Tuesday, April 23, 2013

¡Ándele! ¡Ándele! ¡Jaiba! ¡Jaiba!

Spring used to come in like a lion 'round these parts, but mostly it just arrives in fits and starts these days, feinting and dodging, teasing and mocking.  Sure, you'll get some warm, toasty days every now and then, but there's sure to be a few bitterly cold days (and nights), too.  And like our friend at the dépanneur down the street says, "You can't be sure of anything until May 15."  And even then...

maple spring fig. a:  printemps québécois

Anyway, signs of spring usually begin sometime in March in Montreal (like most places in the Northern Hemisphere), but, foodwise, it takes a while to see a whole lot of rebirth going on.  With the exception of maple syrup, most of our spring flavours tend to show up in May and June.

Which is why snow crab is of such importance to people like us.  Not only are we enormous fans of crabmeat, but snow crabs are one of the earliest spring arrivals, and snow crab season is really the only time of the year we can get fresh, live, and regional crab here in Montreal.  Officially, the season is said to last from April to November, but our experience has been that in actual fact it's a very short season, lasting no more than about 6-8 weeks.  But, oh, is it ever sweet.  Or, at least, it can be.  And it's going on now.

Just how excited about snow crab are we?

Well, Michelle and Seth have been preparing a lovely snow crab pasta dish as part of their Quebec Spring/Printemps québécois menu at the Foodlab.  It features handmade/housemade tagliatelle cooked to perfection and tossed with a medley of spring vegetables (string beans, peas, shallots, and the first of the cherry tomatoes from our friends at Birri Brothers), herbs (chives and parsley), a generous helping of snow crab meat, and a beautiful crab cream.

And here at home we've been going to town on our very favourite tacos in the entire world:  tacos stuffed with salpicón de jaiba.

salpicon 1

salpicon 2 fig. b & c:  crab tacos!

We've featured this recipe before, but it's an absolutely essential one, and a great way to stretch your crabmeat a little further, because, god knows, those snow crabs are tasty, but they can also be quite costly.  Here it is again, revised and updated:

Salpicón de Jaiba 
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup finely chopped white onion
1/3 cup finely chopped celery
2 serrano or jalapeño chiles, seeded and finely chopped
1 cup cooked, shredded crabmeat
1 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
1/8-1/4 tsp crushed chili pepper blend (some combination of ancho, pasilla, arbol, chipotle, and/or New Mexico grande chiles)
salt to taste
Heat the oil in a skillet and cook the onion gently until translucent.  
Add the celery and sauté for about one minute.  Add the fresh chiles and sauté for 30-60 seconds.   
Add the crabmeat and fry until it is warmed through and begins to brown ever so slightly.  The mixture should be rather dry--remember, you're going to be placing it in a taco. 
Lastly, take the mixture off the heat, add the cilantro, salt, and chili blend, and toss, allowing the flavours to mingle for a minute or two before serving.
Serve with hot tortillas and plenty of fixings, like pico de gallo, sour cream or crema, hot sauce, and limes.
Makes enough to fill at least 8-10 corn tortillas. 
[based on a recipe from Diana Kennedy's The Essential Cuisines of Mexico]
Might seem a little strange to make Mexican tacos with Quebec crab, but, trust me, a little cultural exchange can be a good thing.

juan carlos mexican crab fig. d:  Juan Carlos, the Mexican crab

jean-charles QC snow crab fig. e:  Jean-Charles, the Quebec snow crab

Go, Crabs, go!


Thursday, April 11, 2013

New Ways to Boost Your Grain Power 3: Oats!

toaster oats fig. a toaster, oats

It's funny that this is the last recipe to appear in the New Ways to Boost Your Grain Power series, because in many ways this was the recipe that got me started on this train of thought.

It all started back in about the spring of 2010.  I'd been reading and re-reading issue #82 of The Art of Eating (Fall 2009) for a while, especially its cover story on new bistros and "the casualization of dining" in Paris ("New Ways to be a Restaurant in Paris," by Bénédict Beaugé and Edward Behr).  I was fascinated by its description of the new crop of bistros and micro-bistros in Paris, and the way these restaurants were redefining the dining scene there:  by making it less stuffy and more affordable, yes, but also by highlighting regional cuisines in a way that was helping to expand notions of bistro cuisine. And I studied the accompanying recipes closely.  Very closely, in fact, because there was one recipe that I just couldn't wrap my head around.

It was a recipe for Haferflockensuppe from Nicholas Scheidt of L'Office, and it was billed as an Alsatian specialty.  You see, I'd yet to Boost My Grain Power back then, and it literally took me weeks to decipher what I was reading.  I couldn't figure out why this wouldn't just result in an unusually savoury bowl of oatmeal.  Finally, after going back to that same recipe over and over and over again, it suddenly made sense to me.  I had something of a "Eureka!" moment.  It wasn't just an "oatmeal soup" (as a strict translation of the name would suggest), like every other recipe in this New Ways to Boost Your Grain Power series, the key had to do with the toasting of grains--in this case, the toasting of oats.  You see, it may very well be that mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey, and that's all fine and good, but, here, it's very important that you begin this recipe with toasted oats.

With its combination of butter, bacon, oats, cognac, sour cream, and chicken stock, this might seem like kind of a wintery soup, and it is, but it's actually pretty ideal as an early spring soup, too, especially around here, where the fluctuations in temperature can be a bit of a rollercoaster ride (a cruel one) in March and April.  You see, it's got some of the greens that you're craving, like chervil and spring onions, but it's also plenty hearty enough for an unseasonably brisk day.  (In fact, tomorrow would be an ideal day for Haferflockensuppe--it's predicted that we're going to get 10-15 cm of snow [?!!].)  And it's easy, too, once you have the necessary ingredients, including a good (homemade, preferably) chicken stock.  You just have to take the time to carefully brown your oats to toasty, golden perfection, and everything else pretty well takes care of itself.

I offer you the recipe as it originally appeared in The Art of Eating.  I've found that one can tone down the amount of butter and oil significantly, and still wind up with the desired richness of flavour.  Everything else I'd keep exactly as is, although if you happen to have pumpernickel croutons around, instead of plain old country bread croutons, all the better.

75g oat flakes (3/8 cup)
100g butter (1/2 cup)
4 tsp veg oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 thick slice bacon, cut into lardons
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp cognac
1 litre chicken stock
salt and pepper
4 eggs
1 slice country bread, cut into croutons
chervil, 1 bunch, minced
spring onions, thinly sliced
4 tsp sour cream 
Brown the oat flakes in half the butter and half the oil, with the garlic, bacon and bay leaves. Deglaze with the cognac, add stock and simmer 20 min. Remove the bay leaves and season to taste. 
Pan fry the eggs (or poach them for a finer look and taste), season them, brown the croutons in the remaining oil and butter, and season. 
Slide one egg in the bottom of each soup bowl (shallow ones make for a more dramatic presentation), pour some soup around it so the yolk still emerges, sprinkle with chervil, croutons, and spring onions. Finish with a dollop of sour cream.
Is it starting to make sense?  It will when you taste it.


Monday, April 01, 2013

Today's loaves today 1

dan pump1

dan pump2

dan pump3 figs. a-c:  testing 1-2-3

Easter Monday. Tests on AEB's sourdough Danish pumpernickel are going exceedingly well. Great with sweet butter. Great with cream cheese and tomatoes. Great with Old Amsterdam aged Gouda.  Testing continues. Desperately Seeking Smoked Fish.

News update: Michelle declared the following the "Best sandwich ever!": 2 x slices Danish pumpernickel, mayonnaise, Old Amsterdam, AEB spicy pickles, lettuce. I'm pretty sure she was exaggerating somewhat, but I know the feeling. Dense, moist, hearty with the taste of rye, crusty, somewhat salty, a touch sweet, and full of that wonderful toasted caraway flavour--this is a loaf that's got it all goin' on.