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Edith and John Matheson
Hot Butter, Cold Lobster 22
MATHESON'S MEAT MARKET
The Matheson family has been on PEI since the late 1700s. Grampy was raised in Rose Valley on a homestead that is still in the Matheson family today. He was the ninth of ten siblings. He was a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, also known as the Mounties. Grampy often went out on patrol with his dogs for thirty days or more at a time, surviving on what he could kill and carry on his dogsled. Nanny Edie was a Newfoundlander, born in Newfoundland. Like many from that time, Edie was very skilled at making food from the land, and the unique dishes of Newfoundland were carried forward by my dad in the form of salt-cod and Jiggs dinners.
Nanny and Grampy were both great cooks and used a lot of locally sourced meat, such as seal, caribou, ptarmigan, duck, sea trout, and whatever else they could get their hands on. Nanny's favorite wild game was porcupine! After a twenty-year career, Grampy retired from the RCMP at the age of thirty-nine. Grampy and Nanny then decided to move to Woodstock, New Brunswick, to buy a farm and start a slaughterhouse with a retail and wholesale meat store. Grampy added a commercial-size smoker to the operation, and they began smoking ham and bacon; homemade smoked meat was always in the cooler for delicious sandwiches. He also made his own sausages and a variety of charcuterie, like headcheese and blood pudding. They also had a massive garden, where they grew every vegetable imaginable, more than enough for their family and many of their neighbors.
Nanny and Grampy were very social people and would often have parties at the farm, where they would cook some of their specialties, like roast stuffed beef heart, beef tongue, sweetbreads, oxtail terrine, and potted meats, along with game such as deer, moose, bear, rabbit, duck, and goose. A lot of their friends had not experienced true Canadian food, so these events became legendary, and an invitation was highly sought after. They would start around eight in the evening and run until the next morning, with Nanny playing the piano and Grampy on his accordion, and others would bring fiddles and guitars, harmonicas, and the spoons.
Grampy was very entrepreneurial but would never admit it. In addition to owning the meat market, he was a skilled beekeeper. He typically had ten to fifteen active hives and sold a lot of honey. Nanny and Grampy had a sugar bush and made maple syrup for friends and family. They made cider from the apples of their orchard — five different types of apples grew there. They made plum jam, cranberry sauce, blueberry jam, and blackberry jelly from the wild fruits on their farm. Not to mention the pickles — mustard, sweet mixed, chow-chow, dill, pickled beets. Fall was a very busy time. Nanny and Grampy loved to make these kinds of staples, and there was always enough to give away and to last until next fall. Nanny Matheson passed away when I was young, so we never really got to know her, but by all accounts, she was fun, smart, hardworking, and a great cook.
Eventually, Grampy sold Matheson's Meat Market with the intention of retiring on PEI. But he had to be busy, so he bought a restaurant that had been closed for five years. The Blue Goose in DeSable, down the road from Crapaud, a small village of three hundred people on the side of the Trans-Canada Highway, originally opened in 1947. Grampy made almost everything from scratch and used all local produce and meats. His breads and rolls were legendary, such that he opened a small bakery section so people could buy some to take home. Grampy's chowders were so popular that people would drive across the island to get them. The menu would change by season, and in the first few years he would close for three months during the winter. This caused hardship for some of his employees, so he started staying open year-round; even though he made no money in the off-season, the people who depended on the restaurant could work and make a living. That's the kind of guy he was.
When he passed away in 2005, so many people came by the house before and after to relay stories of how Grampy had fed anyone who needed it, that everyone who experienced a loss or sickness in their family would get a full-on turkey dinner with all the fixings dropped off. He cared about his community, and people knew it by his actions. That's probably why he was so successful as a police officer, a butcher, and a restaurant owner, not to mention a wonderful grandfather.
Hot Butter, Cold Lobster
PREP TIME: 30 MINUTES
4 (1 ½ to 2-pound/680 to 910 g) lobsters
Ice bath (water, salt, and 5 to 6 [10-pound/4.5 kg] bags of ice)
Growing up in the Maritimes was a beautiful thing. Living on any coast has massive benefits: the air, the beaches, the forests that surround them, the rivers that flow into the ice-cold salty water. What kid wouldn't love that landscape and terrain to run wild in?
There is nothing better than eating fresh lobster caught off the Northumberland Strait. The sweetness of this crustacean is pure mouth, heart, and mind joyfulness. When we would go to Prince Edward Island and my parents and Grampy would come back from the wharf with freshly boiled and chilled lobsters, we knew it was gonna be a long night of eating until we were sick of eating lobster!
I love cold lobster. I dislike hot lobster. I wanna hate it, but I still love lobster so much it's impossible to hate. I just feel that warm lobster takes away from the real experience of eating it.
In this recipe, you want that perfectly cooked lobster hit with warm melted butter. Cooking lobster is not that difficult, and you should always, always, always be careful to never, ever overcook it. You want the meat medium when you take it out of the boiling salted water. You don't want it to be translucent, and you don't want it to be overcooked and chewy. I find that boiling it for 8 minutes per pound is best. The ice bath is very important; it helps the meat release from the shell. Also, remember to salt your ice bath to really make sure that lobster is treated and chilled perfectly.
* * *
Set a large pot on your burner. If you have access to an outdoor propane burner, use that. If you don't have sea water for boiling, use ¼ cup (55 g) sea salt for each 1 (3.8 L) gallon water.
Bring the water to a boil and add the lobsters one at a time. Make sure you remove the rubber bands from the claws just before you put them in the pot. Usually, I flip the critters over and lower them headfirst into the water. Cover the pot; cook 8 minutes per pound, stirring about halfway through.
When done, drop the lobsters in the ice bath for 4 or 5 minutes. Timing is not critical here; if left longer, it will not harm the lobster.
Crack 'em open. I take the tail off and split it, and crack the claws just above the thumb. The claw legs have good meat, and a pair of scissors can be used to cut them open.
In a small saucepan, melt some butter and set aside when completely melted. Tear into your lobsta, dip, eat, and repeat until you can't do it anymore!
MAKES: 8 TO 10 ONE-PINT (480 ML) JARS
PREP TIME: 3 HOURS PLUS AN OVERNIGHT BRINE
4 quarts (4 L) green tomatoes, cut in half and sliced about ¼ inch (6 mm) thick
2 quarts (2 L) white onions, cut in half and sliced about ¼ inch (6 mm) thick
¾ cup (165 g) kosher salt
1 quart (480 ml) white vinegar
½ cup (110 g) mixed pickling spice
3 cups (660 g) brown sugar
This recipe is for what I consider a Maritime secret. I don't see this pickle much outside the territory, and it's a shame. These are great with any meat-and-potatoes type of dinner or as a garnish on burgers, hot dogs, and sausages. One-pint (480 ml) jars are the perfect size to keep or to give away to family and special friends. For me, homemade pickles are a trade item — I expect something good back!
* * *
In a large nonreactive container, put the tomatoes, onions, salt, and enough water to just cover. Let sit for 24 hours.
The next day, drain off all the liquid with a large sieve. Press on the mixture, but don't use so much pressure that you mush up the tomatoes. Put the drained tomatoes and onions in a 16-quart pot.
Add the vinegar, pickling spice in a spice ball, and sugar and simmer gently until desired tenderness. If you like your chow-chow soft, simmer for 20 minutes. For firmer chow-chow, check after 10 minutes.
Turn off the heat, and while the mixture is still hot, pour it into Mason jars using a funnel, cap them, and listen for the "doink" when the cap is pulled in by the cooling of the pickles. After about 15 minutes, test the tops with a gentle push to make sure they are sucked in. Don't worry: For any that aren't, you can refrigerate, or you can reheat and re-cap.
Store your pickles in a cool, dry, dark place; there's no need to refrigerate until opened.
SERVES: 6 TO 8
PREP TIME: 1 HOUR
3 pounds (1.4 kg) littleneck clams, scrubbed
3 pounds (1.4 kg) bar clams, scrubbed
2 pounds (1 kg) mussels, scrubbed and debearded
2 pounds (1 kg) shrimp
4 large quahogs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup (120 ml) good canola oil
4 onions, diced
4 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 leeks, cleaned and diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups (480 ml) good dry white wine
1 bouquet garni (a few sprigs of thyme, tarragon, and parsley wrapped in twine and tied to the pot handle so it's easy to pluck out of the chowder)
3 large Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
4 cups (960 ml) heavy cream
Good olive oil for finishing
When Grampy used to take us clam digging, he would drive us down old dusty roads until we got to the crisp, salty air at his friend's beautiful beach on the south shore of PEI. My two brothers and I loved it so much. On the other hand, my sister hated it because she was a lot older and we tormented her so fucking much. We would throw sand, seaweed, mussels, and anything else we could get our hands on. My brothers and I were three little shits.
We would go, shovels and buckets in hand, as the tide went out into the Northumberland Strait. Grampy would tell us to look for air bubbles on the sand's surface. Then we would dig into the red sand, hoping to come up with bar clams, littlenecks, soft-shell clams, and the prized PEI mussel. We would walk farther out to the water's edge and find oysters and quahogs by feeling with our feet for little hard stones in the soft sand.
Grampy would sometimes just grab a few oysters and shuck them for us right then and there. Nothing beats that time in my life: looking up at Grampy in the hot sun, knee-deep in the ocean that's feeding you oysters. I was like a feral cat getting his first bowl of milk. I couldn't be stopped. Oysters are the best! Once in a while instead of an oyster, you would pull up a crab on your finger! As a child it was so scary — yet exhilarating — that this little monster clenched onto your finger, often causing blood to trickle down and drip into the low tide.
We would boil all the shellfish with salt water over propane burners in Grampy's driveway with the garage door open to let in the summer sun. Is there anything better? He would make this chowder the next day with whatever seafood was left over after we filled our bellies with mussels, clams, and oysters. He served it with hot butter and dinner rolls.
* * *
Clean the shellfish either by rinsing with cold water in buckets in the sink or leaving in a bucket with salted water and cornmeal in it overnight. Cornmeal makes the clams spit out all the sand in their bellies. Cleaning an oyster is easy: Place it on ice, scrub clean under cold tap water, then place in a tray under a wet towel until you shuck them for the chowder. Or just shuck a few to smash right then.
Shuck the oysters into a small bowl and try to keep as much of their liquor as possible. Place the bowl in the fridge with a wet paper towel over it.
Fill a large pot with water three-quarters high, add 4 tablespoons (68 g) salt, and bring to a boil.
Add your clams, cover the pot, and cook until they open, 5 to 10 minutes. Discard any that don't open. Scoop out opened clams with a spider into an ice bath. Do the same for the mussels. They should open almost instantly, within 30 seconds. If they don't open after 1 minute they are dead and should not be eaten. Scoop and place into an ice bath.
Turn off the boiling water and let it settle. It should look a little murky and kind of like watery milk. This is clam liquor. Once it has cooled a little, ladle from the top 4 cups (960 ml) of that beautiful oceanic liquor and set aside. Discard the rest.
Pick all the shellfish out of their shells; discard the shells. Place the meat in a bowl with a wet paper towel on top and put in the fridge with the oysters.
In another large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, pour the canola oil and add the onions, celery, carrots, leeks, and garlic. Cook until translucent, about 10 minutes — gently cooked-down mirepoix is one of my favorite things ever.
Once the veggies are cooked perfectly, add the butter and let it bubble and froth with all the mirepoix. Now add the wine, clam liquor, bouquet garni, and potatoes; cook 1 hour. Add the cream and the shellfish and cook 5 minutes, stirring continuously. Add and salt if needed.
Ladle into bowls and hit the chowder with a little drizzle of good olive oil and a few cranks of pepper.
Grilled Beef Tongue
SERVES: 8 TO 10
PREP TIME: 2 DAYS
½ cup (120 g) kosher salt
8 bay leaves
20 black peppercorns
2 bunches thyme
2 fresh beef tongues
2 tablespoons canola oil
3 onions, cut into large chunks
2 stalks celery, cut into large chunks
1 leek, cleaned and cut into large chunks
2 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 head garlic, peeled
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 bottle (750 ml) dry red wine
1 bunch parsley
Kozlik's mustard, for serving
Tongue is one of those often mistreated dishes. Grandparents or parents back in the day either loved it or hated it. It comes from tougher times and was usually boiled and served right away, which would make for a dry meal. This is a recipe my Nanny and Grampy would make on the Green Road farm in New Brunswick that I've only heard about from my dad. And from what he has told me, Nanny Matheson was an amazing, knowledgeable, skilled cook and baker. She always cooked two tongues. While they were cooling, she would put them together in a 69 shape, wrap them tight with cheesecloth, press them, and chill them so they would make an evenly shaped loaf when unwrapped. She would then slice it and serve it as a cold cut; people had no idea what this delicious treat was, as it did not look like tongue.
I love beef tongue so much. Done right, it's better than pot roast. There are so many layers of hidden fat in the meat. The trick in this version is to peel the tongue while it's hot and place it back into the strained braising liquid to chill overnight and allow all the flavor and power to go back into the tongue. Let's all love tongue a little more and it will love us back tenfold.
* * *
We are going to make a brine for the tongues. This will give it a solid saltiness and keep the color nice and pink on the inside. We are going to end gray boiled tongues forever, right now! In a large 6-quart (5.7 L) pot, combine 5 cups (1.2 L) water, the salt, 4 bay leaves, the peppercorns, and a few sprigs of thyme. Bring to a boil, then let cool to room temperature. Add the tongues to the pot and cover the top with plastic wrap or place the lid on top. Let the mixture brine for 24 hours in the refrigerator.
In another large pot over medium-high heat, pour the oil and add the onions, celery, leek, carrots, and garlic. Brown the veggies up, about 10 minutes, then turn down the heat to low. Add the tomato paste, stirring so you don't burn anything. Cook 5 to 8 minutes to eliminate the paste's tin taste. Now, add your wine.
Place the brined tongues in the pot and add 4½ cups (1 L) water. Add 4 bay leaves, the remaining thyme, and the parsley. Do not season with salt — the tongues should have enough salt. We can fine-tune the seasoning later.
Bring to a boil and use a spoon to skim off any foamy scum that rises to the top. Turn down the heat to low and let the tongues bubble away in this bath for 3 hours, or until you can slide a knife easily through without any fight.
Once the tongues are ready to peel, place on a plate to cool for a few minutes so you can handle them. If you have plastic gloves, now would be a good time to use them. Using a small knife, peel the skin off the tongues. It should be very easy. We won't be using the skin for anything, so that can go straight into the garbage.
Place a large terrine mold on top of a tray so when we push down on the tongues, the liquid won't overflow onto your counters or floors. Place the tongues into the mold and shape into a "69." Ladle some of the tongue broth through a fine strainer on top.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Matty Matheson A Cookbook"
Copyright © 2018 Cassoulet Palace, Inc..
Excerpted by permission of Abrams Books.
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Table of Contents
PART I: FAMILY,
Edith and John Matheson, 16,
Lionel and Dorothea Poirier, 60,
Mom and Dad, 82,
The Spencer Family, 112,
PART II: COOKING SCHOOL AND RESTAURANTS,
Humber College, 142,
Le Sélect Bistro, 148,
La Palette, 186,
Castor Design, 206,
Parts & Labour, 236,