Eastern Canada: a paradise for seafood lovers

Eastern Canada: a paradise for seafood lovers

by Great British Chefs 24 October 2016

The food scenes in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia are thriving, with terrific chefs doing wonderful things with the bountiful and delicious local seafood. Niamh Shields travels round the east of Canada to see what delights are in store.

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Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews as well as access to some of Britain’s greatest chefs. Our posts cover everything we are excited about from the latest openings and hottest food trends to brilliant new producers and exclusive chef interviews.

Prodding gently out into the wild Atlantic, Newfoundland is immersed in and obsessed with the sea. I am also a little obsessed with Newfoundland’s obsession with the sea, as it means that I can eat fantastically well when I visit and differently to at home. Yes, they speak English and everyone says that it is just like Ireland but the truth is, it isn't. Newfoundland is just like Newfoundland and not like anywhere else, even if it has a slight comfort of home.

The area is quirky and creative. Not just in terms of culture (The Battery neighbourhood in Newfoundland has more artists in that postcode than any other part of Canada), but also in their approach to food. Locals eat lots of gorgeous wild berries, moose, seal flipper pie (yes, although I didn't taste it) and lots of wonderful local seafood.

Newfoundland is not just obsessed with the sea; cod speaks to the residents' souls. If you are lucky they will screech you in with a glass of the local screech (like a rum) delivered to you as you kiss a cod (all true). Cod fishing was central to Newfoundland’s industry for hundreds of years, until the fisheries suffered in the twentieth century and a moratorium was declared in the 1990s. However, the cod population is now returning to abundance, and local fishermen can safely indulge in cod pot fishing.

Cod swim into the baited pots and are unable to swim back out. They can survive in them for a few days and no damage is done to the ocean floor as they are caught. When the cod is retrieved it is still alive and can be dealt with appropriately, ensuring a high quality product. Cod pot fishing is completely sustainable and allows Newfoundland restaurants to serve fabulous locally-sourced cod.

St John harbour
Cod has been a vital part of Newfoundland's industry for centuries, and the port of St John's is still an important fishing hub
Cod is a favourite in Newfoundland, with the cheeks and tongues considered delicacies by locals

Newfoundlanders love cod, that we have established, and while it was a source of income for the fishermen, they were smart enough to save the best parts for themselves. The bits that we are less interested in (and dare I say afraid of)? Those bits that were not packed with salt to be sold to all the countries clambering for them beneath.

The locals love cod tongues as well as their cheeks. Tender tongues are often served fried. Think of cod fillet meeting clam in terms of flavour and wonder why you don't eat them all the time at home. I had them at Blue on Water in downtown St John's, tender in sheaths of batter, scattered with scruncheons (crunchy sweet cubes of cured pork fat).

Luxury becomes brilliantly accessible every day on the eastern coast of Canada. Lobster is plentiful and affordable, and it is available everywhere, at every meal. For breakfast, lobster eggs benedict becomes your reality. You didn't think you could improve eggs benedict, did you? I ate it at the Sheraton Hotel in St John's overlooking the city below. Lobster is respected here and cooked just so, still retaining moisture and tender to the touch. Served on toasted English muffins with poached eggs and hollandaise, you know you have to order it. A dish best eaten alone and luxuriated in.

You must go for dinner at Raymond's in St John's. More than once a winner of the best restaurant in Canada and featured in the World's 50 Best Discovery series. Here you can have snow crab with wild leek crème fraîche and fennel consommé but you must start with the east coast oysters which are sublime.

Eastern Canadians are a little obsessed with chowder and so they should be. Every cafe and restaurant has their own take on it, packed with seafood from the water surrounding. Lobster chowder, scallop chowder, cod chowder, you name it. Usually it’s a chowder with lots of gorgeousness packed in big creamy comforting bowls served with bread.

Lobster rolls can be bought all over Nova Scotia for surprisingly cheap prices
Lobster poutine
Because it is in such abundance and in season year-round, lobster meat makes its way into all sorts of local dishes

In Nova Scotia I had lobster every which way as often as I could, at least daily. Lobster is always in season in eastern Canada. The stock is well managed and there is no worry about sustainability. The season moves around the provinces with each part getting their share for a while, allowing the lobster stocks to grow in between.

Every roadside diner serves up their version of the wonderful lobster roll (at gobsmackingly cheap prices). Supermarkets will steam live lobster for you, at $7.99 per pound on my last visit, or you can buy direct from the fishermen who sell their catch from vans at the side of the road or direct from the fisheries. Lots of lobster all the time, and it is joyful and delicious.

Every local will tell you that a pounder is the perfect lobster in terms of the flavour of the meat, otherwise known as a canner as lobsters of these size are also canned. They say you can always tell who isn't local as they always order the biggest lobster in the tank (it is easy to get carried away at the prices they are sold for). So act like an eastern Canadian and ask for the lobster that weighs about a pound, then relish it's sweet brightly cooked meat.

How and where to eat it? You have never eaten a lobster? No need to worry there. Pop over to New Brunswick and head out on a boat trip with Ron of Lobster Tales and let him show you how to catch one, cook it and how to get every juicy gorgeous piece of meat out of the critter.

Take yourself off on a road trip on the gorgeous Cabot Trail in Cape Breton and when you get to Pleasant Bay, stop and indulge in a lobster roll at the Rusty Anchor. The lobster is just cooked and soaked in melted butter, served in a crusty roll with potato salad as is traditional. Keep room for a second course as you will want it. Lobster poutine. Yes. Lobster served on top of chips with melted squeaky cheese curds and a light seafood gravy. Perfect chips too.

In Pictou, make some time to meet kilted chef Alain in his gorgeous home. We had a lobsterific evening starting with a homemade lobster Caesar. The Caesar is the Canadian answer to the bloody Mary, improving it with the use of Clamato, tomato juice mixed with clam brine. We used lobster brine and downed it with a big claw of lobster perked on top.

Canada, I love your glorious seafood, your attention to detail as you cook it, and the joy you take eating and sharing it. I will be back soon!

Bloody Ceasar
Even the drinks contain lobster, such as this bloody Ceasar, made with tomato juice and clam brine