Tag: Appetizer

Dim Sum: Steamed Squid 蒸魷魚

Yangtze Steamed Squid

Steamed squid is a regular offering in dim sum restaurants and is a dish I rarely pass up. Sometimes, you find squid steamed with a curry sauce but, in my experience, the curry sauce usually served is a bit insipid and I generally don’t care for it.

The offering you see pictured above is one I was recently served at the Yangtze Dining Lounge in Ottawa. Most of the dishes I had that day were not actually that great but this particular one was first class. Commonly, squid pieces are often dusted in a flour of some sort before steaming but these were steamed ‘clean’ and the effect was very well done.

The pieces of ‘tube’ were very plump and thick and I would have guessed that they came from a fairly large specimen but the tentacles that were also steamed alongside were obviously from very tiny squid. I am not sure if the body flesh came from a different animal than the tentacles, or whether the flesh ‘plumped’ up during the steaming process. In any event, the cooking was expertly executed and the result especially tender. As usual, ginger, and a little scallion were added, and both of these were added deftly so as to just give a hint of their presence in the background. I have had this dish many times, both at home and in restaurants, and this was one of the best.

Notable Nosh: Freshwater Smelt

BB Fried Smelt 1

In New Brunswick, where I grew up, Smelt, also known as ‘Éperlan’, are a small sea fish, typically deep-fried whole, with head still attached, and eaten as a snack, often with beer. There are actually quite a number of different species of fish called ‘Smelt’ in various places but, to date, I had always considered them to be a saltwater delicacy only. I was surprised then, when I saw ‘Fried Smelt’ on offer at Brothers Bistro in Ottawa, which the menu described as being harvested from Lake Erie.

It turns out, after doing a little research, that there are actually a number of different lake-fish that go by the name ‘Smelt’, and the restaurant wasn’t, as I first suspected, mislabelling their food. Normally, I wouldn’t have bothered with this particular appetizer, even though I like Smelt well enough, but I was curious to see what the freshwater sort might be like.

Anyway…  I was surprised when I was served my platter as the fish were headless, deboned, and butterflied, rather than being served whole, and they were also breaded. The sort I am used to are quite a bit smaller and so you can eat the heads and bones quite easily. They are also usually just rolled in a bit of flour before frying rather than being battered or breaded.

The flavor of the fish wasn’t actually all that different from the ones I have had in the past. Normally, I prefer the slightly briny, marine flavor of sea-fish, and find the freshwater varieties a bit ‘muddy’ tasting. These, however, were very delicate in flavor and quite sweet. There was a white sauce on the side described as ‘Tartar Sauce’ but which was anything but… Tartar sauce is mayonnaise based and this was some sort of sour cream or yoghurt concoction that was absolutely awful. The fish itself, though was pretty decent, in my book…

Vacuum-packed Cooked Duck Wing

Vacuum-packed Cooked Duck Wing 1

I actually picked this product up on a whim while shopping for some other items at Kowloon Market, my favorite Asian grocery store in Ottawa. These vacuum-packed duck wings area product of China and intended to be used pretty much ‘as is’ rather than requiring any preparation. The picture on the front of the pack, which shows the plain wings sprinkled with a little green onion and sesame seeds, describes this as being a ‘serving suggestion’. Anyway, I was intrigued by this product, which appears to require no refrigeration, and I brought some home with me.

Anyway … when you open the main package, there are 5 of the individually vacuum-sealed wings inside. I am not sure how the wings are cooked (the package is silent on the issue), but I think they may be slow baked after being marinated. When you open one of the wings, the dominant aroma is of star anise, and I was expecting to not like the wings as I am not keen on the flavor. I tasted one, before reading the ingredients and I found, to my pleasant surprise, that the dominant taste seemed to be fennel. This proved to be correctly identified as the ingredient list reads (for flavorings):

Chili, soy, salt, sugar, aniseed, pepper, Sichuan pepper, fennel, liquorice, kaempferiae (Galanga), cinnamon, cardamom, clove, bay leaf, and ginger.

In truth, I think some of the additions may be… well, theoretical, as I couldn’t identify much beyond the fennel (which, luckily, I like a lot). The chili, which is listed first, and should thus be a major ingredient, is nowhere apparent, and the product is not remotely hot at all… Continue reading “Vacuum-packed Cooked Duck Wing”

Notable Nosh: Tongue on Toast

BB Tongue on Toast 1

When I saw tongue on the menu at Brothers Bistro in Ottawa a while back, I racked my brain trying to remember if I had ever eaten beef tongue before. I have seen whole tongue in stores before, but I have never cooked it yet, and though I have had duck tongues before, I think the only mammal tongue I have ever had was likely in a canned meat spread or the like. Anyway, I like trying new things and when I saw this on offer I grabbed the opportunity. The menu described it as being ‘Braised ox-tongue on garlic cheese bread with beef jus and garlic-anchovy mayo’, and, with the exception of the fact that the ‘garlic-anchovy mayo’ might easily pass for plain mayonnaise, that is pretty much what I got…

I have to apologize for the poor photography here (I was having camera issues) but the ‘beef jus’ in the menu description was the brownish sauce over which the bun and lines of mayo were laid. It was tasty enough, but not markedly different from the sort plain beef gravy you might get with, say,  poutine.

The tongue itself was quite nice. In texture it was a bit like nicely cooked flank steak (fibrous, but chewy tender) , and the taste was somewhat like beef-heart… that is to say, more of an ‘innards’ taste than steak, but less than the strong pungency of, say, kidney. The pairing of textures with the crusty bread worked really nicely but the addition of cheese, I have to say, made the result overly unctuous without adding anything beneficial in terms of taste.

All in all, I enjoyed this. Had the mayo actually added an appreciable touch of garlic and anchovy, it might have elevated the finished result from pretty good to definitely good, but, still, I thought it decent enough…

Notable Nosh: Japanese General Tso’s Chicken

Japanese General Tso

General Tso’s Chicken (or some spelling variant thereof) has become so ubiquitous that most people who have dined in a Chinese restaurant have had it at one time or another. Surprisingly, though, even though the dish has been popular for a decade or so, it was only last year that I tried it for the first time. There are many different variations on the basic theme, of course, and one can almost so that no two representations are more than passingly similar. After my first try, I decided to order it in various locations and see if I could get a handle on the range of different preparations …

My first experience was in a fairly westernized Chinese restaurant in Vancouver. Just recently though, I was down in Ottawa and I came across an appetizer version in a Japanese restaurant. It was an ‘All-You-Can-Eat’ Sushi place and it had a small section of ‘Chinese Food’ listed on its extensive menu.

Anyway, the result you see here was … well, interesting. Even in my limited experience with this dish, I can pretty much guess that experienced aficionados would probably say that, whatever this dish is, it is NOT General Tso’s chicken. There are no vegetables in the mix (although, to be fair, this was meant as an appetizer so ‘filler’ was not needed), but the sauce that covered the chicken was completely off base. The chicken itself was actually pretty good… it was only dusted with flour rather than being battered (which is a plus to mind), and it was fried to the point of being nicely crispy on the outside. As for the sauce?

Well, as far as I have been able to tell, General Tso’s Chicken is supposed to have a bit of a fiery bite to it. It is not a ‘hot’ dish, as such, but it should have a little chili somewhere in the mix to give it a little spark. Here, though, the spicy heat quotient was zero (zip, zilch, nada, nyet, niente… etc.). The actual result was much more like the sort of sweet and sour sauce poured over chicken balls in the lower end ‘Chinese’ restaurants. It was, to my mind, quite a bit like ketchup diluted with a little vinegar, and with extra sugar added. Not horribly bad, at all… just not right. I rather think the good General might be rolling over in his grave at the thought of this production in his name…

Foodstuff: Beef Marrow Bones

Beef Marrow Bones 1

Marrow, the rich, fatty substance in the center of certain animal bones, has long been used as a food by humans. It is very nutritious, and thus has been used for eminently practical reasons, but it has also, at various times, and in various cuisines, been regarded as something of a delicacy.

Chiefly, one finds bones being used in the preparation of hearty stocks, and occasionally  extracted and eaten as sort of a ‘side benefit’ in certain dishes, but, for a long time, the idea of marrow being a treat in and of itself has been a bit dormant in the west. This, however, has been changing in recent years, and the appetizer of roast marrow bones you see posted above, and for which a recipe will follow, is a common representation of the trend … Continue reading “Foodstuff: Beef Marrow Bones”

Shrimp Salad Boats

Shrimp Salad Boats 1

My typical way of serving Shrimp Cocktail (not that I do very often), is to lay tiny cocktail shrimp on a bed of shredded lettuce and top it with a creamy mayonnaise based cocktail sauce enhanced with horseradish and chili sauce. Today, I have departed from my usual style and combined the shrimp and sauce, then served it in hollowed out tomato halves. For either version, frozen cocktail shrimp are best but you can, as I have done here, use the canned variety as a decent substitute… Continue reading “Shrimp Salad Boats”

Scallop Bhaji

Scallop Bhaji 1

A little over years ago, I posted a little appetizer recipe for something I called Scallop Clusters. It was a Japanese inspired dish featuring bits of scallop deep-fried Kakiage style and I like it very much. For today’s post, I have used that appetizer as a starting point and created something along the lines of the Indian style fritter called a ‘Bhaji’. The recipe isn’t an actual Indian recipe but seasonings are definitely Indian in spirit … Continue reading “Scallop Bhaji”

Lemon-Stuffed Olives

Lemon-Stuffed Olives 1

A few months ago, I had an appetizer in a Greek restaurant that featured olives stuffed with a number of different ingredients, one of which was lemon. In following up, with a view to trying something similar at home, I discovered that most recipes for lemon stuffed olives tend to use the zest for the stuffing. The ones I had at the restaurant were quite mild when It came to the lemon flavor and I am not sure whether they used the zest or the flesh. In any event, for today’s recipe, I went with the latter… Continue reading “Lemon-Stuffed Olives”