Bringing home the bacon with chef Michael Olson (recipes)

Bringing home the bacon with chef Michael Olson (recipes)

Believe it or not, some chefs in the thick of meal service have to be coaxed to eat. Celebrity chef Michael Olson has just the recipe



And while we’re at it, check out Norm Aitken’s recipe, here, for “Beaver Bites”


PART TWO — Ottawa chefs on the road


APR 02 14 – 11:50 AM — As the axiom goes, the way to a chef’s heart is through his (or her) stomach. And no one appreciates that more than Michael Olson, former executive chef at Inn on Twenty restaurant in Niagara, now celebrity chef/professor of 14 years at the Canadian Wine & Food Institute at Niagara College in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

I caught up with Michael last weekend at the college, site of a special Ottawa Valley theme dinner at the school Benchmark restaurant with guest chefs Steve Mitton of Murray Street Kitchen.Wine.Charcuterie; John Taylor of Domus Café and Taylor’s Genuine Food & Wine Bar; Pat Garland of Absinthe Café; and Norm Aitken of Juniper Kitchen & Wine Bar. I hadn’t seen Michael and his TV celebrity wife, chef Anna Olson, since bumping into them years ago at a Terroir culinary workshop at the University of Toronto, and again at the Ottawa Wine and Food Show — and I’m delighted to find he’s as affable, as skilled, and as kind as ever.

IMG_0587While Ottawa chefs spent the day preparing their dishes (reported in detail in this blog on Monday), Michael busied himself preparing a snack to keep the troops nourished and in good spirits before dinner service.

“Believe it or not, I find chefs often won’t take time to eat when they work,” Olson says.

“But I find the way to coax them is to offer something spicy, salty, and crunchy. So I’m feeding them sliced vinegar cucumber, cilantro, hoison sauce, sriracha and crispy pork belly, wrapped in a romaine lettuce leaf. It gets them every time,” Olson laughs.

“Pork belly has always been familiar to Canadians in the form of sliced bacon for breakfast, but over the last few years it has appeared on restaurant menus as a featured ingredient for appetizers and main courses.”

Belly can be braised or roasted, sometimes cooked sous vide to tame an otherwise tough cut of meat — but you have to watch the temperature, otherwise the skin may be greasy and tough.

In his travels, Olson says he’s tasted a variety of crackling, from a spectacular Sunday roast at the Wm Morris cafeteria at the Victoria & Albert museum in London, to noodle shops in Hong Kong and even a charcoal-roasted Lechon on the streets of Manila. “Each of these chefs have their method for achieving the uber-crunchy skin that would make a cardiologist cringe,” he says.

Drying the meat removes extra moisture from the skin, allowing it to puff, while a smidgen of salt and baking powder — not baking soda — allows enzymes to tenderize the skin.

IMG_0545And, wouldn’t you know it, Olson is sharing his recipe. Lucky us.

Olson is also experimenting with flavour embellishments that elevate ordinary liquid honey into a taste that’s perilously close to sublime. His recipe is the essence of simplicity: Heat one kilo of liquid clover or buckwheat honey in a large saucepan to simmer, then add a tablespoon of hops pellets available at any home brewing supply store. Stir to combine well, let it steep two minutes, then cool — that’s it.

What you get is the sweetness of honey with the aroma and slight astringency of hops — a perfect condiment for, say, fatty morsels of pork and, especially, lightly seared foie gras (he gave me a sample to take home — how kind is that?).

Also on the sharing menu  today is Juniper chef/owner Norm Aitken’s (photo, left) recipe for what he fondly calls Beaver Bites — or deer ears, or elephant ears, or whatever you choose to call it, but never call them BeaverTails™, which is a registered trademark.

He presented this delightful, slightly crunch pastry coated with a dusting of cinnamon and sugar as part of dessert at Saturday’s special Ottawa Valley theme menu at the college, along with cider crème brûlée and maple toffee set in a small cylinder of hollowed ice.

Here are the recipes:




Michael Olson’s Roast Pork Belly


Serves 6

This is a two-day process; total cooking time 2 1/2 hours

IMG_0609For the pork:

– 2 1/2 pounds (1.2 kg) fresh meaty pork belly, skin on

– 1 tablespoon (15 mL) table salt

– 1 teaspoon (5 mL) baking powder

To serve:

– 1/2 cup (125 mL) hoisin sauce

– 1/4 cup (50 mL) sriracha sauce

– 1 cup (250 mL) fresh cilantro leaves, washed and picked to remove stems

– 1 cup (250 mL) sliced English cucumber, bathed in a little vinegar and sugar about 15 minutes

– 2 fresh limes, cut into wedges

– 1 head romaine lettuce

Day One

1. Using a sharp kitchen or Exacto knife, score the skin of the pork belly just into the fat, but not through to the meat, making cuts every 1/4 inch (6 mm) across the surface of the skin.

2. Blend together the salt, baking powder, and rub into the scored skin of the belly. Place meat into a baking dish and set in the refrigerator overnight, uncovered, leaving the belly exposed to the air to help dry out the skin.

Day Two

1. Preheat oven to 325°F (160°C) and allow meat to sit on the counter to lose its chill.

2. Roast belly 90 minutes, then reduce temperature to 300°F (150°C). Continue cooking 45 minutes. No need to baste while cooking, as the fat must render from the skin to change the texture. When done, the meat will be fully cooked, the skin should be light golden and there will be a lot of rendered fat in the cooking pan.

3. Remove belly from oven and allow to cool on the counter 45 minutes or longer. While the meat is still warm, drain off fat (you will get about 1/2 cup/125 mL and, if you dare, use it in biscuits or baked beans for flavour).

4. To reheat, turn oven up to 450°F (230°C), or as hot as your oven will go. Return roast to oven for 10 to 15 minutes until skin is deep golden in colour, slightly puffed and crunchy.

5. Remove from oven, rest 5 minutes and slice into 14-inch (6-mm) pieces.

To serve

Brush pork slices with hoisin, add a little sriracha (to taste), cilantro, cucumber and squeeze of lime. Arrange on lettuce leaf and eat like a taco.


Chef Norm Aitken’s Beaver Bites



Makes about 6 pastries, depending on size

For the dough starter:

– 3/4 cup (175 mL) water

– Pinch, sugar

– 1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) dry yeast

– 1 1/4 cups (300 mL) flour

IMG_0821For the bread:

– 2 1/4 cups (550 mL) flour

– 3 tablespoons (45 mL) sugar

– 1/2 cup (125 mL) milk

– 1 tablespoon (15 mL) dry yeast

– 1/2 cup (125 mL) duck (or rendered pork) fat, melted and just warm (not hot)

– 1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) salt

For the dusting:

– Cinnamon, sugar, salt

To garnish:

– Fresh lemon juice

1. In a clean stainless steel, plastic or glass mixing bowl, combine dough starter ingredients well; cover and refrigerate overnight.

2. Next day, in a large mixing bowl combine the starter  with bread ingredients, adding salt only at the very end. Knead dough about 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic, then roll into a ball, butter the dough ball and let stand (covered with a clean tea towel) at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours to rise to double in bulk. Meanwhile, in a small bowl combing dusting ingredients and set aside.

3. After it has risen, punch dough down to deflate, then form into balls, each about the size of a large egg. Roll or pinch them flat, making ovals about 1/4-inch (6-mm) thick. Set aside to let them rest 1 hour, covered with a towel at room temperature.

4. In a deep-fat fryer, heat oil according to manufacturer’s instructions to 350°F (180°C) — keep fryer out of reach of children! Fry one beaver bite at a time until golden on both sides, about 1 minute. Remove and transfer to paper towels to drain, then sprinkle on dusting ingredients and drizzle a smidgen of lemon juice on top.


Twitter: @roneade

Email: ronlorne[at]hotmail[dot]com


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