IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is our personal experience at Sanagan’s and my re-telling of some of the advice we received and decisions we made. It does not constitute advice. Toronto businesses should directly contact Toronto Public Health to obtain advice pertinent to their particular businesses and circumstances.
Toronto Public Health's Covid-19 Hotline: 416-338-7600
March 23, 2021
My experiences over the last couple of weeks have allowed me greater access to Toronto Public Health than before, and I want to share what I’ve learned, in the hopes that there is greater understanding of how Covid-19 can be contained within the business community. As Toronto opens up, I feel like all businesses and customers can gain something from our experiences at Sanagan’s Meat Locker, and I firmly believe that the more knowledgeable we all are about this pandemic, the better equipped we are to combat it. Additionally, I believe that transparency and knowledge can help reduce anxiety at stressful times. The better we are prepared, emotionally and physically, the better we will deal with the virus in a workplace.
First, I want to state that this information is current as of today, March 23rd, in Toronto, and is reflective of my understanding of the information I was provided. Additionally, different regions, towns, and countries may have different tactics to fight Covid, as the levels of contamination and social behaviour are different from place to place. That is very important to understand, as well as the fact that this information is only up to date as of the date this was written. Things change, the scientists learn more, and there are variants of concern that we have to be ready for. Additionally, as more people get vaccinated, the situation will undoubtably change. Keep that in mind if you’re reading this in September 2021…
I want to clarify some things for everyone, as there has been conflicting or outdated information, and I want you all to understand the information Toronto Public Health conveyed to Sanagan’s in regards to Covid-19 transmission in the workplace. The advice we received is based on the scientific understanding of the Covid-19 virus and how it behaves.
1) Toronto Public Health's Role
The number one thing everyone should all know is that Toronto Public Health is the authority for all public advice related to Covid-19 in Toronto. You may have read articles from other regions, or heard something on the news, or even had been given information by an employee of a local hospital, that may conflict with what we're doing at the business level. There is no greater authority on the specific nature of what's happening in Toronto, and more importantly in a Toronto business, than the Toronto Public Health team that works directly with organizations. There is always an investigation into these matters, and any decisions are made based on the science and particular circumstances in the workplace. If you ever have any questions or concerns about Covid-19 in general, or how we (or any businesses) operate, I implore you to contact Toronto Public Health's Covid-19 Hotline at 416-338-7600.
2) Closing a Business due to Covid-19
As a business, I feel like we did the right thing last week by closing to examine what our next steps should be. However, Toronto Public Health does not currently recommend that businesses close if there is a positive Covid-19 case. As far as I understand, at no point does Toronto Public Health recommend that a business, or any organization, close due to a single case of Covid-19 or even if an outbreak has been declared. The most important piece for Toronto Public Health is containment of the virus. They contain the virus by determining who may have been exposed based on the level of risk during contact with a positive case. An organization is not required to close and test all employees. So, while I think we did the right thing for us at the time, it wasn't necessary in the eyes of science and Toronto Public Health.
3) Exposure Levels
There is a difference between "high-risk" and "low risk" exposures (or contact levels). A high-risk exposure is defined as being within 6 feet (or 2 meters) of someone who has tested positive for Covid-19 for a cumulative time of 15 minutes over a day. Cumulative is important, as you don't want to assume that you can be close to someone for five-ten minutes, walk away for a half hour, then do it again a few more times. That could still be considered high-risk. Note that I say "considered". It can be extremely confusing and stressful to try to figure out if you have been a high-risk exposure to a contagious person. You may think "what if I talk to someone for a minute fifteen times a day", or "what if I pass someone in a hallway 100 times a day?" "How do you estimate the cumulative time you've spent with one person, when I work with up to 20 people per day?" These are all legitimate questions, and Toronto Public Health is the key investigator in determining who is at high-risk. They talk to the infected person, they talk to management, and they will talk to you if they think you are at risk. From my understanding, you are not considered high-risk if you walk by someone a bunch of times in a decently ventilated environment. You are considered high-risk if you have multiple 5–10-minute conversations with a contagious person within 6 feet (2 meters) a few times in an 8-10 hour shift. So, the lesson is: KEEP YOUR DISTANCE. Move around and talk to someone from afar. Don’t eat lunch with someone without physically distancing yourself. And remember, at the end of the day, it will be Toronto Public Health who determines who is a high-risk contact and who isn’t. They know the questions to ask to get the answers they need to determine this, which leaves a lot of the guesswork out of your hands.
4) Contagious Time
The current advice is, after more than a year of learning about Covid-19, scientists now understand that a person is considered to be contagious up to 48 hours before the onset of symptoms. That is, if you feel a tickle in your throat on a Monday afternoon that turns out to be a symptom of Covid-19, Toronto Public Health considers you to have been contagious starting from the Saturday two days prior. Even if you had a close contact with another person on the Friday, that isn't actually considered high-risk for contracting Covid-19. That close contact will likely be eliminated from Toronto Public Health's investigation.
5) Isolation Time
A person who has tested positive for Covid-19 must isolate for 10 days from receiving the positive results. A person who is considered to have had high-risk exposure must isolate for 14 days from the last contact. Why the difference? If you have tested positive for Covid-19, science tells us that you will most likely only be contagious for a maximum of 10 days after getting results. If you were exposed to Covid-19, the virus can incubate and not express itself symptomatically for up to 14 days. Someone who tests positive for Covid-19, should not be contagious after ten days of learning of their result. Someone who may be incubating the virus, regardless of whether or not they have symptoms, could be contagious for up to 14 days. I use the word should when talking about a person with Covid-19, because it is still determined by Toronto Public Health if you can stop isolating. Again, it takes the guesswork out of the picture.
6) Getting Tested
Currently, Toronto Public Health recommends the earliest you should get a test is FIVE days after exposure. On top of that, they don't recommend you get a test unless you are considered a high-risk exposure case. By all means, you can get a test for your piece of mind, but the most important thing for any low-risk contact to do is to monitor symptoms, constantly wash your hands, and physically distance from each other.
7) Declaring an Outbreak in an Organization
If two or more cases of Covid-19 occur at an organization, and they can be epidemiologically connected to each other, Toronto Public Health will determine an outbreak has occurred, and post the business name and number of cases on their website. Before declaring an outbreak, they have to eliminate all other possibilities of why two or more people have contracted Covid-19. As we all know, this virus is rampantly spread throughout the community, and Toronto Public Health does not automatically assume that one case led to another. Rather, they will follow up with the positive cases, investigate thoroughly, and determine how else it could have been contracted. As discussed, Toronto Public Health will investigate who is positive, and who may be considered high-risk, and direct individuals to isolate based on the findings of that investigation. Although there are exceptions, we have been advised that Toronto Public Health generally would not recommend that a business should close. If we were to find ourselves in a situation where there are quite a few employees isolating, we would make decisions based on who is available and safe to work, and what Toronto Public Health recommends we do at that time. Remember, Toronto Public Health is the authority, and I am happy to take direction and guidance from them. THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT I WOULDN'T CLOSE THE SHOP IF I FELT IT WAS AN UNSAFE PLACE TO OPERATE. I want to be clear with everyone on this, and I should hope that last week's decision shows you that I'm not afraid to make those hard decisions. Businesses should make decisions based on the scientific knowledge and guidance from Public Health.
8) Public Messaging
Currently, there is no requirement by Toronto Public Health for a business to message the public about Covid-19 cases in their workplaces. As mentioned, if there are two or more linked cases at a single workplace, Toronto Public Health will post this information on its website.
9) Remember to Breathe and Relax
This is extremely hard to do and extremely important to do. We may experience outbreaks, and we will handle them well, just like we've handled so many other hurdles over the years. I for one need to remember this, as I process stress and pressure with varying degrees of discomfort. To be honest I haven't slept much this last week. I've been emotional and have had to put on a good face. But that's ok, because I believe that we will get through this. It sounds corny, but it's true. This virus is terrible and is wreaking havoc across the planet, but the vast majority of us will remember it as "those terrible years". If we keep our sights on that, we can get through this. I could bore you with terrible events that happened in the business's lifetime that, while at the time felt immeasurably difficult to overcome, are now just memories.
Focus on good science and a positive future. These thoughts will help you get through the hard times.
By Graham Duncan
Spread on bread, baked into a cake or enriching a sauce, better butter is best.
Butter is milk fat, separated and solidified from cream by an agitation process called churning. If you take pure heavy cream at home and shake it or beat it long enough, you’ll be making butter. Standard butters are 80% - 82% butterfat, the remaining content being almost all water. High-fat butter is 84%. Does that make a difference? Read on.
Golden Dawn salted and unsalted are high quality butters with the former being enthusiastically salty. Golden Dawn has been made at Alliston Creamery since the 1960’s. Owned and operated by the Kennedy family, Alliston Creamery is the last small independent dairy in Ontario. Alliston favours small scale production barrel churns which produce flavourful small batches of butter.
Photo: Alliston Creamery
A batch of butter just out of Alliston Creamery barrel churn
COWS butter is so good we decided to import it all the way from Prince Edward Island. COWS Creamery comes in 84% butterfat which makes for outstanding baking. To confirm this, we whipped up two identical batches of scones, one made with COWS Sea Salted butter and the other with No Name salted butter. In a blind scone tasting (my new blues name) there was no mistaking the difference. The COWS scone was decisively richer, saltier and more, uh, buttery.
Take a video tour of the COWS Creamery butter facility here.
Churned at Alliston Creamery from the cream of organic, grass-fed, Jersey cows. Jersey milk is renowned for its fat content and for its rich yellow colour. Both of these properties translate directly into Emerald butter with its pronounced golden hue and 84% butterfat content. And make no mistake, their southwestern Ontario cows’ all-grass diet — pasture in the summer, hay in the winter — give this butter an unmistakable depth of flavour. The salted version is made with sea salt from Vancouver Island. Emerald is as dedicated to creating a special kind of butter as they are to ensuring the sustainability of the grass-fed dairy industry.
What makes a chicken devilled? Its horns, obviously.
For whatever reason, when a quantity of mustard is added to a dish, it is often referred to as being “devilled”. I assume that there were not a lot of hot peppers in classic French cuisine, so mustard was the hot spice of choice. While we have moved on to spicier ingredients, I still love the flavour mustard brings to a dish, and this recipe is no exception. Great for a quick and easy weeknight meal, try it with some steamed green beans and plenty of lemon wedges for juicing.
- Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Beat the egg and the mustard together and season with salt and pepper.
- Set up a dredging station (one dish has flour, one dish for the egg/mustard mixture, one dish for the breadcrumbs).
- Coat each chicken thigh in flour, then transfer to the egg/mustard mixture to coat well. Finally, transfer to the breadcrumbs, pressing the chicken thigh firmly into the breadcrumbs to coat well. Transfer the breaded chicken thigh to a tray to await frying.
- Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium high heat. When hot, place two chicken thighs in the pan, cooking until golden brown on one side before carefully turning over. Finish cooking each thigh until an internal thermometer reads 160°F, approximately five minutes. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towel, then repeat with the rest of the chicken thighs.
Not all Christmases are full of Joy, as Graham has had to learn the hard way. He wanted to share his stories with you all this year, when we're all feeling a little less than jolly due to the pandemic, and getting used to the idea of smaller gatherings. It's a good reminder that, in the face of great adversity, life still goes on. Life has a fun way of toying with us, we just have to be okay with rolling with it.
by Graham Duncan
Christmas 2020 is probably going to be a bummer. I should know. I’m an expert on difficult Christmases. Don’t believe me? Feel free to join me on a bumpy ride down my broken candy cane memory lane of Recent Christmases Past. It ain’t pretty. But here’s a holiday thought for you; when you get a lot of coal in your stocking — light it up and watch it burn.
Ice Storm Christmas 2013
Toronto freezes up and there’s a blackout. I venture out into the wilds of Eastern Scarborough to care for my aging father who lives in a 9th floor apartment. It’s flashlights, blankets and a lot of stairs. After cooking meals on the balcony on a camp stove and sleeping on the floor, on Christmas Eve day, Emergency Services carry him all the way down. We retreat to my West End apartment which now has power. He immediately falls on the floor. Then on Christmas Day, stressed and exhausted, when I tell my brother that it is physically impossible to get my dad to the family Christmas dinner, a giant argument ensues. But at least we had a Sanagan’s Tourtiere in the freezer.
Stroke Christmas 2014
My brother — recurring theme alert — has had a stroke and is temporarily residing at Bridgepoint rehab centre. So, we transport the entire family Christmas — there’s nine of us, many brandishing canes or walkers — to the facility. I guess it sounds kind of heart-warming but, as the person in charge of cooking and transporting the entire Christmas dinner, it feels more like Operation Giblet Storm. And Bridgepoint had all the festive atmosphere of a Cold War bunker.
Stroke Christmas Part 2 2015
To the canes and walkers, now add a wheelchair. The only place that is accessible to all of us is my brother’s industrial workshop where he builds synthesizers. Nothing says Christmas like a rack of diodes. Also, my wife is out of town caring for her ailing mother. And then when dinner is all over I have to drive my dad back to Scarborough through a blizzard. Boxing Day, it’s me and the cat. Put a little eggnog in that rum.
Cancer Christmas 2017
After having my cancerous kidney removed in November, I remember almost nothing of this holiday season except I managed to go back to work just before the Holidays, gingerly hefting turkeys and inflicting scar viewings on my unsuspecting co-workers.
Care Home Christmas 2018
We’ve now unloaded dad into institutional care. The care home workers, bless them, provide some touching hospitality but there’s no avoiding the fact that the turkey is pressed, dad’s has been in the blender and we’re all in a “special” room, made festive with institutional fluorescent lighting and the loud hum of an adjacent transformer.
As I write this, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is laying it on with a trowel: Santa’s in lockdown but Walmart isn’t; I’m awaiting a date for my third cancer surgery; and we all wear masks all day at work. But you know what? Peter and company now feel so sorry for me, they’re giving me Christmas week off. Thank you Santa-gan’s!
The funny thing is, after all of this, I still look forward to Christmas morning. So remember, just when it looks like it’s going to be All Grinch and no Cindy Lou Who, keep on Christmasing and Happy Holidays.
photos and words by Graham Duncan
This holiday season, if you’re planning on visiting people, most likely those visits will be occurring outside. The last thing you’ll want is a frosty beer. For al fresco revellers, hot booze is good news. I’ve been knocking back the Hot Toddies since October and they’re a lifesaver.
Here’s a practical list of easy-to-make, yummy, cockle-warmers that will see you through the holidays and beyond.
Practical note — ditch the glassware. Mugs keep things warm, including your hands, and they will not crack due to extreme temperatures. Small mugs are best; this is no time for dilution! (See photo.) Pre-heating the mugs with a little hot water extends their precious life-giving warmth.
For all recipes, feel free to substitute one brown liquor for another (i.e. substitute brandy for whisky, rum for brandy etc.). Scotch in any of these recipes contributes a likeable peaty element. For “hot water” please use freshly boiled water from the kettle. All recipes make one cocktail, except for Kingsley Amis’ Hot Wine Punch, which makes enough for a longer outdoor hangout session.
Hot Buttered Rum (Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts)
scant tsp sugar
1 tbsp butter
2 oz amber or dark rum
as required hot water
pinch ground spices: nutmeg, clove, and/or cinnamon
- Dissolve sugar with a tbsp of hot water in mug.
- Add butter and rum.
- Fill mug with hot water and stir.
- Dust with ground spices.
Irish Coffee (Mr. Boston Guide)
1 1/2oz Irish whiskey
as required hot coffee
to taste sugar
one serving whipped cream
- Combine whiskey, coffee and sugar in mug.
- Top with dollop of whipped cream
Rum Flip (Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts)
1/2 tbsp sugar
2 oz amber or dark rum
- Beat together egg and sugar.
- Combine with rum in small saucepan and heat, stirring constantly. Do not boil.
- If you wish to obtain a frothy texture, like an old-time flip heated and stirred with a hot poker, pour your mixture back and forth from mug to mug until frothy.
- Dust with nutmeg.
Hot Toddy (Pierre Burton’s Centennial Food Guide)
2 oz brown liquor (whisky, brandy, rum)
1 tsp maple syrup or honey
1 tsp butter (very optional)
as required hot water
pinch mixed ground spices: nutmeg, clove, cinnamon and/or ginger
- Combine ingredients in mug with tbsp of hot water and stir together.
- Fill with hot water and stir.
- Dust with ground spices.
Hot Wine Punch (Kingsley Amis, Everyday Drinking)
750ml low-priced red wine
5 or 6 oz brown liquor, preferably brandy
to taste (optional) sugar
1 tbsp mixed ground spice; nutmeg, clove, cinnamon and/or ginger
as required hot water
- Slice fruit into sections.
- Heat all ingredients in saucepan, stirring occasionally, until the mix steams but does not boil.
- Transfer punch to any heat-proof vessel with a pouring spout. Fill mugs 2/3 full of punch and top with 1/3 of hot water
One of our meathawkers, Ian, has been delighting us in the shop recently with his amazing baked treats, made using some of the new grocery products we carry at Sanagan’s! I’ve been lucky enough to get a taste of these treats before they’re gone, and they are delicious. Ian shared three of his recipes with us, I hope you all get to enjoy them as well this holiday season!
All recipes and photos by Ian Hoffam
This classic shortbread is as easy as 1, 2, 4 (1 part sugar, 2 parts butter, 4 parts flour)! All you have to do is whisk the sugar and flour together, then cut in the butter using either a pastry cutter or a food processor (try not to use your hands, you want to keep the butter as cold as you can). Roll small handfuls quickly into 3/4-inch sized balls, pressing each down with a fork twice to create a classic cross-hatch pattern (They might look overly crumbly, but they’ll bake up just fine). Top with flaky sea salt. Bake 30 minutes at 300°F.
Walnut and Brown Butter Chocolate Chunk
These cookies are a fast favourite all year round! Start by browning the butter in a pan with tall sides, melting over low heat and swirling around to prevent burning/uneven browning. The butter will foam; continue swirling until foam subsides, the butter smells like toasted nuts, and the solids have turned a golden brown.
½ cup brown butter (see note above)
½ cup walnut oil
1 cup brown sugar (packed)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
¾ tsp kosher salt
200 gr dark chocolate, broken into small chunks
100 gr toasted walnuts, broken or left whole
to taste flaked sea salt
- In a work bowl, combine the brown butter with the walnut oil, then add the brown sugar and the granulated sugar. Then mix in 2 eggs, one at a time, followed by 2 tsp of vanilla.
- Add the all-purpose flour, baking soda, and kosher salt, and mix well to form a dough. Finally, the most important part: fold in the dark chocolate, broken into small chunks, and the toasted walnuts (I like to leave them whole, but you can chop them or break them up). Let the dough rest at room temperature for at least 1/2 hour, or longer in the fridge.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Cut a small piece of the dough, and shape into balls about the size of a ping pong ball. Gently press the cookie dough down on the baking sheet, just enough to form a flat surface. Sprinkle flaky sea salt on cookies, and bake 9-10 minutes in the hot oven. You should let them cool 15-20 minutes before eating, if they last that long!
These are a revived version of an old family favourite! Using lard as well as butter produces a cookie with a lighter, crumblier texture than you’d otherwise get. The chocolate dough gets its intense colour from both melted dark chocolate and black cocoa powder, available at your favourite bulk retailer. It gives them a slight Oreo flavour!
- In a work bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Put the dry mix in a food processor, then add the lard and butter. Mix together using the pulse function, until a crumbly dough is formed. Add the orange zest and liqueur, and pulse until mixed. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead lightly until a smooth dough is formed. Push down to create a disk, then wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm.
- In a work bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Put the dry mix in a food processor, then add the lard and butter. Mix together using the pulse function, until a crumbly dough is formed. Add the melted chocolate and pulse until mixed. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead lightly until a smooth dough is formed. Push down to create a disk, then wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm.
- Roll each disk of dough between sheets of plastic wrap or parchment paper into a 9x13 inch rectangle.
- Remove top layer of plastic/parchment from each sheet of dough. Place chocolate dough rectangle directly in front of you on the countertop, with the orange dough rectangle behind it. In one fluid motion, grasp the sheet beneath the orange dough and pull toward yourself to flip the rectangle over onto the chocolate dough. Roll away from yourself, jelly roll style, then refrigerate another 20-30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Slice dough log into cookies about 1cm thick, then bake on parchment paper for 11 minutes.
This is a great dish to serve on a cold winter’s night. The combination of chicken, cashew nut, and garam masala brings to mind a curry, but I’m not well-versed enough in Indian cuisine to claim it as such. The spices with the nuts are a lovely flavour combo that you will savour long after the meal is over. I like to serve this with steamed basmati rice and some stewed greens.
Serves four (with leftovers)
2 tbsp garlic, minced
2 tbsp ginger, minced
1 tbsp garam masala
pinch chili powder
1 tbsp salt
2 lbs chicken thighs, boneless and skinless (about 10-12 pieces)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup cashew nut
½ cup almond milk (or regular skim or homogenized milk will do)
- In a bowl, mix the garlic, ginger, garam masala, chili, and salt with the chicken thighs. Cover and marinate for at least four hours.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- On a baking tray, spread out the cashews. Roast in the oven until golden brown (about 10-15 minutes).
- Reserve 2 tbsp of nuts to use as garnish, and the rest place in a blender with the almond milk. Puree until creamy. Set aside.
- Add the vegetable oil to a large sauce pot over a high heat. When the oil is hot, sear the boneless chicken thighs until brown on both sides. Don't overcrowd the pan, as it could cause the meat to steam, when you want it to brown. Repeat until all the thighs are browned. Reduce the heat to a medium low, and add all of the legs back to the pot. Stir in the pureed cashew. If the cashew is very thick, add more almond milk to the pot until it is slightly saucy. Stir well, cover, and place in the oven to braise for 45 minutes, or until the chicken is almost falling apart.
- Stir in the whole roasted cashew pieces and serve.
Duck confit is a very easy dish that seems very difficult. This is a great time of year to make it, with holidays around the corner and all. “Confit” means to slowly cook a piece of meat, generally duck, goose, or pork, in its own fat until the muscles have tenderized. Basically, braising in fat. Which sounds rich, but because you are slowly cooking the meat, you are actually rendering out additional fat that is stored in the muscle, so the resulting dish isn’t unhealthy for you at all!
The ease of this dish comes from the fact that there is very little prep to do. You simply cure the legs overnight, then submerge the legs in melted fat and throw in the oven. Once cooked, the legs can keep for weeks in your fridge, as long as they are stored in the same fat they were cooked in. This recipe calls for ten legs, which will serve for at least two meals. Serve with sautéed potatoes and a vinegary salad.
Serves four (see recipe note)
- In a bowl, mix together the salt, sugar, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns, and thyme branches. Add the duck legs to the mixture and mix well. Cover and place in the fridge to cure for at least 12 hours, or overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 250°F.
- In a sauce pot over a medium low heat, melt the rendered duck fat. Brush the excess cure off of the legs. Arrange the legs in a deep casserole or pot so they are snug. Pour the melted duck fat over the legs, ensuring they are all submerged. Cover with a lid and place in the oven for 2.5 to 3 hours or until cooked***.
- Once cooked, cool the pot on the counter for a couple of hours. It can now be stored in the fridge, or finished.
- To finish, preheat the oven to 500°F.
- Line a large frying pan or skillet with parchment paper. Remove four legs from the fat (if taking from the fridge, do this carefully as the fat may make the leg hard to remove). Lay each leg, skin side down, on the parchment paper with a little of the cooking fat. Place the pan in the oven and roast until the skin is golden brown and crispy (about 10 to 15 minutes). Remove the legs from the pan and dry them on paper towel before serving.
***Note: To test if the legs are fully cooked after the confit process, remove a leg from the pot. Holding the drumstick at the knuckle, lightly press the thigh bone and the drumstick together. When the leg is fully cooked, the joint between the two bones will give slightly. If the joint is tough, cook the confit for a bit longer. If the leg falls apart, it is overcooked (which isn’t a problem at all, other than it looking a little messy).
By Graham Duncan
Photos by Graham Duncan
Does anyone remember Nouvelle Cuisine? Originating with a number of chefs in 1970’s France, it influenced restaurants throughout the industry. Nouvelle Cuisine emphasized fresh, quality ingredients, ornate presentation and lighter fare. It made for clean, distinct flavours, al dente vegetables, and occasionally finishing your dinner in need of a snack.
I asked Peter about Nouvelle Cuisine and he was, not surprisingly, well-versed. He brought in a massive stack of cookbooks and we decided I should get my Nouvelle on.
Nouvelle Quest Guided By Inspiring But Sometimes Vague Cookbook
From Peter’s library, Michel Bras’ Essential Cuisine seemed the most Nouvelle-y and ambitious. While published in 2002, it embodies many of the movement’s themes and exacting imperatives, as to be expected of a Three-Star chef. I decided to attempt two recipes from Essential Cuisine which combined the weird and the familiar.
Rump Roast Pan-fried with Crispy Fatback, Buckwheat Jus and Swiss Chard
The Rump Roast
The recipe describes a rump roast cut up into servings. We call these top sirloin steaks. If I’m going to cook a fancy steak dinner, admirable as a top sirloin may be, I’d opt for a more deluxe cut, like an Artisan Farms AAA strip loin (cut into two servings). And the pan-frying part? The grill was already going to be hot (see onions), so I cooked the steaks there as well. Hard to go wrong.
The Crispy Fatback
Steak — no problem. Crispy fatback, as portrayed in the cookbook photo, looked like playing cards, “standing on end so they catch the light”? I followed Bras’ scant instructions and ended up with delicious, stumpy pieces of crackling that were no more going to “catch the light” than they were going to catch a pop fly in centre field. I ate most of them while preparing the rest of dinner.
The Buckwheat Jus
This is a sauce to accompany the steak. In the recipe photo it appears as a luminous drizzle. After simmering the buckwheat, you sieve it, presumably to eliminate husks, resulting in a smooth base. Have you ever sieved porridge? This is why kitchens have apprentices. Combined with stock, onions and garlic, it tasted like health food stores smell. Even after trying to enliven it with concentrated stock it was about as luminous as burlap. Jus can’t always get what you want.
The Swiss Chard
Other than: separating the leaves from the stems; removing the fibres; splitting the stems; cooking them separately; chilling in ice water; and sautéing, again separately, with butter and shallots, this was a breeze. And delicious! But that may have had something to do with the rather un-Nouvelle-like half pound of butter.
The Swiss chard was delectable. The fatback can probably be mastered but the buckwheat jus and I will never see eye to eye. Oh, and the steak was excellent. Whadya expect? It’s from Sanagan’s.
Roasted Sweet Onions with “Licorice Powder” and Vinaigrette au Jus
You’re supposed to roast the onions nestled in a pan of rock salt but that’s a lot of rock salt for just one dish. So, I slow roasted our beautiful Cookstown organic sweet onions on the gas grill; a successful adaptation.
Dry black olives overnight in the oven. Chop into a powder. Combine with demerara sugar and almond powder and you’ve got a wonderful licorice-y garnish. Dusted over top of the roasted onions, this is the sort of infatuating culinary alchemy I was hoping for.
Vinaigrette Au Jus
Red wine vinegar, grape seed oil (exceedingly clean and mild) and “short pigeon jus”. What is short pigeon jus, you may ask? A short jus is a concentrated, almost demi-glace-like reduction of regular stock a.k.a. long jus. Now, the long and short of it is, that even at Sanagan’s we don’t have that much pigeon carcass laying around for stock. So, at Peter’s suggestion, I made 2 litres of long duck jus, which was enriched and reduced into less than a cup of short duck jus, two tablespoons of which were added to the vinaigrette. Crazy! But the result was worth it. You know when you’re at some great restaurant and you say, happily, “We’d never have this at home”? That’s where we were with the vinaigrette au jus.
The disappointments of the fatback and the buckwheat jus were overcome by this dish. It’s definitely the most original thing I’ve cooked and one of the most delicious.
The Nouvelle Takeaway
You stand up, you walk, you fall, you stand up and walk again. My Nouvelle adventure taught me a few new tricks and re-awakened my appetite for experimenting in the kitchen. Now, if you see me out in Bellevue Park with a net, you’ll know that I’m working on my short pigeon jus.