In a perfect world, we’d just call on all of the best chefs from across the country to come and cook our holiday dinner for us.
That’s not going to happen — the logistics alone would be a nightmare, what with airline travel at this time of the year. So we’ve done the next best thing. To create the ultimate Canadian holiday meal, we checked in with some of our favourite chefs from BC to NFLD and asked them for their favourite dish. The results: a deconstructed turkey, boozy squash, crowd-sourced tourtière, a pie laced with vinegar — pretty much a dream dinner provided by some of the country’s most talented cooks. Whether you mix and match or take on the whole menu, these dishes will take your holiday table to the next level.
Cranberry Butter Sauce
Lee Cooper, L’Abattoir
For some people, and that includes chef Lee Cooper of Vancouver’s L’Abattoir, the cranberry sauce is the most important dish on the holiday table. His extra-luxe version is essentially a classic French beurre blanc with cranberries added. “The acid from the cranberries and the little bit of orange that we put in there is going to cut that fat from the butter and be well-balanced,” he explains. If you’re eating a white meat like turkey, or lean pork, adding some fat to the dish along with a bit of acid is a nice complement.
Sylvain Assie, Cafe Boulud
The brown, lacquered whole-bird version may look impressive, in a Norman Rockwell sort of way, but in truth, with a big old bird like a turkey, it’s nearly impossible to get thigh and breast and crisp skin all ready at the same time. The inevitable dryness ensues. Something’s gotta give. By breaking the bird down and brining it before it’s cooked, Assie uses each part of the bird to the best of its ability: breasts are cooked sous vide, legs are braised and bones are turned into a rich stock that makes for a luscious gravy. If you don’t have access to a sous vide machine you can simply rub the brined breasts with oil and roast in an oven (450 degrees fahrenheit), scattering a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme around, for 50 minutes or so until golden.
Deane Weaver, Sanagan’s
Deane Weaver, head chef at Sanagan’s Meat Locker in Toronto has made hundreds of tourtière over the course of his career. “This recipe comes from years of just listening to customers and finding out what kind of tourtière they grew up on, what they had in theirs, how their moms made it and looking into the classic way of doing things and trying to make it better each time.” Weaver’s version is built around a filling that’s close to a classic “creton” (a crazy delicious French Canadian pork spread) lightened up with a bit of milk and breadcrumbs.
Derek Dammann, Maison Publique
Derek Dammann was inspired by old-school versions of this classic Good Housekeeping side dish for his luxurious, savoury take. “Hasselback potatoes are cool because they accordion out and they’re a potato so they’re fun to eat anyway,” he says. “The fat melts down inside the cuts of the potato, that get all crispy and you just keep basting it with herbs and garlic at the end. They’re ridiculous.”
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Ken Nakano, Market Shangri-La
In case there are still people out there who think they don’t like Brussels sprouts, we present chef Ken Nakano’s apple-and walnut-spiked-version. “We always buy our Brussels sprouts on the stalk,” Nakano says. “There’s a real inherent sweetness when you get just-picked vegetables.” The Fuji apple in this recipe has enough sweetness to offset that little bit of natural bitterness is the Brussels sprouts. Caramelizing the sprouts enhances their natural nuttiness and that’s underscored by the presence of walnuts in the expertly balanced vinaigrette.
From Daniel Boulud (who isn’t technically Canadian, but since he does operate two restaurants here he’s an honourary Canuck), this epic stuffing is jam-packed with bacon and sausage, cornbread and croutons and a whole pantry’s worth of herbs and spices. The recipe is highly flexible and can be adapted to include even more ingredients, but will still work if you’re missing an herb or two.
Alexandra Feswick, The Drake
Alexandra Feswick is down with squash, and offers up a preparation that includes an almost irresponsible amount of booze. “Bourbon really falls into a nice holiday category, though in Canada we seem to have found a way to use it all year round,” she explains. “It’s definitely one of those liquors that makes you physically warmer when you drink it, too.” The combination of bourbon and candied nuts, along with maple and cayenne to balance out turn a basic roasted squash into something worth celebrating. And you thought marshmallows were the best thing you could add to your holiday gourds.
Jeremy Charles, The Merchant Tavern
Yes, it sounds like the dessert equivalent of a lump of coal in your stocking. But trust us, this is no punishment. “This recipe dates back to the 1920s,” chef Jeremy Charles tells me. “Back then, whenever people couldn’t afford or didn’t have access to fresh citrus, they’d replace the acidic element with vinegar. It’s delicious, and one of our most popular desserts.” At the restaurant Charles’ cooks use a sagamite flour crust, but if you can’t find one, cornmeal will work just fine.