There’s so much to look forward to come spring – fresh herbs, fully stocked farmers’ markets, and a diet not so reliant on parsnips and potatoes.

Food-wise, most of us associate spring with all things green: arugula, asparagus, chives, spinach, and peas. But almost every chef will tell you that proteins are the star of every dish, no matter what time of year it is. This month, we asked four local chefs all about spring proteins, and picked up some tasty tips for Easter dinner along the way!

Spring is the season Anthony Pittoello, chef at Modern Steak on Stephen Avenue in Calgary, most looks forward to. It’s a time of resurgence for plants and animals, which he says means access to a lot more menu options for chefs, like lamb, salmon, and salsa verde steaks.

“Spring is actually a favourite time of year for me,” Pittoello says. “There are still some cold evenings, so a dish like slow-braised short ribs is still relevant, but the warmer days are also starting to show up, so a nice grilled lamb rack or ribeye are great options as well.”

For Pittoello, spring is a time to experiment in the kitchen. But when it comes to Easter dinner, he can’t help sticking to tradition and serves up a crispy ham glistening in his signature blueberry balsamic glaze.

If you’re also one for tradition, try Pittoello’s recipe for another Easter favourite, grilled rack of lamb with chimichurri!

With this year’s polar vortex now in our rear view, those like Dylan Prins, the new chef at Red Ox Inn in Edmonton, can’t wait to work with the array of fresh ingredients that only emerge come spring. While herbs and vegetables always seem to be at the forefront, Prins says proteins are equally important pieces of spring menus, too.

“It’s easy to forget that with the way supply chains work, proteins are part of seasonality,” he says. “For example, it doesn’t make sense to eat traditional autumn meats like goose in the spring. Proteins that really shine in the springtime are things like rabbit, frog, and chicken.”

If you’re cooking for a crowd, frog might not be for everyone. So on special occasions like Easter, Prins says to go for a roasted turkey, a dish most of us probably won’t see again until fall. His biggest tip is to brine your turkey in a five percent sugar and salt solution (and whatever aromatics you fancy), and let it sit overnight. Brining not only seasons your meat, but will add a ton of moisture — there’s nothing worse than a dry piece of turkey.

Since we are talking about spring after all, try Prins’ recipe for roasted asparagus and buttermilk dressing, the perfect accompaniment for any spring protein!

There is one spring protein that stands out from all the rest, says John Forsythe, chef at Yakima Social Kitchen + Bar in Calgary, and we agree. Tender and mild, lamb is the spring protein. Lamb can be tricky to cook, but Forsythe has it down to a science that any home cook can understand.

An easy method — one he picked up from a chef in Australia — is grilling a butterflied leg of lamb on the barbecue. The first step is to marinate the lamb overnight in olive oil, lemon, garlic, onion, oregano, bay leaves, and crushed black pepper. Crucial to the marinade is not adding salt; Forsythe says to be very generous with salt when it comes time to grill, but doing so beforehand will dry out the meat.   

“Cook it to a solid medium rare, slice, and then cover it with sautéed tomatoes, olives, and spinach. It’s almost like a hot Greek salad,” he says. “It’s one of my favourite springtime dishes, there’s virtually nothing better.”

Equally delicious and perfect on the barbecue or in the oven, is Forsythe’s recipe for Grilled Flank Steak. He says it’s great for soft shell tacos or on its own with a chimichurri sauce and a bit of Fleur de Sel garnish.

Leg of lamb is also a spring favourite of Spencer Thompson’s, chef at The Marc in Edmonton. Wanting a change from the traditional ham and turkey Easter dinners he grew up with, Thompson switched it up to roasted lamb rubbed in all the flavours of spring: mint, parsley, lavender, mustard, and garlic.

“If you can cook a roast beef, you can pull off a roasted leg of lamb,” he says. “It’s slightly cheaper than a rack of lamb, easy to make, and it’s a showstopper — my family loves it.”

Another great group share Thompson loves to make when the warm weather hits, is a spatchcocked, or butterflied, chicken topped with a fresh, zesty salsa verde. Paying homage to the prairies, he recommends using local cold-pressed canola oil to really amp up the flavour.   

Whether it’s for Easter dinner or just for fun, Thompson’s recipe for spatchcocked Cornish hen with salsa verde is guaranteed to be a crowd pleaser!

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