I am completely and unhealthily obsessed with food and drink. I think about what I will make for dinner the next day while lying awake in bed. I couldn’t sleep for nearly three hours one night when I was trying to determine what Pacific Northwest cuisine is. I know we must have a unique food culture, but defining that culture is a challenge, especially when the clock reads 2:00 AM and your alarm wakes you at 6:00 AM.
I love where I live. This region of the world offers easy access to exceptional seafood, an abundance of local produce and some of the greatest brewers in the world live within a day’s drive of Vancouver.
I thought I would put together a list of my favourite local dishes, recipes included, paired with beer. I use local quite loosely as the 100 mile diet is too strict and is simply unreasonable. Growing wheat or barley in the Fraser Valley makes little to no sense.
Some of the best mussels come from Salt Spring Island. My local fish monger, 1 Fish 2 Fish which is hands down the best food shop in Langley, offers these delicious bivalves when in season (year round excluding March and April). From my experience mussels need very little in the way of cooking – less is more. Here is what I consider to be the greatest way to prepare mussels:
- Finely dice one large shallot or two small shallots and sauté in a pan with olive oil until translucent
- Finely dice two ripe medium sized or one large tomato until almost a puree and add to the pan – cook for a minute or two
- Add white wine and reduce until it just begins to become syrupy (beer just doesn’t reduce as well as wine – sorry)
- Add mussels and cover the pan – one pound per person for a meal size portion works best.
- After 3-4 minutes (all cook books say 6-8 minutes, but I think they are wrong) uncover the pan, remove all mussels that have opened and put them aside, after one more minute throw away any unopened mussels.
- Reduce the mussel broth, with the mussels out of the pan. Once reduced toss the mussels back in the broth and finish with some roughly chopped parsley or any fresh tasting herb.
For the frites, I find Joel Robuchon’s method works quite well and is dead easy:
- Cut the fries - Yukon Gold is a good all around potato to use
- Place the fries in a pot with high sides
- Cover fries with frying oil
- Heat oil until 360 degrees F – the fries are now ready
- Remove fries and season with salt, enjoy.
Despite the reduced white wine in the broth, beer is still the ultimate partner for this dish. Any flavorful beer will work. An Oude Geuze is a traditional match, but any assertive Belgian ale will also do quite nicely.
Pizza may not be local, but all of the toppings certainly are – it also happens to be one of my favourite things to eat.
Making a good pizza is not that difficult, but making a great pizza is a bit more of a challenge. There is no single recipe to follow to make great pizza. Pizza is more of a philosophy and set of rough guidelines than a recipe. I am nowhere near perfecting pizza, but here are a few tips I have learned along the way:
- Pizza toppings should always be local – fresh produce shipped long distances loses flavor fast.
- It is better to under top than over top.
- Pizza without tomato sauce is just fine
- Making tomato sauce from scratch is the best. Tomatoes from a grocery store are almost always picked when they are green and therefore taste a whole lot like water. Canned tomatoes on the other hand are picked when they are ripe and have more flavor. Use caned tomatoes. San Marzanos are the best, but they may be hard to find.
- Cheese does not have to be grated, it can be torn up by hand and tossed onto the pizza
- The faster a dough proofs, the worse it tastes - use a yeast that is slow rising, brewers yeast is my favourite
- Kneed the dough for more time than you may think is necessary, dough needs a lot of love.
- People who base the quality of the pizza by the thinness of the crust are fools -I was once one of these fools. Yes, a thin crust is delicious, but thinness is not the number one goal.
- Pizza needs to be cooked hot and fast. Many recipes say to put pizza on a stone in the bottom of an oven. I think this is wrong. The top of an oven is hotter – heat rises. I recently switch to the top of the oven approach and the results are superior.
- Hand tossing pizza is fun, but usually results in a mess. I try to hand toss all my pizza, despite how terrible I am at it.
Depending on the toppings, pizza pairs excellently with a spicy pilsner, pale ale, or even an IPA if the toppings are assertive enough. I find dark beers aren’t the best choice with pizza, but I could easily be proven wrong.
Fish & Chips
Our ocean is filled with wonderful fish, but don’t be fooled into buying the most expensive fish. Halibut may be delicious, but it is twice the price of snapper and is an inferior fish when it comes to battering and frying.
In my humble opinion the best batters are thin and crispy – I am not a fan of a thick eggy batter. Mixing cornstarch and flour together in a one to one ratio with a pinch of salt and enough beer to bring the mixture to the consistency of heavy cream has always work excellently for me.
For the chips, I wouldn’t suggest Joel Robuchon’s method – chips are a different beast than frites. I am not a fry master, but the best results have come with an initial poach/fry in oil around 260 – 300 F for 5-6 minutes. Remove the chips and bring the oil to 360 F and fry the chips again in the hot oil until golden.
The key to frying is managing oil temperate, too hot and food will burn, t0o cool and food will become soggy with grease. 360 F is a good frying temperate.
A good ESB works wonderfully with fish and chips – cask ale would be ideal. Any beer with caramel malt included in the grain bill would work well.
Wild Game Ragu
One of my close friends is a hunter and regularly provides me with quality venison. I believe beer is truly at its best when matched with the intensity of wild game. Ragu is nothing more than an Italian stew served with pasta, gnocchi or polenta and is the perfect meal to ejoy in the fall when hunting season begins
Here is the general recipe I tend to follow when making a venison ragu:
- Sauté lardons (French for bacon chopped into match stick sizes) in a pan until crisp and all the fat is rendered out of the bacon.
- Remove the bacon and leave the fat in the pan – don’t even think about removing any of this glorious animal fat, game has almost no fat and needs a bit of pork fat for lubrication. The bacon can be added back to the ragu at the end of cooking.
- Cube 1 pound of venison into one inch pieces and brown aggressively, remove all venison once browned
- Finely dice one large onion, one celery stock and one carrot and add to the pan, this should deglaze the pan a bit
- Add around a ¼ cup of tomato paste, more if you like tomatoes, less if you don’t.
- Add about a cup of stock (chicken, beef, vegetable)
- Add about a cup of red wine. If the venison is not completely covered by liquid add more wine.
- Cover with a lid and simmer for 3-4 hours or place in the oven for 3-4 hours at around 250 F.
- The venison should now be tender.
- If sauce hasn’t reduced enough, reduce stock on the stove top.
- Cool the ragu and place in the fridge overnight – ragu is best the next day, trust me.
- Before reheating on a stove top, shred the venison with a fork
- Once heated through serve the ragu with your starch of choice, pappardelle is my choice.
A Brown Belgian Ale would work nicely with this ragu. A Dubbel or even Biere de Garde would also work. A big tasting beer with some spicy yeast flavour is ideal for this meal. A big Cabernet Sauvignon would also be delicious.