May 25, 2018

Food Front: Salmon, smoke and storm watching

A new cookbook serves up 20 years of delicious Wickaninnish Inn memories

By  Joanne Sasvari

A perfect—and perfectly simple—party dish, the salmon gravlax from The Wickaninnish Cookbook: Rustic Elegance on Nature’s Edge by Joanne Sasvari, published by Appetite by Random House. photo: Makito Inomata courtesy of Appetite by Random House

Before the Wickaninnish Inn opened in 1996, the best a hungry traveller could hope for in Tofino was a bowl of chowder. Mind you, that chowder was filled with plump, briny clams fresh from the pristine waters of Clayoquot Sound—delicious, yes, but fine dining, it was not.
Then Charles McDiarmid fulfilled his family’s dream of opening an inn on Chesterman Beach. What he created was more than a luxurious refuge with spectacular views and high-thread-count sheets. He and the talented chefs who’ve wielded their whisks in the kitchen here have transformed a remote fishing village into a bucket-list culinary destination.
It began with Rod Butters, the inn’s opening chef, who determined from the get-go that the Wick would make the most of the local bounty, but in a much more elevated fashion than one would expect at, say, the long-gone Crab Shack. And it continues today with executive chef Warren Barr, who brings a fine, modernist flair to signature dishes like his leek-ash-dusted oyster coals and almost-too-pretty-to-eat salmon mosaic.
Those of us who’ve been dining at the Wick for the past two decades will never forget our favourite dishes, even if they’re long gone from the menu: the glorious West Coast take on classic bouillabaisse; those big, fat barbecued oysters; the famous Wick granola; the decadent chocolate platter for two; the exotic cinnamon-scented duck; the savoury pork pie; that time when everything had the seductive fragrance of truffle; that other time when it was lavished with foraged ingredients. And, of course, all that salmon, halibut, Dungeness crab and the chowders, so many chowders.
If you ever thought it would be great to make those dishes at home, well, so did I. So I gathered them in a new book that’s out this summer: The Wickaninnish Cookbook: Rustic Elegance on Nature’s Edge (Appetite by Random House). It comprises more than 120 recipes from Wick chefs past and present, as well as stories of the inn and the people who built it.
McDiarmid always knew that people would love Vancouver Island’s wild west coast, if they had a chance to discover it. He knew they’d love the seafood from its pristine waters, the chanterelles and berries from the surrounding forests, the tenderly grown produce from the nearby farms, the flavours all briny and tart and infused with smoke.
Nothing can beat making the journey along perilous Highway 4 to this magical place with its wave-swept beaches, mist-shrouded forests and bountiful ocean waters. But even if you can’t make it there, you can now enjoy a taste of it at home.

Wickaninnish Inn Salmon Gravlax
Executive chef Warren Barr’s flavourful gravlax transforms West Coast salmon into a party dish that is as easy to make as it is sure to impress. Recipe from The Wickaninnish Cookbook: Rustic Elegance on Nature’s Edge by Joanne Sasvari (Appetite by Random House).

Serves 8 to 10

1 cup (250 mL) salt
1 cup (250 mL) sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
Finely grated zest of ½ grapefruit
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
Finely grated zest of 1 lime
1 Tbsp (15 mL) toasted fennel seeds, crushed
2 sprigs dill, leaves only, chopped
1 side fresh coho or sockeye salmon

In a small non-reactive bowl, combine all the ingredients, except the salmon, and mix well. This is the cure.
Remove the pin bones from the salmon. Rub the cure onto both sides of the salmon, making sure the flesh is completely covered. (You might not use all of the cure mixture.)
Wrap the salmon tightly in plastic wrap and store on a tray in the fridge for 6 to 8 hours.
Rinse off the cure, then put the salmon back on the tray and leave it uncovered in the fridge to air-dry for at least two hours or preferably overnight.
Slice the salmon thinly, being sure to leave the skin behind. Serve with crackers, bread, cream cheese, capers, red onions and pickles.

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