Mine is currently the Atlantic coast of Canada. Not because I have ever been there but because I was recently lucky enough to sample its incomparable seafood at a very stylish event hosted by Atlantic Canadian Seafood.
It was not the most auspicious day for travelling up to London – unseasonally grey, cold, wet – and as I struggled from Canary Wharf underground station to the Seafood Cookery School in Billingsgate Market, I was buffeted and pummelled by a howling gale which tore my umbrella right out of my hand and flung frosty needles of rain straight into my face. By the time I finally stumbled into the building, I was drenched, cold and cross, my hair was standing on end and icy water was trickling down the back of my neck. But the welcome was warm, the aromas emanating from the teaching kitchen enticing, and the Canadian sparkling wine, made by “méthode traditionnelle”, light and fruity with a well-balanced acidity - the result apparently of the temperate climate which enables the grapes to ripen slowly and sidestep blowsy sweetness.
We were a group of about twenty five, a mixture of chefs, food writers, restaurateurs and catering suppliers, and while we all relaxed and networked, we were treated to our first taste of what the Atlantic coast of Canada has to offer: a tiny bamboo barquette filled with totally plain, simple and unadorned snow-crab meat, of extraordinary sweetness and intensity. This was followed by croustades of cold water prawns in a fish velouté and lobster Thermidor, two powerful sauces which enhanced the exquisite flavour of the seafood without overpowering it.
We were then invited into the teaching kitchen where the CEO of the Billingsgate Cookery School, CJ Jackson, demonstrated the recipes she has developed to show off Canada’s Atlantic bounty: a spicy chowder featuring Canadian redfish and sweet potatoes, rice paper rolls filled with crab, crab gratin and lobster tempura – and for those willing to get their hands fishy, there was a prawn peeling competition to see how many prawns can be peeled in one minute. Not very many as it turned out – the winner managed a mere six!
With the cooking out of the way – and as though we had not already eaten enough – we sat down to a buffet supper of larger bamboo barquettes with a crab, tomato and avocado salad reminiscent of a Mexican ceviche (definitely my favourite); lobster and potato salad in a light mustardy mayonnaise; crab and kale salad in a tarragon dressing; redfish tacos; and finally cold water prawn pilaf.
To wash down all this bounty, we were offered two Canadian wines: a fresh, crisp Tidal Bay 2016; and Luckett Vineyards Phone Box Red 2014, which really delighted me with its deep, “hot country” bouquet and powerful flavour. This was my first ever taste of Canadian wine – I had frankly never even heard of it! – and I truly enjoyed them.
My experience of Canadian gastronomy was until now limited to maple syrup so my Canadian seafood adventure was a real eye opener, and as I trundled home on the train, I wondered why the flavour of the seafood was so pure and clean, and yet so intense. Perhaps it is the effort which Canada puts into keeping its coastline unpolluted? Sustainability is a priority and the Canadian seafood industry sees itself as a guardian of its resources, ensuring the highest standards of environmental stewardship.