The Farmer’s Market in Springer Market Square is one of my favourite places to visit on a sunny Saturday in July. I love seeing all of the people out and about purchasing the fresh and fine fare that our local farmers and artisans have produced through their hard work and dedication. I often marvel at the beautiful seasonal produce that is available, but am often intimated by what to actually do with it all. Fennel, rutabagas and swiss chard may look pretty, but they rarely make it on to my dinner plate unless someone else is cooking!
This is one of the reasons I’ve come to appreciate the weekly, local chef demos held in the courtyard of the square. Written about many times before on Kingstonist, including last week’s interview with Jan MacDonald of Downtown Kingston, the demos feature chefs from locally-owned restaurants making a dish using mostly ingredients you can find right in the Market. The idea is that the dishes are easy to replicate at home and they make use of what is fresh and in season. The best part: for $2 you get to sample the dishes and the money goes right back into the program.
This week, Eric Brennan, the sous chef at the delectable Le Chien Noir, taught us how to make mussels in a sauce featuring local vegetables.
Mussels are not a local ingredient, but you can find them wherever you can find fresh seafood (including Mike Mundell’s). Eric said that the key to freshness is making sure that the mussels are closed when you buy them (they should open during the cooking process, not before).
He created a delicious sauce for the mussels by sautéing fresh vegetables (he chose fennel, celery and red onion from the Market) until soft and then combining them with white wine and a homemade fish stock he had made the day before. Once this mixture was brought to a boil, he cooked the mussels covered for 3-4 minutes, until the shells were open. The mussels and sauce were ready to be devoured right away!
Paired with the mussels was a slice of French baguette and homemade saffron mayonnaise that Eric made on the spot using fresh eggs from Reinink Farms. As an added treat, Eric introduced Hank John Reinink to talk about his eggs and he was very informative. The audience learned how his product is free-range (although some hens prefer to stay in the henhouse, at least they have the choice!) and organic, and how eggs are evaluated for quality (a light that shines to illuminate any issue…so nobody gets a surprise in their omelet!) and size (simple machine-sorting). His farm is accredited to do all this themselves.
Once everything was ready, the line for food was long but well worth the wait. We were able to sample a bowl of the scratch-made broth that had smelled so good and in which the mussels were steamed, with three mussels and a piece of baguette with the wonderful homemade saffron mayonnaise to balance the flavour. We would have been very happy with the quality if we’d gotten it as an appetizer! The mussels had great texture, not at all rubbery, and had taken on some of the flavour of the broth. I’m not sure whether it was the from-scratch fish broth that, far from smelling fishy, facilitated the flavour or the local Farmers’ Market produce that provided a fresh kick but I’m betting it was both.