In his visually compelling cookbook, Straight From the Line: Recipes and reflections from a chef at work, chef Jason Lynch offers an inventive collection of recipes that marry fresh Atlantic proteins and produce with Le Cordon Bleu tips and techniques. Lynch is the executive chef of Le Caveau Restaurant at Domaine de Grand Pré Winery, and his book reflects a straight-talking, no-nonsense approach to food.
When he’s not cooking, Lynch is busy sourcing roughly 80 per cent of the ingredients he uses from local suppliers. But he’s also a pragmatist. He knows that for many home cooks, eating a strictly local and seasonal diet can be unrealistic. In that vein, he included in his book some sound advice on getting the most out of your next trip to the local grocery store.
Chef Lynch kindly agreed to share those tips with Rustik readers. Be sure to take a look at the rest of the book, available at Ablesense Publishing. It is a new staple for the Atlantic Canadian kitchen.
Let’s be frank: for most of us, buying local means a trip to the local grocery store. We are all busy with our families and with jobs that take up more and more of our time.
In the last few years, everyone has begun talking about local products. Sure, we should all buy local when we can, but there isn’t a lot of advice geared for when the only option is the chain grocery store – and sometimes it just is.
When buying meat, watch for pre-portioned product. The meat industry is becoming more industrialized, and this means fewer producers overall. The producers that remain are constantly on the lookout for more creative ways to sell you less meat by packaging it into products like skewered beef for the barbecue.
What not many people know is that these items are often made from scrap meat bound together with meat glue (also known as transglutaminase). The problem with this is that: whereas a single cut of meat would only have bacteria growth on the outside surface, easily killed off during cooking, with scrap meat reformed using meat glue, bacteria that were once on the outside of a cut are now buried in the centre and less likely to reach the temperature necessary to kill them off.
A simple way to avoid this? Check the ingredients on the package: if it lists anything other than meat, make sure you know what it is. Really, meat shouldn’t have an ingredients list.
Studies have shown that 1 out of every 5 fish at North American grocery stores is mislabelled.
Another thing to watch out for is meat labelled ‘seasoned’. These are most often a direct attempt on the part of a meat producer to increase profits, and what you’re paying for is about 8 per cent water and salt injected into the meat. Brining like this at home is an easy way to improve the taste of a lesser cut of meat. But if you’re paying for a pound of pork, you should get a pound of pork – not a bunch of added salt.
For poultry, look for air-chilled whole chicken as the least-processed option. If you do buy individual cuts, again make sure they are air-chilled. And always read the labels to determine if your poultry is local. Stores tend to source poultry from all over the place and often sell local and non-local right next to each other in display cases.
When it comes to fish, in an ideal world we would buy it all from the fishmonger. For most of us however, that’s not possible on a daily basis. When buying from the grocery store, there are a few things to keep in mind. Is it farmed or wild, and if it’s farmed, was it raised in an above-ground or an ocean-pen fishery? Sea-cage fish farming (ocean-pen) uses more antibiotics per pound than any other type of farming, and with this type of fish farming it is very difficult to control the impact on the surrounding environment.
Closed containment fish farming uses fewer antibiotics by relying instead on filtration to prevent disease. There is less resulting impact on the natural environment and particularly on native species of fish living nearby. Closed containment does have a larger carbon footprint, but as David Suzuki points out on his website, as the industry has grown, significant progress has been made in reducing this impact as well.
Beware mislabelled fish! Studies have shown that 1 out of every 5 fish at North American grocery stores is mislabelled. Know what fish you are trying to purchase or you may end up with sole instead of tilapia.
Labelling is your best friend when it comes to fruits and vegetables also. Keep in mind the season you are in and the fruits and vegetables that are grown in the area where you live. Stores tend to do a similar thing here as with meat, mixing imported product with local or placing it directly behind or to the side of the local product. If you don’t pay close attention, you will mistakenly grab, say, an apple grown thousands of miles away when you’re standing in front of a big sign advertising the ones from the orchard down the road.
Finally, remember: if your local grocery store doesn’t carry local products, ask them to! After all, they are in business to sell you what you want to buy.
For more great information, Lynch offers an ongoing podcast series available at chefjasonlynch.com