Surely, after a relentless winter we deserve some serious sizzle.
MAR 24 14 – 6 PM — I apologize at the outset if anyone attending the Ottawa Home & Garden Show on Saturday morning thought we were going to burn down the EY Centre during our on-stage cooking demonstration with Jason Groulx, newly appointed executive chef at the classy Shore Club restaurant in the Westin hotel, and his able sous chef, Shawn Marsh.
Yeah, I admit there was a lot of smoke rising from his blazing-hot cast-iron frypan, which Jason used to show how to properly sear the outside of prime cuts of strip loin steak he got from Slipacoff’s Premium Meats. And, sure, I’ll concede that billows of smoke did tend to waft and travel throughout the large abyss of a showroom that, to me, looks perilously like an airplane hanger stuffed with home show exhibitors and spectators who braved blizzard conditions to ponder the wonders of whirpool tubs, mattresses, mops, furniture and kitchen blenders with the horsepower of a small outboard motor.
In fact, Ian Slipacoff brought with him a lot of premium dry-aged cuts to sizzle, from ribeye to the much-beloved 40-ounce tomahawk steak with a huge bone sicking out one side like an axe handle, in the Fred Flintstone tradition for carnivores who just can’t seem to get enough, ah, meat.
“Oh, there’s going to be some smoke,” Jason advised at the outset, “but nothing to worry about.”
Fair warning, I suppose.
But, of course, as thick billows rose to the rafters, security personnel with walkie-talkies were out in force, minus only a fire extinguisher, pleading with the chef to turn off the burner. By which time the deed was done, the meat was ready, and folks in the audience were only too delighted to cluster around to taste the really good stuff for themselves. As well they should.
Jason and Shawn were among three cooking demonstrator teams Saturday and Sunday, armed with techniques and tips to get us into the spring sizzling mood – if only the snow would melt! At my house, the Big Green Egg smoker remains nestled behind my hibernating Miata, next to a wheelbarrow and stack of summer tires, waiting for the first opportunity to extricate from the garage the moment I see real grass.
Top, Steph Legari a.k.a. Steph the Grilling Gourmet at the Home & Garden Show. Bottom, smoked pork must reach an internal temperature of 195°F if you want it to pull apart perfectly. Be patient — that’s why they make beer.
Others showing their stuff included Steph the Grilling Gourmet, a barbecue icon in these parts who’s hosted his own TV shows like Grill This, Smoke That (still available on Rogers on Demand), and, working on another being pitched to the networks called Grill Bank. On Sunday, I was joined by Kyle Mortimer-Proulx, executive chef at the acclaimed ZenKitchen in Chinatown, known for its incredible vegan cuisine that blows the socks off vegetarians and carnivores alike.
Exclusively for the show, Kyle created a seasonal vegan dish, Mixed Mushroom Pasta with Peas, Sage and Almond Pesto, featuring a selection of fabulous fungi from Champignons Le Coprin in nearby Farrelton, Que. His recipe appears in this blog post, below.
“Today we’re going to be searing steak in the Chicago style,” Jason began, which means the thick steak will be seared to blacken on the outside, while remaining medium-rare and juicy inside.
“The trick is to use the best beef you can buy. I get dry-aged strip loin from Premium Meats, but you can find excellent beef at any good butcher. Be sure it’s cut at least 1 1/2 inches thick — a thin steak about 3/4-inch thick, typical of most supermarkets, is simply too skinny to cook properly.
“Begin by patting the steak dry with a clean towel, then sear it in a very heavy, ungreased cast-iron frypan on high heat. It makes a lot of smoke, so at home you may want to do it outside by setting the frypan on a gas grill. Heavy cast-iron is best to hold the heat.”
Cast-iron frypans are widely available. I tend to look for them at garage sales and flea markets where they’re cheaper — but just as good. In fact, a good cast-iron frypan should last a lifetime.
“You simply char both sides to blacken,” Jason explains, until the interior of the meat is medium-rare, about 130° to 135°F measured by an instant-read meat thermometer. You remove it to a clean plate to rest five minutes. Then, just before serving pop it into the oven at 400°F about two minutes to reheat the outside of the steak.”
It’s that simple. Season to taste with salt, pepper, maybe a smear of garlic, or sauced with béarnaise or whatever you prefer. Serve with a lightly dressed salad and/or baked potato with sour cream (of course) and, man, you’ve got mighty fine eating. Pull me a beer, someone.
Above, executive chef Kyle Mortimer-Proulx of ZenKitchen demonstrates how easy it is to make mixed mushroom pasta with peas and pesto.
Steph the Grilling Gourmet spared us the smoke in his demonstration, having prepared his pork butt roast and ribs in advance using his own proprietary blend of dry rub spices (available at better butcher shops, and Farm Boy).
Where grilling calls for cooking meat over high heat for a relatively short time, true barbecue in the Southern tradition involves long-and-slow smoking of, say, a pork butt roast at temperatures of about 200° to 220°F. It could take 12 hours or longer, depending on the size. Again, use an inexpensive meat thermometer to ensure the internal temperature reaches at least 195°F (be patient — if the temperature doesn’t reach 195°F, the pork simply will not pull apart as it should).
Kyle (photo, right) dispensed with all things porcine in his vegan demonstration using local mushrooms that are anything but the tasteless white button variety typically found in grocery stores. Think meaty king eryngii, portobello, trumpet, morel and oyster, to name a few.
“This dish says spring with peas, tomoatoes I preserved last fall, fresh mushrooms,” Kyle says.
“As the weather warms, look for morels at the farmers’ market, or at Il Negozio Nicastro on Bank Street in the Glebe, which offers a wide variety. The pesto is made with fresh sage leaves, parsley, oil, almond and lemon. It’s all very easy to do — about 25 minutes from start to finish if you’re efficient in the kitchen.
Here’s the recipe:
Mixed Mushroom Pasta with Peas, Sage and Almond Pesto
– 1 pound (450 g) pasta, fresh or dried
– 1/4 cup (50 mL) grapeseed, sunflower or canola oil
– 4 ounces (115 g) vegan butter (ie: Earth Balance, at health food stores)
– 1 pound (450 g) assorted mushrooms, cut into bite-size pieces
– kosher salt, ground pepper, to taste
– 1/2 cup (125 mL) white wine
– 1 pint, cherry tomatoes, halved
– 1 whole bulb, garlic, roasted*
– 1 cup (250 mL) fresh peas, or frozen
– 1 cup (250 mL) sage and almond pesto (recipe below)
– 1/4 cup (50 mL) pepita parmesan (recipe below)
* To roast garlic: Cut off tip just to expose flesh, drizzle with olive oil and wrap tightly in foil. Roast at 350°F in oven or on bun warmer of gas barbecue with lid closed, until softened, about 45 minutes, then either squeeze out soft pulp or remove cloves separately
1. Cook pasta according to package instructions; drain immediately and toss with a little vegetable oil to prevent sticking. Set aside and allow to cool.
2. Preheat a very large pan or large saucepan on medium-high burner. Add oil and half the butter to melt. Add mushrooms in 1 even layer and cook until golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 4 or 5 minutes. If mushrooms absorb all the oil/butter, add a spoonful of butter to keep them from getting too dry. Add onion to mushrooms, toss with mushrooms. Season lightly with salt, pepper, and cook 3 to 4 minutes longer to soften onion. Add wine and scrape up any bits that have stuck to the bottom of pan. Cook about 1 minute longer.
3. Reduce heat to medium, add tomatoes and cook 2 or 3 minutes to soften.
4. Add roasted garlic, peas, and toss well to combine. After 1 minute, add cooked pasta, stir to combine. Cook another minute to warm pasta.
5. Add pesto, stirring to combine. Season with freshly ground pepper, stirring to prevent pasta from sticking. Cook until pesto and pasta is hot, about 1 minute. Serve, garnished with a sprinkle of pepita parmesan.
Sage and Almond Pesto
– 1/4 cup (50 mL) fresh sage, leaves only
– 1/2 cup (125 mL) fresh Italian parsley, leaves only
– 1/4 cup (50 mL) whole almonds, skin on, lightly roasted
– 1 teaspoon (5 mL) fresh lemon juice
– 1 cup (250 mL) canola oil
– Pinch, kosher salt
– 2 twists, freshly ground black pepper
1. Pick over and wash herbs; pat dry. In a food processor, combine herbs, almonds, lemon juice and pulse a few times to combine ingredients, scraping the sides of bowl as necessary. With motor running, slowly drizzle in oil through feed tubs to emulsify with the pesto. Does not have to be completely smooth.
2. Taste and adjust salt, pepper, as desired. Transfer to clean mason jar or plastic container with lid and refrigerate if not using immediately — keeps about 4 days.
Makes about 3/4 cup (175 mL)
– 1/2 cup (125 mL) whole pumpkin seeds, toasted
– 1/4 cup (50 mL) flaky nutritional yeast (at Herb & Spice, and health food stores)
– Pinch, kosher salt
Combine all ingredients in dry bowl of food processor and pulse until combined. Mixture should be coarse. Transfer to a clean container with lid; will keep, refrigerated, about 2 weeks.