North Fork Chef: Enjoying Canadian fish and shellfish

O Canada! Our home and native land! True patriot love in all thy sons command. With glowing hearts we see thee rise, the true North strong and free! … From far and wide, O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
Excerpt from the
Canadian national anthem

Although I’ve lived on the North Fork for most of my life, I was born in Canada and have a warm spot in my heart for our Canadian neighbor. On a recent visit to Ontario, to my home town of Chatham, I found much in common with the North Fork: the rural landscape on Lake Erie with lots of farming of fruits and vegetables; the nearby freshwater fish of Lake Erie and the not-far-away fish and shellfish of the Atlantic Ocean; the local wines from the Niagara Peninsula and the regions along the shore of Lake Erie; and finally, the near proximity of Toronto and other population centers to provide consumers of the local produce.
The popular local freshwater fish include Great Lakes perch, pickerel and pike. They are sort of like our flounder in that they are a prized local product that is available, but not in great abundance.
Much of the fresh Atlantic seafood we eat on the North Fork actually comes from Canada. We are all familiar with Prince Edward Island mussels or Nova Scotia farmed salmon, but we are not often aware that a large percentage of our live “Maine” lobsters, fresh harpoon-landed swordfish and white-fleshed halibut also come from the northern waters of Canada. As wild supplies of our local fish have dwindled in quantity and become more expensive, we rely on steady supplies of fresh seafood from Canada to round out our seafood menu and get us through the season. Here are some recipes for these delicious products:

Poached Halibut with Leeks,
Shallots, Snap Peas and Mussels
Purchase 1 pound of halibut, about 2 inches thick, and 1 pound of Prince Edward Island mussels. Melt 4 tablespoons unsalted butter in a shallow soup pot and add 1 chopped leek (white part only), 1/4 cup minced shallots, 1 tablespoon minced garlic and 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley. Cook, covered, at low heat until vegetables soften.
Cut the halibut into 4 thick chunks and place on top of the vegetables. Add 1/2 cup sauvignon blanc and the rinsed mussels. Raise the heat to medium and bring to a boil. Season with freshly ground pepper and 1 teaspoon sea salt. Add 2 cups sugar snap peas (or green beans), cover and cook until the mussels begin to open and the fish turns opaque. Add 1/2 cup heavy cream and 1 tablespoon fresh thyme and continue cooking until fish is fully cooked and mussels are open.
Serve over brown rice and garnish with lemon and chopped parsley.
Serves 4.

Sautéed Perch with Corn Sauce
Purchase 2 pounds of perch fillets. Dip them in 1/2 cup buttermilk and roll them in 1 cup cornmeal. Season with coarse salt and pepper and set aside.
Scrape the kernels off 4 ears of corn and sauté them in 2 tablespoons unsalted butter with 1/4 cup shallots, 1 teaspoon fresh thyme and the juice and zest of 1 lemon. Place half of this mixture in a food processor and purée. Add the purée back to the kernels in the pan and season with 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
Heat a large sauté pan and add 3 tablespoons canola oil. When shimmering hot, sauté the perch fillets until golden, about 3 minutes per side. Place the corn sauce on 4 plates and the sautéed fish on top. Serve with steamed kale and pan-roasted fingerling potatoes.
Serves 4.

Cedar Planked Canadian Salmon with Maple Glaze
Soak 4 cedar cooking planks — available in fish stores or gourmet cooking shops — in water for at least 30 minutes. Cut 2 pounds of fresh Nova Scotia farmed salmon into 4 portions. Prepare a marinade of 1/2 cup pure maple syrup, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1 tablespoon minced garlic and the juice and zest of 1 lemon. Marinate from 30 minutes up to 2 hours.
While the fish is marinating, boil 4 Yukon Gold potatoes in their skins until tender. Cool briefly and peel off the skin. Push the peeled potatoes through a ricer and finish with 2 tablespoons butter, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Add 1/4 cup milk to thin the potatoes out. Place them in a pastry bag or an improvised one made from parchment paper.
Remove the planks from the water and spray with no-stick. Place the marinated salmon on the planks and brush with marinade. Pipe the mashed potatoes around the salmon on the edges of the plank. Put the planks in a covered char-grill, but not directly over the coals. Cover and cook until the salmon is opaque, about 15 minutes. While the planks are cooking, in a saucepan reduce the marinade to a glaze and serve with the salmon.
Serves 4.

Butter-Poached Canadian Lobster with New Potatoes
In a large soup pot, heat 2 quarts of water to boiling. Add the juice of 1 lemon and two 1 1/4-pound live lobsters. Turn off the heat, cover and steep the lobsters for 5 minutes.
Remove lobsters from the water and rinse under cold water. Twist off the tails and cut through the membrane with scissors to remove the tail meat intact. Break off the claws and crack them with the back of a chef’s knife. Remove the partially cooked meat, using a paring knife if necessary. Save the bodies to make lobster bisque.
In a large, shallow saucepan, bring 2 tablespoons water to a boil and whisk in 4 ounces cold butter, cut into chunks. This will form an emulsion. Continue to whisk in cold butter at medium heat until you have used a total of 3/4 pound of unsalted butter. Do not let it boil.
Cut the lobster into 2-inch chunks and place chunks in the butter sauce along with 1/2 pound of small, unpeeled, sliced new or fingerling potatoes. Add 2 ears of very fresh corn on the cob that have been broken in half. Cover and simmer at low heat until the lobster is just cooked, about 4 minutes, and remove lobster. Continue cooking the potatoes and corn at low heat for another 10 minutes.
Serve the lobster in small bowls or ramekins and ladle the butter sauce over it. Surround the lobster with the potatoes, corn and fresh green beans.
Serves 4.
Note: This recipe was made famous by Thomas Keller of The French Laundry.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: [email protected].