from the night were from Red Rooster, Laughing Stock and La Frenz. My pick of the night? A white with a secret, ‘Blind Trust‘, Laughing Stock’s Cynthia Enns explained it to me, “We like doing blends, the idea behind Blind Trust was you have to trust the winemaker so we didn’t tell anyone what the blend was. We wanted to keep it secret but people were crazy to find out, so we hid it on the bottle, so if you have to know you can, but otherwise you can guess what it might be.”

Passionate about sustainable seafood? Just a bit.

Passionate about sustainable seafood? Just a bit.

Of course, all that wine needed something delicious to pair with it; enter Yew’s chef Ned Bell and team with a showstopper of a sustainable seafood display, “We’ve got albacore tuna, our Chef’s Table Society ingredient of the year and in my opinion, the only tuna you should eat,” says Bell, brandishing a crab claw at me, “fresh dungeness crab, prawns, all from our local waters and Effingham oysters from vancouver Island.”

100% sustainable and delicious. Look at that 'Effing oyster!

100% sustainable and delicious. Look at that ‘Effing oyster!

Finally because it’s all about staying Ocean Wise, what’s Ned’s sustainable fish tip for this month? “Right now halibut – it’s in season and everyone is loving it. At Yew, we’re got a wicked halibut burger, halibut ceviche, roasted halibut – it’s a versatile, meaty fish, it’s a sponge, it just loves to soak up flavour.”

Find out more about who’s smart and signed up to Ocean Wise. 

 I attended as a guest of the Aquarium as always – my words are 100% my own, and in this case mostly about how great ‘Effing Oysters‘ are. 


6
Mar 13

All hail the Alaskan King Crab

I love it when things come together. I went to a party last week and shared a lift home with Alexandra Gill, a food writer I’ve been enjoying reading for a while in the local paper, the Globe and Mail. I was telling her about my plans for ‘Asian Month’ a dine-around of ten different Asian countries and their cuisines in Metro Vancouver. (I’ve been inspired by walking around my new neighbourhood, the West End, in a few short blocks you could eat your way around Asia and I planned to make a good start by setting myself a target of ten new-to-me styles of cuisine by mid-April).  Alex said that one thing not to miss was the short but oh, so sweet season of Alaskan King Crab. We swapped numbers and a few days later, I got the call… The Crab Had Landed.

Hello Mr Alaskan King Crab

I was caught unawares, so this is a rather terrible photo. Apologies.

I drove across Vancouver to Marpole to the Red Star Seafood http://redstarvancouver.com/en/ restaurant to join a table of 12 crab aficionados and had probably one of the most exciting meals I’ve had for some time. I’ll confess; I know less than nothing about Asian food, so very nearly every mouthful I ate that night was new to me and – apart from the red bean soup for dessert, which I found watery and rather weird – I loved it all. There was a great deal of intense discussion about exactly how much crab we needed. The largest was a 10 pounder and that wouldn’t be enough for our group but it seemed that the consensus was that two smaller crabs wouldn’t yield enough meat, so a large and a small was decided on. Then, a seemingly-furious debate kicked off about what else to have and how to have it. I sat back, beaming as the melodic Cantonese washed over my head.

Sweet, juicy and fragrant with garlic

Sweet, juicy and fragrant with garlic

The crabs were bought to the table in a huge bowl, waving their spiny legs. OK, so I didn’t expect them to be alive but hey – at least you know it’s fresh! One of Alex’s friends, Lee, was born in Hong Kong and was incredibly kind answering my questions all night, he told me that ordering was important; there needed to be a balance of cooking styles, of heat and spice, of vegetables, fish and meat – it would be a bad meal if everything was cooked the same. Imagine applying this to European or North American dining styles – so many meals are ‘a roast’ or  a fry-up – greedy gal that I am, I love the idea of mixing everything up.

Knuckles delivered a powerful spicy kick

Knuckles delivered a powerful spicy kick

We had the crab five different ways; its legs came first, butchered into little cigars, served with steamed minced garlic. It tasted sweet and buttery – all from its own juice. Next my favourite, the crab knuckles fried with spicy garlic chips ‘hurricane shelter-style’. There was so much juicy meat, it was almost like a chunky cod goujon, but eye-poppingly hot. The knuckles were also cooked a second, milder way with spring onions, ginger and ‘first draw’ soy sauce.

Sweet and mild with ginger

Sweet and mild with ginger

A noodle dish next, delicate noodles tossed in crab sauce, then a Portuguese baked rice dish, sweet with coconut milk and flecked with crab meat. The noodles and rice were presented at the table, stuffed into the head of the crab and then taken away and bought back in small bowls. Two different vivid green veggie plates, pea tips with garlic and gai lan (chinese broccoli) with ginger. Lee showed me the care that the chefs had taken as every single stem had a small leaf attached, just as it was meant to. Beautiful.

I love that there is no waste at all

I love that there is no waste at all

I was dizzy with food at this point. Everything so new and so delicious. We also had a peking duck, first the skin with pancakes and a plum sauce, then the rest of the duck, chopped which went into a crisp lettuce leaf with another spoon of that lip-smacking plum sauce. Finally, the best sweet and sour pork I have ever tasted. I’ve never enjoyed Chinese food in the UK – and yes, before you say so – undoubtedly I was just going to the wrong places, but it feels like there are no wrong places to eat Asian food here in Vancouver. The city has an almost 20% Asian population – that means the different Asian foods available are going to be authentic, fresh and plentiful. This is a great start to ‘Asian month’ – I cannot wait to see what else this city has for me to tuck into and I’m already excited about the arrival of the King Crab next year.

I'd happily have tucked into this all by myself

I’d happily have tucked into this all by myself

 

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