Andrew and Erin Sunter rented a cottage on Vancouver Island on the west coast of Canada for a couple of weeks this summer. They enjoy cooking, which is one of their hobbies, and wanted to enjoy the fresh ocean bounty that is readily available there.
One of the reasons we were so excited about renting the cottage that we did was that it is on the edge of Fanny Bay half way up the Island on the Strait of Georgia. Fanny Bay oysters are world famous and known as one of the best types of oysters in the world. When eaten raw, these oysters are known for being smooth with a pronounced cucumber finish – salty but not overwhelmingly so.
Other seafood found in the waters off Vancouver Island include Dungeness crab, clams, scallops, B.C. spot prawns, salmon, halibut and albacore tuna.
We drove to the island from Calgary and had a trailer, so were able to bring some cooking supplies from home such as a smoker, knives, pans, and ingredients that could be difficult to find in a rural setting such as vanilla beans and smoked paprika. We also brought along a bunch of our favorite cookbooks (including Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin, which includes great recipes from one of the best seafood restaurants in the world).
There are little grocery stores close to the cottage we rented that were quite good considering how small the population is in the area, but we were glad we came prepared to make some great meals.
The first seafood meal we prepared was whole barbequed sockeye salmon. We bought one for a good price that was very fresh at the seafood market just beside the ferry to go to Denman Island (probably the best seafood market that we found on that stretch of coast). We cooked it whole, stuffed with herbs and butter, on the smoker. The woody flavours were fantastic. We ate one side that night and had plenty left over for something a bit more creative.
The following day we were feeling quite inspired after the success with the salmon the night before and bought a bunch of oysters and some scallops. The oysters were really big (almost too big to eat raw) and, after eating a few raw with a squeeze of lemon, we used the rest to make a fish stock that we used for a chowder. To the base we added the leftover salmon, the scallops, potatoes, corn, cream and dill. It was one of the better meals we have had in a long time.
My son, Aidan, and I went out salmon fishing one day near the end of our trip and although we had some nibbles on the line we weren’t able to reel any in. However, we did catch several Dungeness crabs in our trap, so we brought a few of them back to the cottage (you need to keep them alive until you cook them or you can get food poisoning). We hadn’t cooked much crab before so we searched our cookbooks and the Internet and finally found inspiration (we’re not the recipe following types) in a pasta recipe for crab that looked pretty good. After boiling the crab for a few minutes we weren’t sure how to break them down so Erin found a video on the Internet illustrating that (what would we have done before You Tube!). It was slow going with the first crab but by the time she finished she was a pro. We added garlic, herbs, lemon zest, olive oil and cherry tomatoes to the sauce and it was really good as well.
The last seafood meal of our trip was an “ode to the sea”. We had company over and it was a bit of a feast. We didn’t have any particular meal in mind so we decided to just cook a few of our favorite dishes. We bought more scallops and some spot prawns (the prawns were flash frozen as they were out of season, but still fantastic). We did seafood three ways. We combined the left over Dungeness crab with some of the scallops and the prawns and some panko bread crumbs and made seafood cakes, which we seared until they were golden brown. We seared the remaining scallops in butter and then sautéed the rest of the prawns in oil and smoked paprika. I know we had some sides to go along with the meal but I can’t remember what they were! It was all quite indulgent. Perfect for the last meal of a great vacation.
When we lived in Toronto it was easy to get fresh seafood as it gets flown in daily from the coasts because of the huge demand and population. But it is more difficult in Calgary. So it was great to be able to take advantage of this vacation by the ocean and indulge in the best and the freshest.
It was well worth the effort.
By Andrew and Erin Sunter
Photo credits Andrew and Erin Sunter
© Riding the buses 2012