Friday, February 27, 2015

A Culinary Evening with Chef Susur Lee

Internationally acclaimed chef and restauranteur Susur Lee has built a reputation as a culinary genius with his innovative and inspiring cuisine that combines the complex food traditions of China with the classical techniques of refined French cuisine. Named one of the top 10 chefs of the millennium by Food & Wine magazine and hailed by Zagat as a culinary genius, we were fortunate to get into a special dinner with chef Lee through Toronto's 2015 Visa Infinite Dining Series event at his flagship restaurant Lee Lounge. A culinary chameleon and master of global cuisines and plating panache, Lee was to create 13 small dishes served with a series of wine, beer and sake pairings, for an exceptional evening of sensory and savoury pleasures.

Internationally acclaimed chef and restauranteur Susur Lee was in the kitchen and spoke about each dish as it was served during the evening

Born in Hong Kong and the youngest of four children, Lee knew he wanted to cook from a young age, serving his culinary apprenticeship at Hong Kong’s renowned Peninsula Hotel before emigrating to Canada in 1978, where he worked his way up the ranks to executive chef status at a number of restaurants in Toronto, opening his first restaurant Lotus, to great success. Hard work, perseverance and endless quest for the most elusive flavours have brought him where he is today, with restaurants in Toronto — Luckee, Lee and Bent — and Tunglok Heen in Singapore. "I was educated in food at a young age. My father would take me to dim sum — he would open up the newspaper and say, ‘Son, you order whatever you want,’ and by the time he closed the paper, ‘Oh my god, son, you ordered so much!’ I loved food as a little kid. Through eating, I could experience food culture; I could feel and imagine things and it satisfied me. It's like taking music apart, I can sense the flavour and I have a great memory of taste". As we did too, enjoying every one of the decadent appetizers and sensational dishes served over the course of the evening, with both chef Lee and master sommelier John Szabo charming guests with personal anecdotes on the culinary inspiration and oenological insights of this special menu, taking guests on a flavour-filled journey across the cuisines of the world.

The large central bar island at Lee, with staff pouring a battalion of glasses for arriving guests

Awash in a sea of red, the interior of Lee is elegant, refined and bustling with guests arriving for Susur Lee's special Visa Infinite dining event

A Jansz Premium Sparking Cuvée from Tasmania was served to guests as they arrived, to be enjoyed with chef Lee's delicious appetizers

Tempura Crab Cake Roll with nori, rice, wasabi & yuzu ponzu, miso mayo topped with spicy chorizo

Mini Cheeseburger Springroll Lettuce Wrap made with braised organic Angus sirloin, aged cheddar and pickled​ vegetables, rolled into white spring roll wrappers and fried in canola oil and served with baby cilantro leaves and smoky chipotle mayo

Mini Cheese Tart with handmade puff pastry, black olives, tomato, red pepper, eggplant, zucchini, jalapeño and tomatillo

Assam Shrimp and Pineapple on Skewer

The first wine pairing of the evening was a 2012 Weingut Sybille Kuntz Riesling from Mosel, Germany, designed to go with the Singapore-style Slaw and Tartare dishes

Susur’s Signature 19-ingredient stunning tower of Singapore-style Slaw with tuna sashimi and salted apricot dressing

Spicy Japanese Salmon Tartare with black sesame paste 'swoosh' and crispy taro chip

Black Pepper Charred White BC Tuna Sashimi with grapefruit ceviche

A Tengumai Dance of the Raven Gods Umajun Sake from Ishikawa Japan is served to accompany the next 3 courses

The Steamed Shrimp Siu Mai with Hong Kong XO sauce and sweet and sour glaze arrived layered in 2 cups: the sauce on top with the siu mai kept warm in a cup below

Steamed Shrimp Siu Mai 

The XO sauce with sweet and sour glaze which the Siu Mai is dipped into

Cold Pressed Vietnamese-style Octopus with calamansi citrus vinaigrette

Susur Lee's Bocuse-inspired Szechuan Hot and Soup Soup en croûte with superbly balanced broth, perfectly cooked chicken, vegetables and and thick cloud ear mushrooms

The next wine, a 2011 Californian Carmel Road Pinot Noir from Panorama Vineyards in Monterey

Szechuan-style Fried Chicken with Golden Sand and Choron Sauce — a hollandaise-style sauce with tomato purée — and satay of boneless quail with spiced tamarind glaze and oven dried pineapple

The Szechuan-style Fried Chicken with Golden Sand — Hong Kong-style spiced cracker crumbs — was inspired by a recipe of his Mom's

Lee's Choron Sauce — a pink tinted hollandaise with pureed fresh tomato

Satay of Boneless Quail with spiced tamarind glaze and oven dried pink peppercorn pineapple

Beet and Persimmon 'Salad' with Basil Seed Pods and Lemongrass Jelée

The 4th wine served, a 2011 Two Hands Lily's Garden Shiraz from the Barossa Valley in Australia

Plus, a Forked River Brewing "Catharsis" Big Red Barrel-Aged Belgian Beer from London was served at the same time!

My favourite dish of the night, Susur Lee's Fresh Ground Red Curry Braised Beef with Coconut Sweet Rice Biryani served in a martini glass — outstanding! It was so tender it was eaten with a spoon

Caribbean Jerk Spiced Lamb Loin with mango purée and habanero sauce served with a banana fritter

Banana Fritter

A 2005 Vinsanto Santorini from Greece was served with the cheese and dessert courses

The Cheese Course: A Blue d'Elizabeth semi-soft blue cheese from Quebec; An Avaonlea Clothbound Cheddar from PEI; and a 14 Arpents square-shaped soft cheese from Quebec

Tong Yuen, a sweet rice dumpling stuffed with bittersweet chocolate ganache in crème anglais

Mango & Passionfruit Panna Cotta with passionfruit & pineapple granitée, coconut tapioca, palm syrup with sweet rice tuile

Watermelon Salad Appetizer
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy chef Susur Lee

6 1-inch cubes of watermelon
1/2 cup feta, in chunks
1 bunch fresh mint
Celery leaves
Anaheim chili, chopped
2 black olives, chopped
Olive oil

1/2 cup brunoise shallots
1 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and grated
3 tbsp crushed black peppercorns
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup Chinese aged black vinegar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp sugar

Combine all of the vinaigrette ingredients together in a bowl and refrigerate overnight. To serve, arrange the the watermelon in a bowl, sprinkle with feta, pour 1/2 cup of vinaigrette over top and garnish with fresh mint, celery leaves, chopped chili and chopped olives to taste. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and serve.

Winter Squash Soup with Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Serves 10-12
Recipe courtesy chef Susur Lee

4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 celery rib, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
1 quart chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1 quart water
4 lb kabocha or butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
Large pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Salted roasted pumpkin seeds, honey and diced cucumber, for garnish

In a large pot, melt the butter. Add the onion, celery and garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the white wine and simmer for 3 minutes. Add the stock and water and bring to a boil. Add the squash, cover partially and simmer over moderately low heat until tender, about 30 minutes. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender. Return the soup to the pot, bring to a simmer and season with salt, white pepper and nutmeg. Garnish with the pumpkin seeds, a drizzle of honey and the cucumber. Note: The soup can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. Reheat before serving.

Singapore Slaw
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy chef Susur Lee

2 green onions, both white and green parts, julienned
2 oz rice vermicelli, broken into 3 pieces
3 oz taro root, julienned
1 large English cucumber, julienned
1 large carrot, peeled and julienned
1 small jicama, peeled and julienned
1 cup daikon, peeled and julienned
2 large Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced
4 tsp toasted sesame seeds
1 tbsp pickled ginger
6 tsp crushed roasted peanuts
4 tsp edible flower petals
4 tsp fennel seedlings
4 tsp purple basil seedlings
4 tsp coriander seedlings
4 tsp daikon sprouts
4 tsp fried shallots

Pickled Red Onion:
1 red onion
1 cup rice wine vinegar
1 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black peppercorns
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme

Salted Plum Dressing:
1 cup salted preserved plums, pitted
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tsp mirin
1 tsp Dashi Japanese cooking stock
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1/4 tsp sea salt

For the pickled red onion, peel and julienne the red onion and set aside in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan, bring the vinegar and water to a boil. Season with salt, peppercorns, fennel seeds, bay leaf and thyme; continue boiling for another 5 minutes. Pour mixture over onion while hot and let sit for 1 hour.

For the plum dressing, combine the plum paste, vinegar, mirin, Dashi, onion oil, sugar, ginger and salt in a blender and purée until smooth, then set aside.

Soak the green onion in very cold water to keep crisp. Meanwhile, heat a large pot of oil. When temperature reaches 400°F, deep fry the julienned taro root, half the amount at a time, for 2 minutes until crisp and light gold in colour.
Remove the slices from the oil, place on paper towel and lightly salt.

At the same temperature, quickly deep fry the vermicelli, half at a time, for 2 seconds, or until they curl. Remove the vermicelli from the oil, place on paper towel and lightly salt.

Remove the julienned green onion from bowl and drain. Divide the vermicelli equally between 4 plates and arrange the green onion, cucumber, carrot, jicama, daikon, tomatoes and pickled red onion around the noodles and top with a tall mound of fried taro root.

Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds and crushed peanuts over each salad. In a small bowl, combine the edible flower petals, seedlings, sprouts and fried shallots. Sprinkle the flower-sprout-shallot mixture on each salad and serve with salted plum dressing alongside.

Susur Lee's Chinese Barbecued Pork
Serves 4-6
Recipe courtesy chef Susur Lee

1 1/2 lb pork tenderloin, about 2 to 3 tenderloins
1 rib celery, medium sized, finely chopped
1 carrot, medium sized, finely chopped
1 onion medium sized, finely chopped 
1 tbsp ginger, minced fresh
5 strips orange or tangerine zest, fresh, or tangerine zest (each 2 x 1/2 inches removed with a vegetable peeler)
2/3 cup rice cooking wine 
1/3 cup soy sauce 
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil

Trim the tenderloins of any excess fat or sinew. Combine the celery, carrot, onion, ginger, tangerine zest, sherry, soy sauce, maple syrup, and 1 tablespoon of the sesame oil in a nonreactive baking dish and stir to mix. Add the tenderloins, turning to coat. Cover and let marinate, in the refrigerator, for 24 to 48 hours, turning occasionally.

Preheat the grill to medium-high. Remove the tenderloins from the marinade and blot dry with paper towels. Strain the marinade into a small nonreactive saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil the marinade until thick and syrupy, 5 to 8 minutes.

When ready to cook, brush the tenderloins with the remaining 1 tablespoon sesame oil. Arrange the tenderloins on the hot grate and grill, turning with tongs, until the pork is browned on all sides and cooked through, 16 to 20 minutes in all. Start brushing the tenderloins with the reduced marinade after 10 minutes. When tested with an instant-read meat thermometer, the temperature should register at least 160°F when the pork is done.

Transfer the tenderloins to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes. Cut each tenderloin on the diagonal into 1/2-inch slices. Fan the slices out on plates or a platter and serve with any remaining marinade.

Susur Lee Braised Beef
Recipe courtesy chef Susur Lee

1 lb beef cheeks
Flour for dredging
Cooking oil
1 1/2 litres dark beef stock
1/2 litre canned tomato purée
200 g chili bean paste
1/2 cup oyster sauce
2 bunches fresh cilantro, with roots attached
300 ml Chinese cooking wine
2 pieces dried licorice
3 pieces star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
1 cup Chinese cilantro

Preheat oven to 250°F. Trim the excess fat from the beef cheeks, but don't remove the membrane (silver skin). Dredge in flour and pat to remove any excess, then brown on all sides in 1/4-inch of oil. Combine all the remaining ingredients and braise the beef for 6 hours until fork tender. Remove the beef and strain the braising liquid.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Anne-Marie's Sensational Shrimp & Crab Dip

Light, luscious and delicious, this sensational Shrimp and Crab Dip is a fabulous appetizer anytime of the year. My friend Anne-Marie always comes up with a creative selection of small bites whenever we get together, from her succulent Bacon-Wrapped Scallops to Mediterranean-inspired Caprese Skewers with cherry tomatoes, fresh basil and mini bocconcini, there's alway a surprise waiting. Her chilled Shrimp and Crab Dip is a perfect combination of very simple ingredients — imitation crab, cooked shrimp, onion and celery — all chopped up well in a food processor then blended with mayonnaise, chives and shredded cheddar. Low in calories and high in protein, imitation crab meat is made from Alaska pollock, which is chopped and processed to mimic the texture of real crab meat, but of course fresh steamed lobster or packaged lump crabmeat could also be used. Covered and refrigerated for a few hours, this easy and delicious appetizer can be made well ahead of time and unveiled just before guests arrive — voilà!

Shrimp & Crab Dip with Mayonnaise
Makes about 4 cups

8 imitation crab sticks
1 1/2 cups cooked shrimp
1/2 cup onion
1 cup celery
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar
3/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp finely chopped chives

Put the crab, shrimp, onion and celery in a food processor and pulse until the ingredients are well chopped. In a medium bowl, mix the shrimp and crab mixture with the shredded cheddar, chopped chives and mayonnaise until well combined, then cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. Serve with toasted baguette or your favourite crackers.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Year of the Goat: A Chinese Culinary New Year

Different cultures across the globe have varied traditions and beliefs associated with the start of a new year. While some may celebrate the newly harvested crop, others usher in spring, but for each one of us, it's a time to plan anew and start afresh. This week ushers in the Chinese Lunar New Year with communities across the globe celebrating the Year of the Goat. Lucky food is served during the 16-day festival season, especially on New Year’s Eve, which is believed to bring good luck for the coming year. The auspicious symbolism of these foods is based on their pronunciations or appearance. Not only do the dishes themselves matter, but also the preparation, and ways of serving and eating mean a lot. The most common Chinese New Year foods includes fish, dumplings, spring rolls, and noodles, which unsurprisingly represent longevity and a long life. The biggest day in the Chinese calendar, it's a time for family, festivities, fireworks and most importantly, lots of delicious food — Gong Hey Fat Choy!

Pork & Green Onion Dumplings
Makes 30

1 lb ground pork
2 green onions, thinly chopped
1-inch knob of ginger, chopped
2 tsp Shaoxing wine
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp white grounded pepper
30 round gyoza wrappers
cilantro leaves for garnish

Ginger Vinaigrette Dip:
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2-inch ginger, minced
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp black vinegar
pinch of sugar

Purée all of the vinaigrette ingredients in a food processor until well blended, then set aside until needed.

To make the dumplings, place the ground pork in a large bowl then add the green onion, ginger, Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, sesame oil and fresh ground white pepper, and mix until well combined. Scoop a spoonful of the pork mixture into the middle of each wrapper; wet the edges with water, then fold the dumplings in half like a half moon.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Gently place the dumplings into the boiling water in batches, and when they float to the top, use a strainer to scoop them out. Lay on a warm dish until each of the dumplings are cooked. To serve, arrange on a decorative plate with a small bowl of ginger vinaigrette in the middle as a dip, and garnish with a few cilantro leaves.

Chinese Long Life Noodles with Prawns
Serves 4
Recipe and photo courtesy of Donal Skehan

8 oz Chinese egg noodles
1 tbsp sunflower oil
8 oz large prawns, shelled and deveined
1 head Chinese cabbage, finely shredded
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 carrots, peeled and finely sliced
1 thumb-sized piece ginger, finely sliced
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp rice wine
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp chilli oil
2 tbsp white sesame seeds, toasted
3 spring onions, finely sliced on the diagonal
Small handful coriander leaves

Cook the noodles according to the package instructions, then drain and rinse with a little cold water and set aside. Heat the wok over high heat with a little sunflower oil then add the prawns and cook very briefly for about one minute each side. Remove from the wok and set aside.

Place the wok back over high heat. Add a little sunflower oil and stir-fry the ginger and garlic for about 30 seconds. Then add the carrots, Chinese cabbage, soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil and chilli oil and stir-fry until the carrots are tender but still have a bit of crunch. Finally, add the noodles and prawns and toss well to combine. Serve immediately with a generous sprinkle of sesame seeds, sliced spring onions and coriander leaves.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Smoked Salmon & Caviar Star-Shaped Canapés

A delicious and oscar-worthy hors d'oeuvre for Academy Award night, or in fact any time at all, these gorgeous star-shaped Smoked Salmon & Caviar appetizers make a sensational addition to any festive celebration. Using a star-shaped cookie cutter and firm pre-sliced dark pumpernickel bread makes all the difference, as the canapés hold their shape better, and the dark base contrasts well with the caviar. I also like to layer the canapés with 2 slices of smoked salmon which makes the stars appear more evenly coloured and substantial. An extravagant garnish of black caviar is the crowning touch to these bite-size beauties but doesn't have to break the bank — by simply using lumpfish caviar, it's an affordable luxury at just $3.99 a jar! Topped with a thin slice of lemon zest for a little extra zing, these little canapés are sure to be the star of any party.

Smoked Salmon & Caviar Star Canapés
Makes 12 appetizers

6 slices of pumpernickel bread
1 cup Boursin or garlic and herb cream cheese, at room temperature
8 oz package thinly sliced smoked salmon
1 lemon, zested into strips
1.7 oz jar of black Lumpfish or Sevruga caviar

Lay the pumpernickel on a clean surface and spread 2 to 3 tablespoons of Boursin or herbed cream cheese over each piece, covering them edge to edge. Top with 2 slices of smoked salmon, trimming to fit as necessary. Using a star shaped cookie cutter, press out as many stars as possible from each slice — I managed 2 stars per slice — then garnish with a small dollop of caviar in the centre and top with a thin strip of lemon peel. Arrange on a decorative platter and serve.

Monday, February 23, 2015

John & Sons Oyster House: A Taste of the Sea

The best oysters in Toronto celebrate the freshness of the sea with its multitude of scents and flavours, and although we may not have an ocean coastline of our own in the city, we're fortunate to have a bounty of oyster-obsessed proprietors dedicated to sourcing the sweetest, plumpest and briniest varieties from near and far. The best in my bivalve book is Diana's, but for sheer convenience we sometimes saunter over to John & Son's Oyster House on Temperance Street, who offer a taste of a maritimes in the heart of Old Toronto. Owned and run by John Belknap, who spent a number of years at Rodney’s Oyster Bar on King Street, decided to open his own bivalve venue in 2009, and the oysters are just as fresh and delicious. With a menu that offers a selection of traditional East Coast classics with innovative new dishes such New England Clam Chowder and Beer Battered Nova Scotia Haddock & Frites, to Lobster & Shrimp Dumplings with spicy lobster coconut lime velouté, Tuna Tartare, and Shrimp Tacos with avocado tomatillo crème, and bahanero-poblano slaw on corn tortillas with mango salsa, there's a little something for everyone.

John & Sons Oyster House menu with seafood-themed selection

Chalkboard with selection of oysters available, with $1 Malpeques the evening we went

Oysters on ice and ready to be shucked

Shucking our Malpeques
John & Sons humorous Happy Hour online poster promoting their $1 oysters during the week

Muscadet — the ideal wine with oysters

A dozen Malpeques, although small were cold and delicious

The requisite tray of condiments with mignonette and variety of hot sauces

Fish & Chips with Steam Whistle beer battered Nova Scotia wild caught haddock with frites and coleslaw

Cioppino with yellow perch, pickerel, halibut, little neck clams in a garlic saffron tomato broth with garlic rustic bread