May 26, 2017

Food front: A sizzling summer for grilling

The elk burger from Feast: Recipes and Stories from a Canadian Road Trip by Lindsay Anderson and Dana VanVeller, published by Appetite by Random House. Photo: Appetite by Random House

Get outside and get grilling! It’s the Canadian thing to do

By Joanne Sasvari

We are a nation of intrepid grillers. Neither rain nor snow nor swarms of mosquitoes can stop us from getting outside and lighting our barbecues.

Come summer and all we want to do is cook things over fire. That fire could be fuelled by charcoal, gas or propane. It could even be a campfire or firepit. Doesn’t matter. All we need are flickering flames or glowing coals and, of course, something to drink as we stand around them.

A little surprisingly, grilling is a fairly new thing for Canadians. It only became popular after the Second World War as suburbs sprawled across the land and dads took to the backyard with a beer and tongs in hand. The famous Weber kettle wasn’t invented until 1952 and, as recently as 1955, an article in Maclean’s magazine called grilling “weird.”

No more. Today, we grill everything from humble hot dogs to luxurious prime rib. We grill meat, fish and chicken, fruits and veggies, bread and pizza. We use stones, woks, griddles, racks, metal baskets, rotisseries, skewers, pans, planks and even beer cans. We cook things quickly over high heat or slowly over low heat. We add flavour with herbs, spices, rubs, sauces and marinades. And we take inspiration from just about every culinary tradition around the world. The backyard grill, it seems, is a global one.

In Canada, it’s also a regional one. As they researched their cookbook Feast: Recipes and Stories from a Canadian Road Trip, authors Lindsay Anderson and Dana VanVeller enjoyed everything from West Coast barbecued salmon with tree tip pesto to Okanagan grilled peaches, Yukon lamb steaks, Ontario elk burgers and East Coast grilled sardines.

“Because we were travelling from spring through autumn, we were grilling up a storm. We hit prime-time grilling season,” Anderson says. Adds VanVeller: “We’re all cold and bundled up all winter, and in summer everyone wants to be outside.”

Their journey inspired them to up their grilling game, and it can inspire you, too. “It’s easy to fall into the routine of grilling the same meats,” Anderson says. “But when you travel across the country, there are a lot of different meats that people are grilling. Like moose in Newfoundland.”

So get outside, light the fire and start cooking. Fill the cooler with craft beer and local wine. Turn up the tunes. Invite your friends and family. Enjoy. It’s the Canadian way to celebrate summer.       

Recipe:

Elk Burgers with Blue Cheese and Balsamic Roasted Red Onion

Authors Lindsay Anderson and Dana VanVeller discovered this great elk burger recipe on a visit to a farm in Northern Ontario. They note that elk meat is lean and delicious, but you can always substitute beef or bison. Recipe excerpted from Feast: Recipes and Stories from a Canadian Road Trip, published by Appetite by Random House, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited.

Roasted onions:

1 large red onion, sliced into 1/2-inch-thick (1 cm) rings

1 tbsp (15 mL) balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp (15 mL) extra virgin olive oil

1/8 tsp (1 mL) salt

Burgers:

1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped

1 egg, beaten

1/3 cup (80 mL) finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 tbsp (15 mL) grainy or Dijon mustard

1 tbsp (15 mL) Worcestershire sauce

3/4 tsp (3 mL) salt

1/2 tsp (2 mL) freshly ground black pepper

11/2 lb (680 g) ground elk, bison or lean beef

3/4 cup (180 mL) crumbled blue cheese, such as Ciel de Charlevoix, Bleu Bénédictin or Dragon’s Breath Blue

For serving:

4 to 6 buns, toasted

Tomatoes, lettuce, mayo and any other desired burger toppings


Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).

For the roasted onions: Add the sliced onion rings to a large bowl and toss with the balsamic vinegar, olive oil and salt. Spread out evenly on a large baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes, turn the slices over, and roast again until soft and caramelized, another 10 to 15 minutes.

Preheat the barbeque to medium-high, about 450°F (230°C).

To make the patties, mix the onion, egg, parsley, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper. Add the ground meat and gently mix with your hands until just combined (overmixing will make the burgers tough). Add the crumbled cheese and mix again until just combined. Divide the meat mixture into six even portions (or four, if you’d prefer larger burgers) and shape each portion into a patty.

Grill the patties on the barbecue, flipping once, until their internal temperature reaches 160°F (71°C) or they’re no longer pink inside, 8 to 10 minutes. Serve the burgers on buns with the roasted onions, lettuce, tomato, mayo and any other toppings you like.

Serves 4 to 6

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