Rock on a plate

3 Mar 2010

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Those who think the cuisine of Newfoundland and Labrador is limited to cod cakes and pan-fried fillet o’ fish will be pleasantly surprised by new victuals from The Rock to be served at the annual two-day Ottawa Travel and Vacation Show, which opens Saturday at Lansdowne Park.

In fact, its East Coast cuisine has evolved considerably since the Canadian government declared a moratorium on the cod fishery in 1992. It had to.

“With the closure of the cod fishery, chefs here have put more emphasis on other species like shrimp, crab, halibut, swordfish, tuna and scallops,” says Mark McCarthy, of McCarthy’s Party Tours based in St. John’s.

In some cases, cod is even being farmed.

“That means we have a greater variety of seafood to showcase, which is exactly what we want to do in Ottawa,” McCarthy says.

“Yes, you can still go out and have a lobster supper, but you can also expect to find local shrimp, scallops, caribou and moose on the menu that people may not readily expect.”

Among visitors to the show this weekend is Steve Watson, genial co-host of the Rogers TV show One Critic, One Chef in St. John’s, now executive chef at the Newfoundland’s Central Dairies.

Watson, who is lined up to present cooking demonstrations Saturday and Sunday, says it’s all about giving the Ottawa audience a taste of The Rock. His recipes use many of the local fresh ingredients, much of it available from an ambitious aquaculture industry.

“Travellers frequently return home with snapshots of picturesque scenery, but the food is equally memorable,” Watson says.

“People always remember what they ate, so the whole food experience has to be fun. Newfoundland cuisine has changed since the cod fishery closed — it has broadened and become more sophisticated.

“In 10 years we’ve added 8,000 restaurant seats in St. John’s alone — and it’s not just about fish. We’re serving local game, rabbit, moose. Seafood has broadened to include local salmon, steelhead trout and mussels provided by Newfoundland aquaculture. We’re even growing corn here now, which was unheard of five years ago,” Watson says.

Training the spotlight on Newfoundland cuisine is part of an increasing emphasis on food as an integral part of the travel experience, says organizer Halina Player of Player Expositions.

But beyond Newfoundland, some booths representing other Canadian provinces and nations of the world will bring along samples of their own culinary wares to tease the palate.

Ever sampled potato fudge from Prince Edward Island? You will here.

“When people travel they remember castles, museums, beautiful scenery — but what you remember most is the food,” Player says.

“Even years after a trip, people remember a fabulous meal.

“New retirees have lots of discretionary time, income and some level of sophistication. They’re educated and interested in food and wine,” she says.

Of 160 booths to showcase destinations at home and abroad, 10 are taken by Newfoundland and Labrador with an unprecedented 23 travel representatives in tow — the largest single contingent at the show, including two musicians and a chef.

“In 12 years I’ve been at the show, we’ve never gone this big in Ottawa,” says Jeannette Yetman, of the Destination St. John’s tourism authority.

“And it’s the first time we’ve taken an executive chef with us.”

The second-largest exhibit is from China with four booths decked out in red to promote Shanghai Expo this year from May to October.

Also on the demonstration stage will be Ottawa TV personality and cookbook author Margaret Dickenson, Wakefield Mill Inn and Spa chef Romain Riva, Le Cordon Bleu sushi chef Armando Baisas, La Gazelle’s Moroccan chef Oumzil Elhashmi, Indonesia embassy chef Ifmal Darmin, and chef Jorge Peralta of Gad’s Hill Place in Merrickville.

Check the website www.travelandvacationshow.ca for times, topics.

New this year are free 30-minute seminars, every two hours, on how to take great travel photos by Henry’s camera stores.

Exhibitors are also being encouraged to hand out tasting samples. For example, Turkey will offer olive oil and tapenade, India will have samosas, Cuba will have Mojitos, and Thailand will demonstrate fruit and vegetable carving.

Now in its 16th year, the show at the historic Aberdeen Pavilion attracts about 16,000 each year.

“The growing taste for culinary travel is very real,” Player says.

“Appetites have been whetted by good food coverage in newspapers, magazines, and now on the Food Network where people can watch food and travel non-stop. This has definitely boosted interest in culinary tourism.”

Karl Wells, dining critic for The Telegram newspaper in St. John’s, appears with Watson as the critic on their TV show One Critic, One Chef. Although Wells isn’t part of the Newfoundland and Labrador delegation this year, he’s effusive in his praise for fine dining to be found even beyond a capital city that once had limited cuisine.

“We have many more international-style restaurants,” Wells says. “There was a time you couldn’t find sushi in St. John’s, but now you have it.

“You can get Thai food here, Afghan cuisine, Greek dishes. Not only is the food more sophisticated, but people are cooking seasonally.

“We’re using a lot of our own products — farmed blue mussels in a huge industry here and they’re amazing.”

And with fine cuisine comes fine wine.

“A few years ago when you went to a liquor store there was very little wine, and what wine there was tended to be horrible,” Wells says.

“Now, wines take up most of the shelf space and they’re from all over the world.”

Player says that highlighting food through the weekend makes it more than just a travel show. “The idea is to give people more of a total experience — not just picking up brochures, but to take in seminars, cooking, and tasting what various booths have to offer.”

Daly’s Restaurant at the Westin Ottawa is also featuring a special Newfoundland and Labrador menu through 7 that includes cod cakes, chowder, braised short ribs, salmon and Screech-spiked apple cobbler.

Trinity Bay Steamed Mussels in Beer, Cream and Garlic Sauce

Serves 4

One 341-mL bottle beer

1 teaspoon (5 mL) salt

3 pounds (1.4 kg) fresh mussels, washed, beards removed. Discard any mussels that remain open

1ž2 cup (125 mL) chopped red onion

1 teaspoon (5 mL) chopped garlic

1 cup (250 mL) heavy 35-per-cent cream

1ž4 cup (50 mL) fresh chopped parsley

Juice, 1 lemon

1. Place beer and salt in a large stock pot; cover and bring to boil. Add mussels, chopped red onion and garlic; cover and steam until mussels open — about 3 or 4 minutes. Remove mussels with a strainer, transfer to a large serving bowl and reserve juice. Discard any mussels that have not opened.

2. To the reserved liquid, add cream and simmer to reduce to 11ž2 cups (375 mL). Add parsley, lemon juice and and pour over mussels in bowl.

3. Serve with crusty bread to sop up the cooking liquid, with favourite salad on the side.

Source: Chef Steven Watson, executive chef, Central Dairies, St. John’s, Nfld.

Per serving: Calories 441; Fat 18.8 g; Cholesterol 136 mg; Sodium 1,572 mg

Cod au Gratin

Serves 4

1 pound (450 g) boneless, skinless cod fillet, cut into bite-size cubes

1ž4 cup (50 mL) butter

1ž4 cup (50 mL) flour

11ž4 cups (300 mL) 2-per-cent milk

1 teaspoon (5 mL) salt

Pepper, to taste

1 small onion, chopped fine

1ž2 cup (125 mL) dried breadcrumbs

1ž2 cup (125 mL) cheddar cheese, grated

1. Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Placed cod in buttered baking dish, or 4 individual baking dishes

2. In a heavy saucepan, melt butter. Stir in flour and whisk until smooth and bubbling, then remove from heat. Gradually stir in half the milk. Return to heat and whisk until smooth and shiny. Gradually whisk in remaining milk, salt, pepper, onion. Cook, stirring until smooth and thickened.

3. Pour sauce over fish and sprinkle with breadcrumbs and cheese. Bake, uncovered, for 15 to 30 minutes, or until sauce bubbles and fish is cooked.

4. Serve with salad, parsley on steamed potatoes.

Source: Chef Steven Watson, executive chef, Central Dairies, St. John’s, Nfld.

Per serving: Calories 405; Fat 19.5 g; Cholesterol 114 mg; Sodium 970 mg

Pan-Seared Salmon with Sun-Dried Tomato and Oregano Dressing

Serves 4

For the dressing:

5 sun-dried tomatoes

1ž2 cup (125 mL) chicken stock

1 cup (250 mL) extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons (10 mL) dried oregano

Juice, 1 whole lemon

Salt and pepper, to taste

For the fish:

2 teaspoons (10 mL) olive oil

Four 5-ounce (140-g) skinless fillets centre-cut salmon, each about 1-inch (2.5-cm) thick

Salt, pepper

2 cups (500 mL) grape tomatoes

1. Make the dressing by combining all ingredients. Pulse in blender only enough to coarsely chop.

2. For the fish, preheat a large non-stick skillet on medium heat with olive oil. Season fish with salt, pepper, and sauté fillets evenly on both sides.

3. Add dressing, bring to simmer. Add grape tomatoes to cover and simmer, uncovered, until fish feels firm to touch, about 8 minutes.

4. Serve with risotto.

Source: Chef Steven Watson, executive chef, Central Dairies, St. John’s, Nfld.

Per serving: Calories 832; Fat 74.3 g; Cholesterol 89 mg; Sodium 194 mg.

Comfort Cove Baby Shrimp,

Herbed Tomato Bisque

Serves 8

8 ounces (2 sticks/1 cup) butter

1 medium onion, chopped coarse

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons (10 mL) flour

2 cups (500 mL) 2-per-cent milk

Two 28-ounce (795-mL) cans chopped tomatoes, with liquid

1 bunch fresh dill, chopped

1 cup (250 mL) baby shrimp

3 teaspoons (15 mL) powdered chicken bouillon base

31ž2 ounces (100 g) Stilton cheese, crumbled

1. In a large saucepan on medium heat, melt butter and sauté onion, garlic, 4 to 5 minutes.

2. Blend in flour and cook 1 minute longer. Gradually whisk in milk until smooth; cook 4 minutes, or until mixture boils and thickens slightly. Add tomatoes and return to simmer, then stir in dill.

3. Cover and simmer on low 10 minutes. Add shrimp and chicken base, to taste.

4. Garnish with Stilton just before serving.

Source: Chef Steven Watson, executive chef, Central Dairies, St. John’s, Nfld.

Per serving: Calories 352; Fat 29.3 g; Cholesterol 134 mg; Sodium 958 mg

Stuffed Salmon with Rainbow Peppers

Serves 8

Aluminum foil

1 large red onion, sliced thin

2 lemons, sliced thin

1 stick (1ž2 cup/125 mL) garlic butter

1 bunch fresh dill

Two 3-pound (1.36-kg) boneless, skinless salmon fillets

1 each, red, yellow and green bell peppers, sliced thin

Cracked black pepper

5 ice cubes

Plastic food wrap

1. Place a sheet of heavy aluminum foil a little larger than salmon fillet on a clean work surface. On the foil, place half of the sliced red onion on top, followed by half the sliced lemons, dollops of garlic butter and fresh dill over all. Place a fillet on top of dill.

2. In a mixing bowl, toss sliced bell peppers with cracked pepper and layer them on top of fillet.

3. Place second fillet on top of bell peppers and repeat the layers in reverse order, finishing with the sliced red onion. Place ice cubes along one side of the fish and wrap in a second sheet of foil, followed by plastic food wrap, then foil again to completely enclose fish and stuffing to seal.

4. Grill on barbecue or bake in preheated oven at 350°F (180°C) about 20 minutes per side, flipping once, until an instant-read meat thermometer inserted through the foil in the centre reads 140°F (60°C). Serve with grilled corn, salad.

Source: Chef Steven Watson, executive chef, Central Dairies, St. John’s, Nfld.

Per serving: Calories 825; Fat 53.7 g; Cholesterol 245 mg; Sodium 292 mg.

Cod au Gratin

Serves 4

n 1 pound (450 g) boneless, skinless cod fillet, cut into bite-size cubes

n 1ž4 cup (50 mL) butter

n 1ž4 cup (50 mL) flour

n 11ž4 cups (300 mL) 2-per-cent milk

n 1 teaspoon (5 mL) salt

n Pepper, to taste

n 1 small onion, chopped fine

n 1ž2 cup (125 mL) dried breadcrumbs

n 1ž2 cup (125 mL) cheddar cheese, grated

1. Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Placed cod in buttered baking dish, or 4 individual baking dishes

2. In a heavy saucepan, melt butter. Stir in flour and whisk until smooth and bubbling, then remove from heat. Gradually stir in half the milk. Return to heat and whisk until smooth and shiny. Gradually whisk in remaining milk, salt, pepper, onion. Cook, stirring until smooth and thickened.

3. Pour sauce over fish and sprinkle with breadcrumbs and cheese. Bake, uncovered, for 15 to 30 minutes, or until sauce bubbles and fish is cooked.

4. Serve with salad, parsley on steamed potatoes.

Source: Chef Steven Watson, executive chef, Central Dairies, St. John’s, Nfld.

Per serving: Calories 405; Fat 19.5 g; Cholesterol 114 mg; Sodium 970 mg

Sautéed Shrimp, Cod and Salmon Roll

Serves 4

11ž2 pounds (690 g) fresh boneless, skinless cod fillet(s)

8 ounces (225 g) smoked salmon, sliced thin

2 shallots, chopped fine

1ž2 cup (125 mL) flour, seasoned with salt, pepper

3 whole eggs, whisked with 1ž4 cup (50 mL) skim milk

2 tablespoons (25 mL) each, butter and olive oil

8 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined

1. Cut cod into four equal portions and place between two sheets of plastic food wrap. Gently pound to 1ž4-inch (6-mm) thickness (each portion should measure about 4- by 6-inches/10- by 15-cm).

2. Remove from plastic and place fillets on clean work surface. Top each with a layer of sliced smoked salmon, then chopped shallots. Roll into log shape and secure with butcher’s twine. Roll in seasoned flour, then egg wash mixture.

3. In a saucepan, melt together butter and oil and pan-fry fish until golden brown on all sides, adding shrimp to sauté about 2 minutes before fish is done.

4. Serve with seasonal vegetables.

Source: Chef Steven Watson, executive chef, Central Dairies, St. John’s, Nfld.

Per serving: Calories 478; Fat 20 g; Cholesterol 283 mg; Sodium 1,425 mg