The Great Shellfish Night

When I found out that the Manitoba Canola Growers Eat Well gals were throwing a Wednesday night shellfish party at DeLuca’s Cooking Studio, I leapt at the chance to attend. Or, I suppose it would be more appropriate to say that I dove right in and bought my ticket.

Eat Well events are guaranteed to be a great time and are never short on food, friends and fun. I always leave with cheeks sore from laughing and a full belly – not to mention a bag of goodies. Wednesday night’s Swag bag included a Canola Eat Well squirt bottle (I can never have too many!) and a copy of The Great Shellfish Cookbook.

The Great Shellfish Cookbook

The Great Shellfish Cookbook was written by our guest chef, Chef Matt Dean Pettit. Hailing from Toronto (by way of Midland, Ontario), Matt is the founder of the Rock Lobster Food Co. restaurant, owner of Matty’s Seafood brand, rabid sports fan and all-around awesome guy. He has a boat-load of knowledge and a passion for sustainable ingredients that really comes through in both his cooking and his writing.

The book contains over 300 shellfish recipes, designed to be cooked at home – even right here in the middle of Canada. Matt has organized the chapters by ingredient, rather than course, which I think is brilliant. If I have a bag of fresh mussels, I can go straight to the mussels’ section to find a recipe. That said, Matt himself suggests the recipes be used as inspiration and encourages home cooks to switch up their proteins, depending on preference or availability. For example, making the Cabo Cabo Shrimp Tostadas with scallops instead of shrimp.

Cabo Cabo Shrimp Tostadas

The first shellfish dish of the night was a Cabo Cabo Shrimp Tostada. After crisping a small corn tortilla in canola oil, Matt and his assistant sautéed big, fat sustainably grown shrimp with agave and a splash of tequila, until they turned from translucent and bluish to opaque with bright, salmon-pink tails. The shrimp were served on the tortillas with generous scoops of pico de gallo, chunky guacamole and micro greens. Hidden under the tortilla was a small, puddle of Matt’s deliciously addictive sriracha aioli.

After gobbling up my tostada, I came quite close to licking my plate. I’m not going to lie – that was one of the tastiest things I have ever eaten. And, judging by the happy sounds coming from my table mates, I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. I tried to get us another round by announcing that my table hadn’t received ours yet, but Chef Matt would have none of my hijinks.

Mussels & Chorizo

With our appetites primed by the tostadas, we were ready for one of my favourite molluscs – mussels. I don’t cook a lot of shellfish at home, but when I do, nothing beats a big pot of steamed mussels. As it turns out, when it comes to seafood, mussels are one of the most sustainable choices you can make.

Chef Matt had some great tips for us on cleaning and sorting mussels and then he and an audience volunteer showed us how to make Mussels & Chorizo, another stellar recipe from his book. I’ve “bean” craving pulses lately, so I was happy to see a can of cannellini beans go into the pot along with the mussels and sausage. (I was also very happy to see the big bowl of fresh, hot frites heading our way.)

Chicken Fried Oysters

There are few foods that can’t be improved by frying and oysters are no exception. As much as I love slurping cold, raw oysters off a bed of crushed ice, Chef Matt’s fried oysters were a near-religious experience. Served on a slab of cornbread with more of that sriracha aioli and a drizzle of maple syrup, the oyster was the size and shape of a chicken wing, but that’s where the similarity ended. They were so tender, thanks to their soak in buttermilk and quick fry Once again, I came this close to licking my plate.

Aw, shucks!

Before the dish was prepared, Chef Matt and his volunteer assistant gave us a lesson in oyster shucking. He made dealing with those stubborn bivalves look easy, but I have to admit, I’m happy to leave it to the professionals. Call me shellfish – I mean selfish – but I’ve grown attached to all my fingers.

The lesson was just one of the entertaining ways that Chef Matt helped to demystify shellfish for the packed house. He had far too many tips to share here, so you’re just going to have to pick a copy of The Great Shellfish Cookbook for yourself. Or, if you stop by my house around dinnertime with a bag of mussels and a bottle of wine, you are welcome to read mine.

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