The Ten Sandwich Commandments

I’ve been in this game for years, it made me an animal
There’s rules to this shit, I wrote me a manual
A step-by-step booklet for you to get
Your game on track, not your wig pushed back.

-The Notorious B.I.G.[1]

A chicken and waffle sandwich, with roast apple and goat's cheese

 

The Ten Sandwich Commandments

  1. Thou shalt provide interest.
  2. Thou shalt provide textural contrast.
  3. Thou shalt consider the colours of your ingredients.
  4. Thou shalt balance rich sandwiches with fresh, light components.
  5. Thou shalt balance salty meat and cheese with acidity.
  6. Thou shalt cut bread precisely.
  7. Thou shalt spread to the edge.
  8. Thou shalt aggressively season meat, slaws, and salsas to compensate for the muting effect of bread.
  9. Thou shalt apply salt to raw vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers.
  10. Thou shalt toast bread that is more than 24 hours old.

 

The Ten Sandwich Commandments, Explained

The first five commandments help us plan delicious, well-balanced sandwiches.

1. Thou shalt provide interest.  Why are we making this particular sandwich?  Or in the case of the Elm kitchen, why would someone want to purchase this particular sandwich?  Some classic sandwiches have interest built right into them: a Monte Cristo, for instance, with its battered exterior.  Other classics need a bit of help.  Smoked ham, aged cheddar, and Dijon will make a good sandwich, though not a particularly interesting one.  One way to fix this: add onion marmalade and baked rosemary apples to the mix.  This changes the classic ham and cheese from a plain salty/savoury offering to a sweet and savoury one.  I find that interesting.

You can push the concept of interest much further, into the genuinely creative.  My favourite example is an idea by Chael MacDonald that I helped execute a few years ago, the Half and Half Pizza Sub.  When ordering pizza for groups you are often forced to request one pie with split toppings: maybe one half pepperoni, and the other Hawaiian.  Chael translated this to a pizza sub.  The entire sandwich has marinara, aïoli, mozzarella, and basil, but one half has pepperoni and mushroom, the other ham and pineapple.  This is just one of the funniest things I’ve ever come across in cooking.  We still do this sandwich occasionally at Elm.

Interest is often about more that just the physical make-up of a sandwich.  How you describe and present the sandwich to customers is important.  Egg salad, for instance, is the least sexy sandwich in the western world, invoking images of a wet, pallid, garbure of hard-boiled eggs and mayonnaise.  However, if you add bacon and call it a “Bacon and Egg Salad Sandwich” you will instead conjure hearty plates of bacon and eggs in the customer’s mind.  Much more appetizing.

One day last year we made a sandwich out of whitefish, caper aïoli, and pickles.  It was delicious, but hardly sold at all.  Our clever friend Chris Tomkee suggested adding potato chips and calling it a “Fish and Chips” sandwich.  Same sandwich (only with potato chips), different name.  The next day we sold out.

In the end, the First Sandwich Commandment is about being thoughtful, creative, and intentional in the sandwiches we choose to make.

2.  Thou shalt provide textural contrast.  Some examples:

Roast Eggplant.  Picture a sandwich on fresh bread with goat’s cheese, herbs, lemon aïoli, and roasted eggplant and bell peppers.  These flavours work extremely well together, but the components are all soft, and you end up with what we call a “squish sandwich”.  We need textural support.  Fresh cucumber is a great, cool, crunchy textural contrast to roasted eggplant.

BLT.  Bacon strips have a much firmer, crispier texture than cold cuts like ham and turkey.  The salty/smoky flavour of bacon punches above its weight, so you don’t typically use as much on a sandwich as you would with a milder meat like roast beef.  This means that a bacon sandwich has the potential to seem paltry.  We need a contrasting vegetable that will add some moisture and bulk, one that will soften the overal texture.  In fact, you need a bit of the “squish” we were trying to balance out in the roast eggplant sandwich above.  Enter the tomato.

Grilled Cheese.  The interplay of textures is not limited to the inside of a sandwich: the bread itself is an important element.  The textural contrast in a grilled cheese, for instance, is between the crispy bread and the creamy melted cheese.

3.  Thou shalt consider the colours of your ingredients.  We strive for interest, contrast, and balance in all aspects of our cooking, and this applies to the visual as well as the gastronomical.  We put arugula, spinach, lettuce, sprouts, or “green” in one form or another on basically every sandwich.  We showcase the vibrancy of vegetables like red bell peppers and purple cabbage and roasted pineapple by putting them next to the muted tones of nappa cabbage and shaved fennel.

Example: We once made a sandwich with roast sweet potato, chili mayo, sour cream, jack cheese, tomato, and crispy tortilla strips.  After some reflection we realized that all these components are in the yellow/orange/red/pink end of the colour spectrum, so we added black beans, driving home the “southwest” theme and adding an eye-catching colour contrast.

4.  Thou shalt balance rich sandwiches with fresh, light components.

Reuben-esque.  Our spin on the Reuben contains the classic corned beef, swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing, but since these components are all salted, cured, or otherwise “rich”, we add fresh cucumber and alfalfa sprouts.  These components actually help us comply with Commandments 1 through 4.

Schnit-wich.  We were keen to make a schnitzel sandwich featuring a breaded, fried pork cutlet.  “Starch-on-starch” preparations always run the risk of being stodgy.  (Starch-on-starch is putting a starchy component like potatoes or breaded fried schnitzel on bread.)  It is absolutely essential to balance the starches with fresh components.  We’ve done the schnit-wich a few different ways, but our favourite is with a fresh, bright tomato salad with red onion and herbs piled on top of the schnitzel.

5.  Thou shalt balance salty meat and cheese with acidity.  This is one of the most basic concepts of flavour dynamics.  Salty meat and cheese can be cloying, but acidity balances the flavours and refreshes the palate.  Almost all of our sandwiches contain vinegar, citrus, or perhaps a sour fermented condiment like ‘kraut or kimchi.  There are countless classic examples of this balancing act, from the mustard and dill pickle accompanying a Montreal smoked meat sandwich, to the tangy bbq sauce and sharp slaw on a Carolina pulled pork sandwich.  One of my favourite examples is the Elm take on a Monte Cristo.  To the classic components (ham, turkey, swiss, and egg batter) we add rhubarb compote, sour cream, and chive.

Fresh herbs and raw allium like red onion and chive also have the ability to cut richness to a certain extent.

The last five commandments deal with how we execute our well-designed sandwich.

6.  Thou shalt cut bread precisely.  This means cutting straight and level.  It means cutting just below the mid-line so that the top half of the bread is a bit taller than the bottom half.  It means intentionally leaving a hinge, or intentionally not leaving a hinge.  It means cutting hinged sandwiches so they lay flat on the workbench.

Commandments Seven, Eight, and Nine, have to do with “carrying the flavour.” 

7.  Thou shalt spread to the edge.  Right, right, right to the edge on every single piece of bread, without exception.  You should not be able to see the bread underneath.  We want to maximize the flavour delivered in each and every bite.

As a sub-commandment concerning spreads (let’s call it Commandment 7a): ricotta, cream cheese, chèvre, and other spreadable cheeses should be applied thicker than mayonnaise.

8.  Thou shalt aggressively season meat, salsas, and slaws to compensate for the muting effect of bread.  Though containing salt itself, bread tends to mute the flavours of the components within the sandwich.  To compensate, our ingredients need to be punchy; more punchy than if they were being served on a plate without bread.  We therefore apply salt, acidity, and sweetness aggressively.

It’s surprising how often it happens: we have a combination of ingredients that sounds absolutely delicious; we make the sandwich, we taste the sandwich, and it falls flat.  We go back and essentially over-season the components.  Re-taste, and we have a winner.

Example: Prosciutto & Melon.  The idea was to make a sandwich with speck (smoked prosciutto), canteloupe, shaved fennel, and lemon aïoli.  We had to add a good hit of honey and white wine vinegar to get the canteloupe to shine through.  I call this fortifying the natural flavours of the ingredients.

9.  Thou shalt apply salt to raw vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers.  This is a good practice in all branches of cooking.  You should, for instance, not just season your steak, but also the green salad that accompanies it.  The salting of raw vegetables is especially important in sandwich-making.  As explained in the Eighth Commandment, we needs to make sure we use lots of salt to carry the flavours through the bread.

10.  Thou shalt toast bread that is more than 24 hours old.  A cold sandwich on fresh bread is a beautiful thing, but if the bread was baked yesterday, it absolutely needs to be toasted, even if the sandwich components will all be added and served cold.  Toasting refreshes the bread.  Do not over-toast.  The exterior should be lightly crisp, but the interior should still have plenty of give.

In the immortal words of hockey legend Don Cherry: toasted tastes better.

11. Never get high on your own supply.

 

Footnotes

  1. Notorious B.I.G. was murdered twenty years ago today.  The idea for The Ten Sandwich Commandments came from listening to Biggie’s song The Ten Crack Commandments while telling a new hire to “Spread to the edge.”

In Defense of Deep-Frying

On March 1, 2017 I’m teaching a class for Metro Continuing Education called Deep-Frying Without a Deep-Fryer. Course details are available here.  I thought I’d re-post this old article, a vehement defense of this most venerable technique.  Originally published March 23, 2014.

 

Deep-fryer haters gonna hate.Yesterday I was walking on Whyte Avenue and I saw a sign that upset me.  It was outside The Pourhouse, a tavern with a clever name and a broad selection of beer and food.  The poster read “No Deep Fryer on Premises.”

I perfectly understand the intentions of this advertisement.  I have been to bars where the food is clearly manufactured off-site, purchased frozen, plopped into a deep fryer, and garnished with green onions or bottled plum sauce or nothing.  If you don’t quite understand what I’m talking about, go to Rosie’s at 11 pm and order something.  Bathe in the neon lights and try to enjoy the plate of perogies or spring rolls or green onion cakes or whatever you ordered.  Then you will know the horrors of which I speak.  Anyways.  The implication of the Pourhouse ad is that they prepare thoughtful, fresh, delicious food.  I get it.

In fact, I have more reason than most to hate deep-frying.  Early in my cooking career I worked at Dadeo, the Whyte Avenue Cajun diner.  It was an oddly segregated kitchen: there was a prep team of kindly Chinese-Vietnamese ladies, and a line-team of white kids.  The first station for new line-cooks to learn was the deep fryer, and you would be hard-pressed to find a restaurant in Edmonton that puts more food through a deep fryer than Dadeo.  The fryer itself is roughly the size of a bath tub, partitioned into three compartments.  Approximately half the menu goes through this machine: of course there are the famous sweet potato fries, but also the several breaded seafood items for the po’ boys and jambalaya plates, as well as fritters, spring rolls (“Cajun cigars…”), fried chicken, calamari, breaded eggplant, and crabcakes.  Oh, and Sunday nights are wing nights.  Even though that deep fryer holds about 50 L of canola oil, it is usually the bottleneck that ever-so-slightly slows the break-neck service at Dadeo.  Anyways.  I spent a couple months working the fryer at Dadeo.  The inexpungeable stench of dirty oil in my clothes and the second degree burns on my hands notwithstanding, I still love fried food.

The Pourhouse sign is not the first time I’ve encountered the pretentious scorn of culinary types who look down their noses at deep-frying.  Hatred of fried food confuses me a great deal, as I’ve always considered it a delicacy.  Not many folks fry at home anymore, I think because of the misconception that you need a “deep-fryer” to deep fry food.  Really you need a stove, a pot, and a jug of oil.  A thermometer is also useful, but by no means necessary.

Fried food is outdoor food.  Finger food.  Carnival food.  Seriously: what is more magical than going to a fair and seeing those little rivers of hot oil carrying mini doughnuts to their sugary terminus?  In Europe many fried treats are associated with the revelry preceding Lent.  The Krapfen of Austrian and Bavaria, for instance, or the fritoles of Venice.  Street food.  Festive food.

Fried food is the singular joy of eating out with friends and family.  Every single time I ate French fries before the age of sixteen, I was at a restaurant with friends and family.  I never once ate them at home.

Fried food is comfort food.  What is more satisfying after a walk in the winter cold than a big, breaded, fried schnitzel?  (Every Austrian I’ve ever met has acknowledged that schnitzel is traditionally pan-fried, “swimming” in oil, but then, a few minutes later, they all concede that modern schnitzel is best deep-fried.)

If you still aren’t convinced that deep-frying deserves your respect, you should read the section of Brillat-Savarin’s The Physiology of Taste called Theory of Frying.  No clearer, more succinct, playful description of a cooking technique has ever been written.  Especially charming is his description of the “surprise”: the moment the food is dunked in the oil, and the immediate, vigorous bubbling that takes place after.

So you can see that I have several pleasant associations with deep-frying.  So much so that before I got angry with the Pourhouse sign, I got a little sad.  No deep fryer?  Oh.  So you don’t have French fries?  At a bar?  So no fish and chips?  And no poutine?  Oh: you do have poutine, but it’s made with roasted potatoes?  (Poutine made with roasted potatoes is where I transitioned from sad to angry.)

Below are apple fritters that I made last fall.  Apples grown within the Edmonton city limits, peeled, cored, and sliced into rings.  I made a yeasted batter with eggs, flour, sugar, and a bit of cider from last season.  The apple rounds where dredged, fried, dusted with icing sugar, and served with heavy cream.  I consumed the fritters outdoors, during the intermission between rounds of pressing cider.

I hope that this example demonstrates that deep-fried food can be thoughtful.  When made with care, deep-fried snacks are some of the most profoundly satisfying foods we have.

Apple fritters with whipped cream

 

More on Fried Food:

10 Foods that You Should Never Buy Again

I love the title of this post because it sounds like those fear-mongering, unsolicited internet advertisements, like, “3 Foods that are Making You have Cancer right now… You’ll never guess what number 2 is!!!”

Despite my pedantic writing style, I really hate pretension, and I don’t want to make people feel bad about enjoying their favourite foods.

But…

Following is a list of ingredients, prepared foods, and drinks that I think no one should ever buy.  Like ever.  Not because they’re bad for you, but because paying money for these items makes you a sucker, both financially and spiritually.  You can make the following foodstuffs from scratch for a fraction of the cost in no time at all, and your homemade version is guaranteed to be at least as good as the store-bought.  Probably better.

 

Breadcrumbs.  Purchasing breadcrumbs is the single most insane act someone can perform with regards to home cooking.  Breadcrumbs used to be one of the cheapest, most humble, ubiquitous ingredients in western kitchens.  It is now sold in bags at the supermarket.  For the record Shake and Bake is seasoned breadcrumbs.

Shake 'n' Bake: a brilliant way to sell people breadcrumbsYou’ve eaten every crumb of every loaf of bread you’ve every bought?  I doubt it.

Almost any loaf of bread will make good crumbs.  Some of the really dense, artisan loaves may be too hard to process.  Leave the bread uncovered on a sheet pan.  Don’t stack the pieces of bread or they might mould.  Leave until the bread is completely hard throughout, maybe a week, depending on the type of bread and the size of the pieces.  Crumble the bread into a food processor and blitz till smooth.  I feel slightly ridiculous typing these instructions out, but they sell breadcrumbs in the grocery store, so some people must not know how to make them.

The main reason people don’t make their own isn’t because they don’t know how, it’s because they don’t have daily uses for them.  They wait until they are taking on a recipe that calls for breadcrumbs (like this meatball recipe…), then realize they don’t have any, then rush out to pay $5 for 200 g of crumb.

The truth is that breadcrumb is an extremely versatile ingredient.  Its supreme purpose is as a coating for fried items like schnitzel and fish sticks (yes, fish sticks).  You can treat it like pure starch.  It does contain gluten, but you can add it to mixtures without making the texture gluey.  They are especially useful when making fillings for perogies and stuffed pasta like ravioli, tortellini and the like.  If your filling is just a touch too loose the breadcrumb will stiffen it perfectly.

They are also an important part of traditional Austrian strudel.

And they need not hide deep within the filling of a perogy.  Pan-fried in butter they can make a shockingly delicious and beautiful garnish, especially for textural contrast on steamed dumplings.  Or ice cream.

Croutons.  Basically the same argument as for bread crumbs: you probably already have the ingredients to make croutons, and it takes about 10 minutes start to finish.  You take stale bread, cut it into cubes, then toss them with oil, salt, pepper, chopped herbs, and garlic.  You spread them out on a sheet pan and bake them until they are golden brown, stirring occasionally.  You can bake them hard throughout like the ones in the store, or if your bread is fresh enough you can get a good crust on the outside and leave some chew within.  No matter how bad a cook you are, there is no conceivable way that your homemade croutons will be as disappointing as the ones from the grocery store.

Garlic Bread.  Garlic bread is like a big crouton that you don’t bake hard all the way through.  Instead of buying those soggy, foil-wrapped loaves, invest in a loaf of bread and a head of fresh garlic.

Granola.  Okay we’re getting a little more complicated here, but still anyone can make granola, and it only takes 20 minutes.  “But I don’t have a recipe!”  Now you do.

Waffle/Pancake Mix.  You can buy a mix that lets you make waffles and pancakes, or you can buy a handful of ingredients (flour, sugar, butter, baking powder, yeast) that let you make any baked good ever invented.

Any kind of Pre-Cut Vegetable.  This includes but is not limited to those plastic bags of tri-coloured slaw made of green cabbage, red cabbage, and carrot.  I think the single biggest obstacle to cooking at home is that most people don’t have sharp knives in their kitchen.  Using dull knives makes simple prep work daunting.  Maintain a sharp knife, use a large cutting board properly anchored to your kitchen counter with wet cloth, and become a kitchen ninja with mad knife skills.

Frozen Hamburgers.  A really good hamburger is just ground beef with salt and pepper.  In other words instead of buying fresh ground beef and shaping it into a patty you are buying frozen beef that has been shaped for you.  You are spending more money to save yourself 10 minutes and end up eating a worse product.  Everything you need to know about hamburgers.

Salad Dressing.  I’ve already made the case for homemade dressings here.  A brief synopsis of that post: you almost certainly already have all the ingredients you need to make a delicious vinaigrette, you can make enough for a month in less than 90 seconds, and your homemade dressing won’t have sodium EDTA in it.

Mayonnaise.  The reason we don’t make mayo at home anymore is because 1) people are paranoid that raw eggs will give them salmonella, and 2) people think mayonnaise is difficult to make.  As to the first point, it’s true that youngsters, expectant mothers, and the elderly probably shouldn’t eat raw eggs on the off chance that they contract salmonella, but most healthy people are fine to eat raw eggs.  I have made mayonnaise dozens of times at home with raw eggs without incident.  As to the second point, mayo is definitely the trickiest thing to make on this list, but once you get the hang of it, you can make great mayo in mere minutes.

Iced Tea.  It’s crazy that a homeowner with black tea and white sugar in his pantry would go out and buy powdered iced tea, or cans of iced tea.  Making iced tea is a simple as brewing a pot of tea then forgetting to drink it.

For me, iced tea needs to be sweet, so I add sugar while the tea is hot.  And it benefits from a bit of acidity to balance it out.  Lemon is traditional, but I like using rhubarb.

This recipe for rhubarb iced tea takes less than 15 minutes to make, but then of course it must cool, so it requires some foresight.  If you’re hosting a barbecue tomorrow, or you look at the weather forecast and see that it’s going to be 30°C every day next week, brew a big batch of this.

 

So that’s my rant.  Anything you would add to this list?

 

Arm of Lamb

Roast lamb foreleg, or "arm of lamb"One of the great things about purchasing your meat as a whole animal and cutting it yourself (besides getting high-quality ethically produced meat for a fraction of its farmers’ market price) is that you have total control over how the meat is divided.

I’ve written about this before (Alternative Pork Primals) but I have another great example of an unorthodox meat-cutting practice: arm of lamb.  While lambs have four legs, the traditional roast leg of lamb is always a hind leg.  The shank meat is trimmed away, leaving relatively tender, lean meat that is best roasted medium rare.

The foreleg is a very different piece of meat.  It could simply be billed as “foreleg of lamb” but I think we need a better way to properly distinguish it from the hind part.  So I propose “arm of lamb”. [1]

The foreleg of lamb is typically broken up in the meat shop: the butcher uses a bandsaw to cut across the bones so that the uppermost part is left on the shoulder, the lowermost part is removed as a bone-in shank, and everything in between is trim for sausages.

You can, however, remove the entire foreleg in one piece.  It looks rather similar to the hind leg, with the characteristic club shape, but the meat is completely different: tough and fatty, with several small, irregular muscle groups.  So instead of being roasted at high heat to medium rare, the foreleg is best braised, or slow-roasted until it is falling-apart-tender, like a lamb shoulder.

I probably get a bigger kick out of this than most, but I like that it looks like a leg of lamb, but it is a braise instead of a roast.

Arm of lamb is harder to carve tableside, as it contains the shoulder blade, but the meat is tender enough that careful carving isn’t really necessary: if you cook the meat till it is thoroughly tender you can push a fork into the joint and pull and shred as much meat as you please.

 

  1. I’ll concede that “arm” doesn’t quite have the same appetizing ring to it as leg, and that it somehow even sounds cannibalistic.  I suppose the reason is that legs are for locomotion, arms are for manipulation of objects; animals do not manipulate objects the same way humans do; their four limbs are used chiefly for locomotion; ergo they do not have arms; only humans have arms.  That’s why is sounds weird to eat an arm.  That being said, the lamb’s humerus is often referred to as the arm bone, and the sub-primal cut that contains the humerus can be called the lamb should arm, but these are technical meat-cutting terms that would never appear on consumer packaging.

That Scene in Ratatouille

I work in a kitchen that is built into a sort of warehouse.  It has terrible ventilation and gets stiflingly hot in the summer.  We’ve found that if we raise the large bay door in the receiving area behind the kitchen, then prop open the door in front of the kitchen, we can sometimes wrangle a decent cross-breeze to cool us down.

One hot afternoon we were running this system, and riding a beautiful cross-breeze.  So much so that the catering menus and prep lists pinned to the walls were flapping and waving at us.  I was cutting chickens at a work bench opposite another cook who was slicing fennel.  I was downwind, so to speak, and during one warm gust the anise-type aroma of the fennel hit me with the breeze.

It was a strange and swift collision of circumstances: the distinct smell of anise, the warm rushing air, and in the periphery, the fluttering papers.  I stopped working for just a moment.

~

Lisa and I arrived in the village of Dryos, on the island of Paros, after a long ferry ride that had us curing in cigarette smoke under a sweltering Mediterranean sun.  When we reached our temporary residence in the village, the sun had set, and the wind had picked up.  Our apartment adjoined a courtyard with lime trees.  We sat in the yard, and a waiter named Jack served us ouzo mixed with ice water.

I remember very distinctly the smell of the anise liqueur, the warm rushing wind, and in the periphery, the fluttering leaves of the lime orchard.

 

Homemade Cherry Liqueur

cherry_liqueur.JPGIn retrospect this is a pretty straight-forward homemade cherry liqueur, but it was actually inspired by a drink from Normandy called pommeau.  To make pommeau, Normans combine two parts fresh apple juice with one part Calvados (apple brandy), then age the resulting mixture in barrels for several months before bottling.  You can purchase this traditional, aged pommeau at fine liquor stores, but fresh pommeau made with just-pressed cider and consumed without barrel-aging has become one of my favourite parts of the cider season.

This formula (two parts fresh juice, one part spirit made from that juice) occurs in a number of other places.  Pineau de Charentes is another famous example, made with grape must and Cognac.

So I wondered if the same could be done with our local cherries.  I ran fresh Evans cherries through a food mill to make a viscous juice, added a bit of white sugar, then mixed in Kirsch, which is pure cherry distillate.  Not having any local cherry spirit, I used Hugel Kirsch, from Alsace.

The liqueur is the very essence of sour cherry.  It is supremely well-balanced, the bright acidity of the raw cherry juice mellowed by the sugar.  While delicious on its own, it reminded me a great deal of the Danish liqueur Cherry Heering, which suggests that this homemade cherry liqueur is probably useful in mixed drinks.

Hm…

Canola Oil

Some crusty bread with cold-pressed canola oil for dipping.Take a midsummer drive away from Edmonton in any direction and soon you will find fields of yellow flowers in radiant bloom.  This is canola, and the oil pressed from its seeds is as common in Albertan pantries as the plants are to Albertan landscapes.

Canola is a Canadian invention.  In fact, its name is an amalgam of the words “Canada oil low acid”.  Canola is a type of rapeseed that has been bred to have a low erucic acid content.

What’s rapeseed, you ask?  It’s a plant with an unfortunate name, ultimately derived from the Latin word for turnip, rapum, to which it is a close relative.

Allow me to expedite this explanation by quoting from the Canadian Encyclopedia:

Rapeseed has been an important source of edible vegetable oil in Asia for almost 4000 years.  It was first grown in Canada during WWII as a source of high-quality lubricant for marine engines.  After the war, Canadian plant-breeding programs, combined with changes in processing techniques, led to a reduction of erucic acid (very high consumption of which has been associated with heart lesions in laboratory animals) and glucosinolates (which cause enlarged thyroids and poor feed conversion in livestock).  As a consequence, canola has become established as a major Canadian and European source of cooking oil[1]

So, frankly, canola is not exactly an ancient tradition here in Canada.  That being said I think it’s important to note that it was developed by applying traditional plant-breeding methods to rape (Brassica napus) and turnip rapeseed (B. campestris).  Canola is not by definition a GMO, although there is now a huge amount of GMO canola being grown all over North America.

Since its recent invention canola has become the most common household cooking oil in our part of the world.  Unfortunately I don’t have a source to confirm that statement, but working in kitchens I’m pretty confident it’s true.  Most of us have a jug of canola oil sitting by the stove at home that we use as a cheap cooking oil.  This style of canola oil is made by heating and pressing canola seeds.  Heating increases the extraction rate, but destroys all of the volatile aromatic compounds, making a very neutral, I daresay flavourless, oil with a high smoke point.  This style of canola oil is good for pan- and deep-frying.

There is, however, also cold-pressed canola oil, which is an entirely different product with low yields but big flavour.  If you haven’t tasted this you’re missing out. Depending on the producer, it can be anywhere from brilliant bronze to hazy green in colour.  Whatever the appearance, it has an aroma uncannily reminiscent of fresh cut lawn.  Seriously: it tastes like grass and raw grain.

Because of its distinctive flavour, cold-pressed canola is very much a finishing oil.  It makes a great garnish on vegetables (sautéed asparagus, for instance), soups, and salads.  I also use it to make vinaigrette, but I usually blend it with a more neutral (and cheaper) canola oil.

Over the past ten years or so there have been a handful of cold-pressed canola oil producers in the province.  Sadly some have folded (I think).  I can’t seem to find Mighty Trio or Vibrant at any shops any more.  Highwood Crossing, a grain farm near High River Alberta, is still making oil, but it seems to have a much smaller distribution than it did a few years ago.  I used to buy it in retail bottles at Planet Organic, but I haven’t seen it there in a while.  At Elm we buy 20 L pails direct from Highwood Crossing, and also bring in their retail bottles to sell at Little Brick.  If anyone out there knows of other Albertan producers and where their oil is available, I’d be grateful to know.

Despite its rather industrial origin, gastronomically cold-pressed canola is Canada’s answer to extra virgin olive oil.  It’s a really, really remarkable product and I’m thrilled to have it in my kitchen.

 

References

  1.  Marsh, James H. The Canadian Encyclopedia, Second Edition. Vol I. ©1988 Hurtig Publishers Ltd. Edmonton, Alberta. Page 365.

Citrus Juicer

Juicing limes to make a cocktail called The Last WordThis is my citrus juicer.

It belonged to my grandma Suddaby.

It’s made of something called Depression glass, a tinted, translucent glass that was manufactured from (roughly) the 1920s to 1940s, hence the name.  It came in several colours, but most commonly funky neon green, or pastel pinkish orange.  Those are terrible colour descriptions, but that’s why I cook for a living instead of naming new shades of paint.  I imagine these colours were hyper-modern in the 1930s, though I have no source to confirm or deny this.  Depression glass was mass-produced and most often distributed as a free gift for people buying groceries or attending a show.  In other words it was Depression-era swag.  I asked my parents if they somehow remembered where this particular juicer came from, and they were pretty sure that the gas station in North Augusta (Ontario) gave them out.

I apologize: this is starting to sound like an episode of Antiques Roadshow.

This is definitely a tool with a narrow scope of work: it removes the juice from citrus fruits, which in my case means only oranges, limes, lemons, and, once in a blue moon, grapefruits.  Almost all of my fresh citrus consumption occurs in one of two situations: homemade brunch with fresh orange juice (not very common) and cocktail hour (rather common).

Old-school juicers and reamers are nowhere near as quick or efficacious as modern lever-style juicers: you need to lean over the counter and crank the halved fruit several times to crush the citrus-pockets and release the juice.  Personally I enjoy the pageantry, but what I really love about this little juicer is the quaint, thoughtful details of its design.  Of course there is the central cone, rounded to mimic the contours of the fruit, and ridged to maximize ease of extraction, but at the base of the cone is a little dam that holds back seeds and large bits of pulp.  There is also a small handle and spout for pouring out the coarsely filtered juice.

For most of my adult life I have quaffed Tropicana unabashedly.  This juicer reminds me that all of the orange juice my grandma drank (for the first forty years of her life) was manually juiced moments before consumption, and that citrus is actually a modern novelty to our part of the world.

Speaking of Tropicana, this juicer also reminds me that packaged “not from concentrate”  juices aren’t even remotely fresh.  Comparing the fresh-squeezed orange juice collected by this tool to a product like Tropicana, it is clear that they are not the same product.  This is because most of our packaged orange juice is processed to a near unimaginable degree. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please watch this CBC interview of the author of the book Squeezed.[1]

I have harped on citrus consumption before (see The Tyranny of the Lemon), but I have to admit mine experienced a marked surge after reading the book Imbibe by David Wondrich, which sparked a bit of a classic cocktail kick (about five years after the rest of hipsterdom) and had me buying citrus on the weekly.

Tonight I am juicing limes to make a cocktail called The Last Word.  This concoction is experiencing a revival due largely to the aforementioned Imbibe.  It is made of equal parts gin, maraschino (the liqueur, not the jarred fruit), Chartreuse, and lime juice, a strange group of ingredients, but as good an example as any of the alchemic magic of which a well-mixed cocktail is capable.  Certainly a far cry from the orange juice my tee-totaling grandma would have made with this simple but cherished implement.

 

#ButtonSoupTools is a series about my favourite kitchen tools, the ones that appeal to me for reasons practical or sentimental.

 

 

  1.  I waffled about whether to include this link or not.  The kernel of information at its core is so fascinating, but the interview was produced by the CBC’s 24-hour news stream, so it has those feeble, fear-mongering sub-titles that are apparently generated by someone who is listening to the interview in real-time.  And then there’s the ridiculous footage of some dude in Dudesville pouring himself a glass of OJ, as if this were somehow helpful to the audience (“Ohhh… orange juice.  I get it.”)  I’m left to wonder if that sequence was filmed expressly for this interview, or if they somehow had stock footage of “Man Pouring Orange Juice.”  Was that guy paid to do that?  Is he an actor?  Simply mind-boggling.  24-hour news is really just the worst.

Because Flavour Dynamics

Background:  I work for Elm Café.  We make sandwiches (herein referred to as “sammiches”).  Today we made one that I was particularly excited about, so on my personal Twitter account @allansuddaby I tweeted: “Just sampled an @elmcafe sammich: beef shortrib, Brie, port-soaked plums, rutabaga, red wine reduction. Will cure what ails you.”  National Post columnist and local wit Colby Cosh responded: “Sounds like the Incredibly Random Sandwich Generator came up with a winner!” at which I literally lol’d.  Then it dawned on me that the ingredients in this sandwich are emphatically not random.  I thought it would be interesting to explain why they make a great sandwich.

 

Because Flavour Dynamics: The Sammich Apologist

The sandwich in question is composed of braised shortrib dressed in a red wine reduction; Brie cheese; dried plums (prunes…) that have been soaked in Port; and raw rutabaga cut into a fine julienne.  Following is a glimpse into the mind of a chef (albeit not a famous chef…) that will demonstrate how he struck upon this seemingly random assortment of ingredients using the sound principles of flavour dynamics.

To begin, our objective is to make a delicious sandwich based on beef shortrib.

Beef shortrib.  The familiar, delicious, savoury flavour of beef, though in one of its more fatty, unctuous incarnations.  Definitely needs acid to balance.  Red wine has such acidity, so a reduction of red wine and beef stock will fit perfectly.  [Editor’s note: This is so classic it didn’t really require explanation… but there it is…]

I would like to put cheese on this sandwich.  Let’s take a look at the cheese shelf of the walk-in cooler…

Brie!  Subtle but complex savoury flavour, often reminiscent of mushrooms, ergo a natural pairing for beef and red wine.  A very faint bitterness on the finish.  Also commonly consumed with fruit, especially cooked or dried fruit.  Let’s play on that association and incorporate fruit in this sandwich.  It should be a relatively mild fruit so as not to overwhelm the Brie.  Dried plums fit the bill.  They also echo the fruit character of the wine in the reduction sauce.  Let’s reinforce that connection and soak the plums in a delicious, sweet, fortified wine, namely Port.

At this point we have employed several ingredients with soft textures; we are clearly in need of some crunch.  Though almost always served cooked, quality rutabaga is delicious raw and would serve several purposes in this sandwich: it has a robust crunch, a faint sweetness (complimenting the fruit) and a faint bitterness (complimenting the Brie).

In conclusion, I love this sandwich because flavour dynamics.

 

This sandwich will be available at Elm Café (10140 – 117 Street) on Saturday, January 23, 2016.  Possibly the next day as well.