From the River to the Gulf

This section focuses on seafood dishes.

Calamari, Squid Ink and Tomatoes

Calamari, squid ink, basil and tomatoes


It’s unreasonably hard to locate squid ink in the Greater Toronto Area. We spent a few days calling a few dozen specialty and gourmet food stores trying to locate some squid ink for this recipe. After this frustration, we decided to go the route of harvesting the ink ourselves from the fresh squids we ended up finding at the our local Asian foods market. The recipe began with some beautiful fresh local tomatoes, basil and garlic from our farmers market.


Don’t worry, the tomatoes didn’t grow multicolored on one vine, we just put them together to make the image look less busy! The tomatoes were quickly blanched in boiling water for a few seconds then plunged into an ice bath and peeled.


These were then diced, and placed in a saucepan to simmer with basil, garlic and olive oil until slightly reduced. We then turned our attention to the fun ingredient of this recipe–the squid. This process was not very complicated, and I had fun taking it apart. Melissa, on the other hand, had a hard time staying in the room to take pictures. The process was as follows:

I rinsed the squid under running water for a few minutes until clean.


The tentacles and head were removed from the body, while being careful not to rupture the ink sac and placed in a bowl of cold water.

The spine was pulled out from the body (this looks surprisingly like plastic, I was shocked!).


I then peeled the reddish/purple skin from the squid to reveal the nice glossy white meat underneath.

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(This is where things get a little messy!)

The tentacles were separated from the head right under the eyes, while being careful to not puncture one of the small ink sacs located behind the eyes.


At this point we couldn’t avoid it any longer, it was time to extract some squid ink. The ink sac was actually larger than we thought it would be for this size of the squid. It had a shiny blue exterior, and felt hard and filled with ink of a play-dough like consistency.


After some research online, we decided it was best to harvest the ink into a half and half mixture of white vinegar and water as the help dissolve the crystalline ink.

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After this was finished, I sliced up the bodies and tentacles and lightly fried them in a pan. In hindsight, I think I cut the calamari rings a little thick–noted for next time!

I then added some of the harvested squid ink to the cooked calamari and mixed it to coat the white meat in a bowl.

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Plating this recipe was quick and simple. We placed some of the “tomato stew” into a shallow dish and topped it with the cooked and coated calamari.

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The resulting dish was visually stunning! I definitely overcooked the calamari, but otherwise the combination of flavours was nice. The tomato component was delicious, I would eat this part on its own or make it as a side dish with dinner.

After we finished the recipe, we did some research online and learned that the squid ink had the strange consistency it did because of the age of the squid. If I were to try this again, I would use a younger and fresher squid!

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Mock Smoked Salmon

Mesquite wood, salmon, sour cream, potato


The mock smoked salmon recipe posed a new challenge for us–usually the main challenges are sourcing the ingredients and finding the time to get all the cooking done while frequently stopping to photograph the steps. The sourcing for this recipe was actually not the challenging part. We just needed: potatoes, wood chips, salmon, sour cream, chives, and butter.  For this recipe, the biggest challenge we encountered was troubleshooting how to cold smoke in our tiny apartment. Our building has a rule that bans the use of barbecues and surely a steady stream of smoke coming from our balcony would raise suspicion! We therefore decided to do the far more risky option of setting a controlled fire in our kitchen. (Don’t worry, we had all 3 of our fire extinguishers on hand in the likely event of a less-than-controlled fire in our kitchen!)

The recipe started easily enough. We made some clarified butter using an online tutorial, mandolined potatoes and soaked them in the clarified butter.


We then placed the potatoes neatly on a silicon mat, covered it with parchment paper and weighted it down with another pan.


Since the potatoes required 2+ hours in the oven, we turned our attention to the salmon. The salmon in this recipe is not actually smoked, it is instead cured with a salt and sugar mixture for 24 hours then combined with smoked sour cream–a really interesting way to integrate the flavour of the smoke, if you ask me!


We grated lemon zest onto the fish, then had some fun playing around with the camera. We bought the camera specifically for the blog, and had never done photography before. We are getting relatively good at taking pictures of stationary food, but capturing a shot of us sprinkling curing mixture onto the salmon was a challenge. We are not 100% happy with the picture, but we tried to do something different, and learned a lot in the process (expect some expert action shots next time!).


With the potato chips baking and the salmon curing, it was time to start some fire! We did some research on how to cold smoke foods, but none of the websites we came across gave us clear instructions on how to accomplish this indoors without putting our security deposit in danger. We ended up filling some aluminium foil with mesquite wood chips in the bottom of a cast iron wok, lighting them with a butane torch and hoping for the best!



This technique gave us some smoke, but the wood chips quickly cooled down and stop smoking, especially when the wok was covered. We eventually resolved this problem by setting the entire apparatus on a hot stove top.

As we wanted to cold smoke the sour cream, we placed an old baking pan on top of the wood chips, filled it with ice cubes, and placed the bowl whose interior was covered with sour cream on top.


With the added heat of the stove on maximum and the super hot cast iron, we managed to get some great smoke. Again, we had the reassurance of having three fire extinguishers nearby, all windows and doors open, and an industrial fan blowing smoke out the kitchen window–attempt this at your own risk!


I was shocked and amazed at how much of the smoky flavour was infused into the sour cream! The cold smoking technique gave it a really strong smoky taste without changing the consistency–if I’m feeling lucky I’ll try this again with other foods.

By the time we were done smoking the sour cream, the potato chips were finally done. They took about 3 hours to become perfectly crisp and almost transparent, and tasted nicely of butter and roasted potato. This was a lot more time than the recipe asked for, but we’ll chalk this one up to our apartment stove being slightly less powerful than a commercial oven.



After the chips were done, we called it a day! The salmon had to cure for 24 hours (we didn’t plan for this, oops!) so we packed the potato chips in an airtight container and sealed and refrigerated the smoked cream until the next day.

The following day, we took the salmon out of the fridge and rinsed it of its cure. The salmon looked and smelled incredible–it had a strong lemon scent, a deep salmon colour, and had an almost transparent look to it!


The final dish was assembled on a custom wood stand that we made for this dish from leftover wood from the white oak slab table we are building.


I really, really enjoyed this dish! I think I must have eaten at least a dozen of these one after the other. When assembled, it tastes exactly like smoked salmon, but the salmon has (in my opinion) a nicer texture. This would make for a great appetizer for a dinner party since it can be made ahead of time, while retaining its full flavour and textures. These are sure to impress your guests!


Burnt Confit Mackerel

Mackerel, maple, miso and sriracha


We started with recipes that would have easily sourced ingredients–right now it is winter and a lot of the produce we’d like to source aren’t locally available. So we’ve done yet again another fish dish! Summer is quickly approaching, though, and we are looking forward to the local fruits and vegetables that will start showing up at the farmers market over the next few months.

Melissa had the option of having the fishmonger clean the mackerel for me, but I asked her to get the fish uncleaned so I could practice filleting the fish.


After cleaning and splitting the fish into fillets, the next step was the remove the pin bones. I had never cooked or filleted a mackerel before–I assumed it would be the same as most other fish. To my surprise, the bones looked more like a red-colored plug. After a quick trip to the kitchen store to get some boning tweezers, I carefully removed each of the bones. It was weird because each fillet appeared to be divided into two since the bones ran all the way down the side of the fish… I’d never seen this before, apparently this a side spine of pin bones?

Regardless, the fillet turned out nicely. I cured them with salt and sugar for an hour in the fridge. I was glad that this recipe required curing the fish–the process of gutting, filleting, pin boning and photographing meant that the fish had been out at room temperature for quite a while.

Next, the fish was washed of its cure and brushed in olive oil and maple syrup and allowed to rest and come to room temperature while the oven preheated.

Both fillets were cooked until they were nice and flaky, then flipped and broiled for a few minutes to get the skin as crispy as possible. I did this in lieu of having a culinary torch. The broiling method didn’t really work; all it seemed to do was create air pockets that lifted the skin away from the flesh. However, we are now the proud owners of a culinary torch and 3 fire extinguishers. Next time, we’ll see if we can use the torch without setting a fire!


I then sliced and plated the fillets with sriracha sauce and miso. The aforementioned issue with the lifted skin made the slicing very difficult, but I don’t think it impacted the flavours of the dish at all (which were fantastic!).


It was my first time trying miso. It has a strong flavour that takes some getting used to, but in combination with the spicy sriracha and the strong fishy flavour, everything in this dish seemed to be excellently balanced! I’ll definitely be making this one again (using my new fire-starter)!

Daikon Rolls with Marinated Salmon

Three varieties of radish, cured salmon, avocado and pickled vegetables.

Final Presentation (1 of 1)

We chose to make this dish because it looked challenging to plate. Three little sushi-type rolls stuffed with salmon and radish standing on a plate–that should be a challenge.

This dish started with a trip to the farmers market looking for Daikon radish. After speaking with a few vendors, we ascertained that finding Daikon radish at our farmer’s market seemed unlikely as it is not in season. Just in case we couldn’t find any Daikon radishes, we picked up these interesting-looking local black radishes.

Black Radish (1 of 1)

Imagine a black wrapped roll with salmon and vegetables; the contrast of black radish, pink salmon and green onion would have made a beautiful dish. Wishful thinking…

We ended up finding the elusive Daikon radish at an international food market (for other radish hunters, also known as “white radish”). We also picked up a small kohlrabi to give us some options when building the dish.

We brought everything home, set-up the camera equipment and got started. Surprisingly, this dish did not need much actual cooking–the main focus for us was to carefully plate the finished product with as much elegance as possible.

The first steps involved curing the salmon with a salt and sugar mix and making a quick pickling liquid for the julienned Daikon radish and carrots.

Pickles (1 of 1)

We also prepared an avocado purée, and lemon mayonnaise. With all the components prepared and assembled, we started peeled the radishes and kohlrabi. We started peeling the black radish only to find disappointment inside. The black radish was actually white on the inside… who knew! We thinly sliced these with a mandolin.

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To compare, here are the other slices of radish/kohlrabi.

Daikon Slice (1 of 1)

Daikon radish

Kohlrabi Slice (1 of 1)

Kohlrabi (Actually not a radish at all, it’s from the cabbage family)

Assembling the rolls was much like making sushi. The biggest challenge we faced was placing just the right amount of the components inside that would still allow for them to be rolled up tightly. Also, we had a little trouble shaping the rolls that used kohlrabi or black radish so that they would stand up on a plate. Of the three types of wraps, the Daikon radish was by far the easiest to stand due to its perfect rectangular shape–the black radish’s circular shape was difficult to seal to keep the salmon from falling out and the kohlrabi when sliced thinly (in addition to also having a ridiculous oblong shape) had a number of holes which leaked avocado purée and lemon mayonnaise.  It wasn’t easy and it took some practice. The assembling went something along these lines:

  1. Obtain radish/kohlrabi slice
  2. Add avocado purée, lemon mayonnaise and Dijon mustard
  3. Add pickled vegetables and thin strips of green onion
  4. Garnish with sesame seeds
  5. Roll and stand up on a plate
  6. Roll broke open or tipped over
  7. Eat it!
  8. Repeat

I have to say that it was the most delicious trial and error process I’ve ever experienced!

Eating Daikon Roll (1 of 1)

The radish wrap is fresher and more crunchy than a typical seaweed sushi wrap, and the cured salmon, avocado purée, lemon mayonnaise, Dijon mustard and pickled vegetables was the perfect contrast of textures and flavours!

Plated Dish Table (1 of 1)

Confit Salmon Head

Cured Ontario salmon head, Abitibi maple syrup and various herbs.

Eating Salmon Head (1 of 1)

We are excited to have finally undertaken our first recipe of this project! We flipped through this cookbook a number of times before determining that one of the fish recipes would be a good start–in part because they feature easily sourced ingredients and in part because the recipes are a little less complex (compared to the rest of the recipes). We wanted the first recipe to be both challenging to cook  and challenging to photograph–because hey, if you’re going to start a food blog, you should be able to make fish head look good on a plate!

Photography is very new to us, we bought our first DSLR for this project, so look for picture quality to improve as we progress through the book.

We sourced a beautiful salmon head from the local farmer’s market, the fishmonger was nice enough to split it in half for us. We were also able to find all of the necessary herbs for this dish at our farmer’s market–which is surprising given that it’s March right now.

This first step to this recipe involved curing of the head with salt and sugar.

Curing Salt and Sugar

Once preserved, the salmon head was washed to remove the excess cure and patted dry. The fish was drizzled with olive oil and maple syrup from Northern Quebec (Amos) and then baked in the oven. While the salmon head was baking, we blended together a pesto type sauce (referred to as herbalicious in the book) using local herbs and lemon zest.

Eating Salmon Head

What we didn’t realize at the start of the day was how much time it would take to make this dish…

Step 1. Visit the farmers market for fresh salmon and herbs.
Step 2. Set-up camera equipment, tripod, lights and lightbox.
Step 3. Measure out salt and sugar, find appropriate background to photograph.
Step 4. Figure out how to focus on individual salt grains.
Step 5. Then mix together and apply to fish.
And so on and so forth…

What should have been a two minute task ended up taking almost an hour, and that was only for the first step of many. There will definitely be a learning curve with the project…

This dish really surprised me (my girlfriend is a vegetarian and only sous chefs for meaty dishes). This was my first taste of the quality of food served at Toque! and it was amazing. It was salty, sweet, and the herb pesto really accentuated the flavour of the salmon.

We will certainly be cooking this recipe again! This is a great way to cook a cheap cut of fish ($2/lb)… although next time I’d love to try the book’s recommendation of browning the top of the fish with a blowtorch to crisp up the skin and caramelize the maple syrup. This will have to wait until I get a blowtorch… and a larger fire extinguisher!