Last weekend m hay traveled to Ottawa for a culinary event in support of the Ottawa Humane Society. It was the first time either of us had been back to the city since we moved to Toronto in April. Tonight he’s talking about how, ultimately, we should settle back there unless X,Y,Z. It’s my hometown, and he lived there for 10 years. But to be honest, I’m not sure if I’m even ready for a visit yet.
I don’t like talking to people about why we moved from Ottawa. It stirs up all of the worst compulsions in me to tell lies because the truth is unbelievable. And yet it’s a harmless, even thoughtful, question any friendly person would ask — “so, why did you decide to move?” I generally settle on the half-truth that we had been thinking about it for a long time (I was, m hay wasn’t). Project. Colour yourself. A chameleonic nature is necessary to this transition, no? I have no solutions to these discomforts.
A lot of the dishes here come about organically, or rather are incantations of life events. Chermoula, a spice rub common in North Africa and the Middle East, reminds me of the calm we had in Ottawa when m hay first started working at his old restaurant.
Chermoula Chicken with Blackened Eggplant Puree
For the chicken:
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp. cumin, ground
2 tsp. coriander seeds, ground
1 tsp. aleppo pepper
1 tsp. sweet paprika
2 tbsp. finely chopped preserved lemons
1/2 cup olive oil
1 4.5-5 lb chicken
Grind the garlic, cumin, coriander, aleppo pepper, paprika, preserved lemons and olive oil in a large mortar and pestle until a loose paste forms.
Rub half of the chermoula onto the chicken, being sure to reach inside its cavity and crevices.
Preheat oven to 475F. Transfer chicken to the oven and cook 25 minutes. Turn down the heat to 400F and cook for another 45 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 160F. If your chicken is sizzling and spraying too much, loosely tent it with tin foil.
Rest the chicken for 20 minutes before carving and serving with the reserved chermoula sauce.
For the eggplant puree:
6 medium eggplants
200 g clarified butter, melted
15 g allspice, freshly ground
salt, to taste
tamarind water (golf ball sized hunk of tamarind pulp soaked in 1 cup of water, strained)
Roast the eggplants in a 500F oven until their skins char completely. Alternatively, if you have a gas range or barbecue, place the eggplants directly onto burners and carefully turn with tongs until the flesh is very soft and the skin is black. The eggplant will leak a lot of water, but it’s easy to clean up.
Drain the eggplants in a colander for 2 hours, or until the eggplants are room temperature.
Peel the skin and seeds away from the eggplant flesh. Reserve only the flesh and lightly season. Add the seasoned flesh to a fine mesh sieve and drain for a further 1 hour.
Discard all of the eggplant juice and transfer the eggplant to a blender. Add the clarified butter and allspice and process until a vortex forms. Add the tamarind water to smooth out the mixture. The tamarind water acts as the acid in this puree.