We asked Chef Andrew Moore of Ox and Angela and Chef Jenny Chan of Vero Bistro for their tips on finding and cooking fresh seafood.
Photo by Ingrid Kuenzel
Living in landlocked Alberta, seafood is not always top of mind when you’re planning what to cook for dinner. Here are a few great tips from two Calgary chefs that cover finding fresh seafood and – most importantly – cooking it properly, because it’s ok to leave our beautiful Alberta beef on the shelf every now and again.
Chef Andrew Moore, Ox and Angela
Ask any chef about procuring quality fish and there is a good chance their answer will be, “Use whatever is fresh!” However, that is easier said than done if you have no idea what “fresh” looks like.
Chef Moore suggests starting as close to the source as possible by heading to a fishmonger or farmer’s market, and has a couple of key points to be on the lookout for. First of all, seafood should smell fresh, without the presence of any stinky, fishy odours. When buying whole fish, look for “clear eyes and bright gills” says Moore. Fillets are a bit trickier, but they should still be firm, have substance to them and not be slimy. Let’s face it; there are very few ingredients that are “slimy” and “pleasant” at the same time.
As for the type of seafood, Moore opts for pickerel or lake trout, as they are caught closer to Calgary and are typically fresher than ocean-fished varieties.
If you get your hands on awhole trout, try stuffing it with aromatics such as lemon and herbs, tying it up, seasoning it with salt and olive oil, and cooking it on the barbeque. Just make sure that your grill is clean, and most importantly, Moore emphasizes to leave the fish until it is cooked, otherwise it will stick! It will let you know that it is ready to flip when it naturally starts to lift away from the grill.
At Ox and Angela they do a similar stuffed fish presentation, using sardines instead of trout. Chef Moore describes sardines as “stronger in flavour – as in actually having flavour” when compared with some other types of fish. “Not to mention they are quite inexpensive so even if you try them and don’t like them, you are hardly out any money.”
Either way, summer is the perfect time to fire up the barbeque and do some taste testing! (Photo by Mallory Frayn)
Chef Jenny Chan, Vero Bistro
Chef Chan has travelled across the globe, and nowhere is that more apparent than on her restaurant menu. Originally from Hong Kong, Chan learned from a very early age how important it is to not to overcook fish. She prefers to cook it to about 60% done and then allows carryover cooking to finish it. That way it is perfectly cooked by the time it gets to the table.
At Vero Bistro they have a signature salmon dish that is pan seared on the skin side only and then finished in the oven, so that the top steams while the bottom remains nice and crispy. It also helps the delicate fish retain its integrity, as you are not flipping it.
Vero are also known for their seafood tower – a massive array of mussels, clams, prawns, scallops, lobster, crab, calamari and whatever fish is freshest (these days it is wild salmon and halibut). When asked how to replicate the impressive crowd-pleaser at home, Chef Chan says that using plenty of different cooking methods is key. You can steam the clams and mussels, sear the scallops, poach the lobster and grill the fish all at the same time. That way you don’t end up with mussels that are raw and unopened while your shrimp have turned to rubber. Be sure to save all the sauces and broths from cooking the seafood too, as they are packed with as much, if not more, concentrated flavour than the fish itself. Chan suggests tossing the leftover liquids with pasta to make yet another meal out of it.
The tips to preparing and cooking seafood are about as endless as the varieties to choose from. Jenny is constantly sharing her knowledge with her customers, teaching them to strain scallops overnight to rid them of excess moisture and ensure that a golden crust develops when you sear them, or soak calamari in buttermilk to tenderize it prior to frying.
When it comes to her Venetian Seafood Stew, chocked full of clams, mussels, crab legs and a massive lobster claw, she is adamant that everything is as close to the same size as possible so that it cooks evenly. After all, if there is one thing that both of these chefs preach; don’t ruin quality – and expensive – seafood by overcooking it. (Photo by Ingrid Kuenzel)
Vero Bistro’s Venetian Seafood Stew
3 celery stalks, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 bay leaves
3/4 jar Passata tomato puree
1 can diced tomatoes
1 cup (240 mL) white wine
1 Kg clams
450 g shrimp
675 g halibut
450 g crab legs
1 Kg mussels
A pinch of chilli flakes
To taste salt and pepper
Chopped parsley, to garnish
6 slices of toasted baguette
1. Sauté the first five ingredients for 15 minutes, until the vegetables are translucent and softened.
2. Add the Passata tomato puree, diced tomatoes and wine, and simmer for another 20 minutes. Add clams and simmer 3 – 4 minutes.
3. Add remaining seafood, plus a pinch of chilli flakes, then simmer for 5 – 6 minutes more.
4. Serve immediately, garnished with chopped parsley and toasted baguette to soak up all of the broth.