The word “picnic” conjures so much: old blankets with food spread out for easy grazing, laidback conversation and a warm summer breeze. We are a nation of picnic lovers, and in anticipation of summer officially beginning, we asked three chefs what they like to take to the beach or park when dining al fresco with family and friends.
Their suggestions are a step-up from plastic-wrapped sandwiches, carrot sticks and a bag of potato chips (although those are fine too). Chefs Vikram Vij, Suzanne Barr and Ryan Oabel like to make one delicious, picnic-friendly dish from scratch. As long as you have that, they say, the rest can be store-bought.
The chef: Suzanne Barr
The inaugural chef-in-residence of Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel, and most recently, the author of My Ackee Tree: A Chef’s Memoir of Finding Home in the Kitchen.
The recipe: Jerk Chicken Kabobs
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 2-cm thick cubes
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp coconut oil or canola oil
1/2 cup store bought hot jerk sauce (Barr’s favourite is Walkerswood)
1 small red onion, cut into 1.5-inch pieces
1 red pepper, cut into 1.5-inch pieces
2 zucchini, cut into 1.5-inch cubes
2 dozen wood skewers soaked overnight in water or at least 2 hours before using
Place chicken in bowl. Add salt, pepper, oil and hot jerk sauce. Mix well and cover with foil, beeswax or biodegradable plastic. Allow to marinate overnight in fridge.
Remove chicken from the fridge and begin to add onto the wooden skewers. Add a chicken cube first then onion, pepper, zucchini, then last chicken. Finish adding the remaining chicken and vegetables to the skewers and fire up your grill. Place skewers on a grill 3 minutes a side until meat and vegetables have beautiful grill marks but not burnt. Remove from the grill and place in a container.
Sides and Snacks: Tzatziki, Greek salad, sweet and salty popcorn and slices of Dutch apple pie.
The chef: Ryan Oabel
Co-owner of three popular restaurants in Montreal, the sandwich counter Sanwits, Le Petit Vibe (Filipino/Hawaiian cuisine) and Tadhana (tapas-style Filipino fare).
The recipe: Pinakbet Cauliflower Steak with Candied Tomatoes
1 whole cauliflower
1 whole butternut squash
1 400 mL can coconut milk
1/2 cup vegetable broth
8 cherry tomatoes
1/2 tsp truffle oil
1 tsp brown sugar
To make the cauliflower steak:
Slice the cauliflower into three portions. Roast the cauliflower in the oven at 375 F for 20 minutes.
When cool, drizzle the truffle oil over the steaks. Place in a container for easy carrying.
To make the coconut squash purée:
Cut butternut squash in half and season with salt and pepper
Roast the squash at 350 for 45 minutes
Scoop out the flesh. Purée the squash in a blender with coconut milk and vegetable broth. Oabel lets the purée cool and transports in a mason jar.
To make the candied tomatoes:
Slice cherry tomatoes in half
Spread on a baking sheet
Season with salt, pepper and brown sugar
Roast cherry tomatoes at 200 F for 20 minutes. Let cool and place in a container.
Serve the cauliflower steaks with tomatoes on top and puree for dipping.
Sides and Snacks: Ensaladang kamatis (tomato salad) with burrata, taro fries, maple syrup pudding cake (his favourite brand is Massibec)
The chef: Vikram Vij
Owner of two Vancouver restaurants, the eponymous Vij and My Shanti, both known for their flavourful and inventive Indian cuisine.
The recipe: Butter Chicken Schnitzel
2 lbs boneless chicken breasts or thighs, cut in two-inch or three-inch pieces
½ cup of all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup bread crumbs
½ to ¾ cup cooking oil
Place the chicken pieces on a counter top and lightly pound with the heel of your hand. Set the chicken aside on a plate. Spread flour on another plate and mix salt. Spread breadcrumbs on a third plate. Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Line a baking sheet with paper towels and set aside for cooked chicken.
Dip a piece of chicken in the flour and lightly coat both sides. Shake off any excess flour, then dip the chicken into the beaten eggs to lightly coat both sides. Finally, dredge the chicken in the breadcrumbs, making sure to coat both sides and shake off any excess. Place the coated chicken pieces on an unlined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining chicken pieces.
Heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a deep-sided frying pan on medium-high for three to four minutes, or until oil is hot enough that chicken will start to cook immediately. Pan-fry each side for three minutes. (Meat should be white without any pink). Transfer the cooked chicken schnitzel to the lined baking sheet to drain. Repeat with remaining pieces of chicken. Let cool, place in container.
Homestyle Butter Sauce (for picnic dipping)
¼ cup cooking oil
2 to 3 tbsp crushed garlic (6 to 9 medium cloves)
1 small can tomato paste or ¾ cup crushed canned tomatoes
1 tbsp paprika
1 tsp turmeric
1 ½ tsp salt
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp ground cumin (or 1 tbsp if you are not using garam masala)
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cayenne pepper (optional)
1 ½ cups water
1 ½ cups whipping cream
Heat oil in a medium pot on medium heat for one minute. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute or until golden. It will become slightly sticky, but keep stirring. Add tomato paste (or crushed tomatoes) and stir well, then reduce heat to low and add paprika, turmeric, salt, cumin, garam masala, coriander and cayenne. Stir well and sauté for four minutes. Stir in water and cream, then turn off the heat. When cool, place in container.
(If you’re pressed for time, this dish is also available through the chef-driven meal kit, Chefdrop, in Southern Ontario).
Sides and Snacks: Naan bread, vegetable pakora and gulab jamun (little dumplings made with flour and soaked in cardamom sugar for desert).
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