“Eat as many scallops as you like.”
When you attend a food event and that line is part of the opening spiel, you know you’re in for a treat! The event in question was called “Cook with Canada” and was sponsored by the Canadian Tourism Commission. Held at the fantastic L’atelier des Chefs in London, it was a food bloggers’ cooking event that highlighted Canadian or Canadian inspired ingredients.
But what is Canadian food? What are Canadian ingredients? I’ve pondered this question before, here. I made a mental list of the foodstuffs I expected to see at the event: maple syrup, salmon and ice wine were the obvious ones. I was quite keen to see what else would be featured. Muffins? Doughnuts? Beaver Tails? Moose droppings? Cod cheeks? Perhaps even poutine?
If you think about the geography of Canada for a minute, that might give a clue as to the types of ingredients we ended up cooking with. If you think about it, so much of food that is associated with a country is dependent on its geography. You don’t exactly get much seafood in landlocked, mountainous Austria, do you? And Thailand isn’t exactly known for its cheese. But back to Canada… You’ve got 3 oceans. Vast evergreen forests. One of the world’s biggest mountain ranges. Flat, fertile plains. Lakes and river valleys. More mountains and hills (but smaller ones this time). An island known for its red soil and potatoes. Arctic tundra. That’s pretty diverse - you’d expect quite a broad range of local ingredients.
And let’s for a minute think about the ethnic backgrounds of the people that make up Canada, because that influences the food too, right? Just as it’s geographically diverse, Canada is incredibly ethnically diverse (especially in the main cities). Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Ukranian, Italian, French, Caribbean, First Nations, Filipino… Most nationalities can be found living in Canada and some fantastic fusion cuisine has evolved because of it.
So what did we cook that evening? Well, the obvious ingredients were there, and the maple syrup came in both plain and licorice varieties. There was a lot of seafood, as you would expect, representing the 3 oceans bordering Canada. But there were also morels from the forests of BC, blueberries from Nova Scotia, wild rice from the prairies, cloudberry syrup from the Northern territories, and Bison representing the plains. And much much more.
You sort of take for granted what you grow up with, and I always find myself a bit taken aback when others find these things amazing or special or fantastic. But if I look at some of these foods as an outsider (and as I have been away from Canada for 11 years I think I can do that), there was some pretty unique stuff there. Ice wine & cider, maple syrup, birch syrup, fiddleheads, bison – these things aren’t produced in many other countries in the world.
The bloggers in attendance all seemed to have a great time cooking, eating, and mingling. I was one of the few people there with a Canadian accent, and I’ve got to say I felt a certain pride as I listened to the comments people were making. I had to run to catch a train so missed some of the desserts, but honestly I was so full I’m not sure I could have fitted any more in! We all had our fill of scallops, the fiddleheads were a big talking point, and the cod with morels was to die for. It really was a fantastic feast and big thanks go out to Nim from the Canadian Tourism Commission and all the provincial reps for putting on such a great evening.
So back to the scallops for a minute (I like it when things come full circle). The recipe below is one of the dishes we made that evening, well sort of. We made it with birch syrup, but as birch syrup is not exactly something that is commonly found in supermarkets (probably not even in Canada) I’ve revised the recipe to use maple syrup. You can get maple smoked bacon in Canada, so the lardon/maple syrup combination is a good one. Have you ever had pancakes with maple syrup, and bacon on the side, and the bacon gets covered in the remnants of the maple syrup? It works. This dish cooks up in about 10 minutes, and would make a nice autumn starter for a dinner party.
Scallops with Lardons & Maple Syrup
For each serving, you will need:
- 3-4 fresh scallops
- 50g lardons
- Maple syrup
Cook the lardons in a frypan over medium heat. Once cooked, remove from heat and set aside. In the same pan (leave the fat that’s rendered out from the lardons in it), add a little vegetable oil and heat until almost smoking.
Season the scallops with salt & pepper. Put them into the pan and cook for approximately 2 minutes. You should have a nice caramelised crust on the cooked side. Turn over and cook for another 1 1/2 – 2 minutes, depending on the size of the scallops. Once cooked they should spongy, not dry. Put the scallops onto serving plates.
Return the lardons to the frypan and deglaze with enough maple syrup to give you a bit of a sauce. Arrange the lardons around and over the scallops, and pour the sauce over both.