The word “picnic” conjures up so many things: old blankets with food spread out for easy grazing, relaxed conversation and a warm summer breeze. We’re a nation of picnic lovers, and in anticipation of the official start of summer, we asked three chefs what they like to take to the beach or park when dining al fresco with family and friends.
Her suggestions are a step up from plastic-wrapped sandwiches, carrot sticks, and a bag of potato chips (although those are fine, too). Chefs Vikram Vij, Suzanne Barr and Ryan Oabel love to prepare a delicious, picnic-friendly meal from scratch. As long as you have that, they say, the rest can be bought at the store.
The cook: Suzanne Barr
The first chef at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto and most recently the author of My Ackee Tree: A Chef’s Memoir of Finding Home in the Kitchen.
The recipe: jerk chicken kabobs
2 lbs skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp coconut oil or canola oil
1/2 cup store-bought jerk hot sauce (Barr’s favorite is Walkerswood)
1 small red onion, cut into 1.5 inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1.5 inch pieces
2 zucchini, cut into 1.5 inch cubes
2 dozen wooden skewers soaked in water overnight or at least 2 hours before use
Put the chicken in the bowl. Add salt, pepper, oil and hot jerk sauce. Mix well and cover with foil, beeswax or biodegradable plastic. Leave to marinate in the fridge overnight.
Take the chicken out of the fridge and thread it onto the wooden skewers. First add a diced chicken, then onion, bell pepper, zucchini and lastly chicken. Finish adding the remaining chicken and veggies to the skewers and fire up your grill. Place skewers on grill for 3 minutes per side, until meat and veggies are nicely grilled but not burned. Remove from the grill and place in a container.
Side dishes and snacks: Tzatziki, Greek salad, sweet and salty popcorn and slices of Dutch apple pie.
The Chef: Ryan Oabel
Co-owner of three popular Montreal restaurants, the sandwich shop Sanwits, Le Petit Vibe (Filipino/Hawaiian cuisine) and Tadhana (Filipino tapas-style dishes).
The recipe: pinakbet cauliflower steak with candied tomatoes
1 whole cauliflower
1 whole butternut squash
1 400ml can of coconut milk
1/2 cup vegetable broth
8 cherry tomatoes
1/2 tsp truffle oil
1 tsp brown sugar
Preparing the cauliflower steak:
Cut the cauliflower into three portions. Roast the cauliflower in the oven at 375 F for 20 minutes.
Once cool, drizzle the truffle oil over the steaks. Place in a container for easy carrying.
For the coconut pumpkin puree:
Halve the butternut squash and season with salt and pepper.
Roast the squash at 350 F for 45 minutes.
Scoop out the pulp. In a blender, puree the squash with the coconut milk and vegetable broth. Oabel leaves cool the puree and transport it in a mason jar.
Prepare the candied tomatoes:
Halve the cherry tomatoes.
Spread on a baking sheet.
Season with salt, pepper and brown sugar.
Roast cherry tomatoes at 200 F for 20 minutes. Let cool and put in a container.
Arrange the cauliflower steaks with tomatoes and purée for dipping.
Side dishes and snacks: Ensaladang kamatis (tomato salad) with burrata, taro fries, maple syrup custard cake (his favorite brand is Massibec)
The chef: Vikram Vij
Owner of two Vancouver restaurants, the eponymous Vij and My Shanti, both known for their flavorful and imaginative Indian cuisine.
The recipe: butter chicken schnitzel
2 pounds boneless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into 2- or 3-inch pieces
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup breadcrumbs
½ to ¾ cup cooking oil
Place the chicken pieces on a work surface and pat them lightly with the back of your hand. Set the chicken aside on a plate. Spread flour on another plate and mix salt. Spread breadcrumbs on a third plate. Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Line a baking sheet with paper towels and set aside for the cooked chicken.
Dip a piece of chicken in the flour and brush lightly on both sides. Shake off excess flour and dip the chicken in the beaten eggs to lightly coat both sides. Finally, toss the chicken in the breadcrumbs, being careful to coat both sides and shaking off any excess breadcrumbs. Place the coated chicken pieces on an unlined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining chicken pieces.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a deep skillet over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the oil is hot enough that the chicken begins to cook immediately. Sear each side for three minutes. (Meat should be white with no pink). Place the cooked chicken schnitzel on the baking sheet lined with parchment paper to drain. Repeat with the remaining chicken pieces. Let cool, put in containers.
House style butter sauce (for picnic dip)
¼ cup cooking oil
2 to 3 tablespoons crushed garlic (6 to 9 medium cloves)
1 small can of tomato paste or ¾ cup canned mashed tomatoes
1 tbsp peppers
1 tsp turmeric
1½ tsp salt
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp ground cumin (or 1 tbsp if not using garam masala)
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cayenne pepper (optional)
1 ½ cups water
1 ½ cups whipping cream
Heat oil in a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat for one minute. Add garlic and sauté for a minute or until golden brown. It will get slightly sticky, but keep stirring. Add tomato paste (or tomato puree) and stir well, then reduce heat to low and add paprika, turmeric, salt, cumin, garam masala, coriander and cayenne pepper. Stir well and sauté for four minutes. Stir in the water and cream, then turn off the heat. Once cool, pour into a container.
(If you’re pressed for time, this dish is also available through chef-led menu set Chefdrop in Southern Ontario).
Side dishes and snacks: Naan bread, vegetable pakora and gulab jamun (small dumplings made from flour and soaked in cardamom sugar for dessert).
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