As summer comes to a close, many Canadians (present company included) are stretching the season as much as possible by taking to entertaining in the comfort of their own homes. Lucky for us, celeb chef Mark McEwan has pulled together a simple/elevated recipe for end-of-summer entertaining at home, to help us create the perfect dining experience for friends and family (and the perfect excuse to fire up the barbecue and dine on the patio one last time!). —Noa Nichol
Hello Mark! You really need no introduction with us, but do tell us a bit about yourself to start.
I am the chef at The McEwan Group where we have three McEwan Fine Foods locations, several restaurants and McEwan Catering in Ontario. I am also head judge on Top Chef Canada, which is a great program showcasing the incredibly talented chefs we have across Canada. We have just launched a new online grocery platform McEwanFoods.com, where our clients can order our quality products for same-day delivery with a click of a button.
End of summer is approaching; tell us about the special dish, Grilled Branzino With Capers And Mint, that you’ve created to help us celebrate the end of the sunny season.
Branzino is a light and flaky fish that is delicious grilled. By grilling it whole, you ensure the fish remains moist and the bones are very easy to remove after cooking. The salty and briny flavour of the capers works well with the bright, fresh mint and they complement the fish perfectly. This dish is a favourite of mine and it’s definitely a crowd pleaser.
What’s the perfect wine pairing with this dish, and why?
I love to pair this dish with Stoneleigh Sauvignon Blanc because the subtle notes of citrus blossom and grapefruit really bring out the delicate flavours in the fish. It’s my go-to wine and it’s delicious to drink on a warm summer evening.
Got any other end-of-summer-celebration meals you will be making before the season is over?
I really like to garden and I have grown a lot of beets, carrots and lots of herbs. I use foil and wrap the vegetables with olive oil, sprigs of rosemary and garlic cloves. I cook this on the BBQ and finish with feta. I serve this with a whole roasted chicken when my whole family gets together.
Does your cooking style change with the transition to autumn? If so, how?
I like to cook seasonally as much as I can so ingredients can change, like more squash, sweet potato or pear for example in the autumn. I do tend to BBQ more in the summer than roast and make more stews in the colder months, but creating family-style meals and how meals are balanced remain the same all year round.
Turning to harvest time, what are your favourite seasonal ingredients to work with at this time of year?
I really like brussels sprouts with crispy parmesan, especially for autumn holidays. At home, I use both butter and olive oil, cut the brussels sprouts in half and place evenly on a pan. Seasoning with salt & pepper, I cook each side until golden. Then, I grate parmesan directly onto the pan until everything is covered. The parmesan crisps between the sprouts which gives the dish great taste and texture.
Any top entertaining tips as we continue to deal with COVID-19 and social distancing measures?
I will definitely try to stretch outdoor dining as much as possible. Heaters, a safe outdoor fire pit, blankets; it all helps to keep people comfortable outdoors and more socially distant. I also recommend individual dishes as opposed to large sharing platters as well as opening a nice bottle of wine such as Stoneleigh Sauvignon Blanc!
Your favourite fall comfort-food dish is … ?
When I think of comfort food in the colder months, I think of meals my mother and grandmother prepared when I was growing up. I really like my family’s Sheppard Pie. Whipped potatoes and ground beef with a mix of seasonal vegetables is extremely comforting!
Grilled Branzino With Capers And Mint
2 Fillet branzino (Score the fish skin with 3 incisions)
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp (15ml) combined minced oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage and parsley
3/4 cup (175ml) olive oil
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/4 loaf focaccia
3 tbsp (50ml) salt-packed capers, soaked, rinsed, and drained
1/3 cup (75ml) torn mint leaves
1/3 cup (75ml) roughly chopped parsley
1 tbsp (15ml) chopped chives
1 lemon, cut into eighths
Rub a generous pinch of salt into each incision of the branzino. Season both sides of the fish with salt and pepper. Mix the minced herbs with 4 tsp (20ml) of the olive oil and massage the inside of each fish with it. Reassemble the fish and set aside in the refrigerator. In a skillet over low heat, gently sweat the garlic in 1/2 cup (125ml) of the olive oil until it wilts. Meanwhile, with your fin-gers, pull crouton-sized morsels of focaccia from between the crusts until you have about 1/2 cup (125ml). Remove the garlic from the oil with a slotted spoon and discard it. Raise heat to medium-low, add the focaccia, and cook until the croutons are crisp on all sides, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the croutons to a plate, salt lightly, and set aside. Allow oil to cool to room temperature. In a medium high heat, non stick pan, add 1 tbsp of oil, and then place the fish skin side down. Let this cook for about 2 minutes, until the skin is crispy (you can use a metal spatula to press the fish down to avoid curling). Once the skin is crisp, flip the fish and cook the flesh side for about 2 minutes. Remove the fish from the heat. Set aside for a couple of minutes before plating. Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine reserved garlic-crouton oil with the capers, mint, parsley and chives; toss well. Spoon the mixture over the fish. Top each fish with a few croutons and 2 wedges of lemon.