Friday, June 15, 2012

Love your city: Locavore elk burgers

My wife and I love the Ottawa Farmers Market, which is unfortunate, because we often don't have the time to go and then we land up feeling regret at the end of the season. This year we made a pact to visit more often, and we did in fact do so last Sunday. If you live in Ottawa and you haven't been, please do so. You would be amazed by the number and quality of local producers and quickly tantalized by the cooked grub on offer such as the farmers breakfasts. Inspired by a recent initiative by Kelly at The Gouda Life and her farmers feasts, we took the opportunity on a hot and sunny day to collect goodies for a local-themed burger.

As you can see, my normal modus operandi on the blog is to give a witty introduction to a burger with some useful information peppered in for good measure. This section takes roughly one half to one third of the entire post; the rest is either a restaurant review or recipe (ie, what you actually came to read).  This post is going to work a bit differently. First, I'm going to introduce the burger that I cooked up last night and then devote the rest of the digital real estate to each component and the story behind them.

So here goes: I had a 6oz elk patty from Elk Ranch, with Glengarry Fen cheese, sauteed Swiss chard, topped with strawberry and balsamic jam by michaelsdolce and served on Art-Is-In dynamite white baguette. Of course, to qualify for Locavore status one must show that each product came from 100 miles away or less, which mine does... mostly.
Who knew our city was so sexy?

Let's take a closer look after the break.

Elk patty by Elk Ranch

I don't normally buy pre-made patties due to a misplaced sense of superiority, but on a whim we picked up four 6oz patties from Elk Ranch for $20. The patties contain ground elk, olive oil and a proprietary blend of spices. They retain some of that characteristic vivid crimson colour that elk or meat of other cervidae bears. Some may consider that expensive, but honestly the farmers deserve a good living wage for their hard work, and unlike most of the agricultural system you're ensuring that the farmer gets the cash instead of a variety of middlemen.

Elk Ranch is located in Kanata (yep, you read that right) and is owned by Thom Van Eeghen and Fay Armitage. They offer all cuts of meat and nutritional supplements made from antler velvet.

Elk meat is very lean, in fact leaner than probably every other meat except ostrich. The ranchers add olive oil to the patties to ensure that they won't be rendered charred doorstoppers after a couple of minutes on the heat. While they did add a blend of spices, they did not overwhelm the primary flavour of the meat.
Inspired by the size of Jupiter, I give you elk patties!

The patties are very thin but with a huge circumference, something I wasn't too pleased about to be honest. The wide circumference means that they may tear when separating them from the butcher's paper, and also brings the threat of overcooking if you don't watch them carefully. Cooking up the patties is easy and very quick. On a high heat, cook each side for no longer than two minutes for medium, three for medium-well. Be extra careful not to overcook the patties, because you really don't want a brittle plasterboard for dinner.

While I would like them to be a bit smaller and thicker, I would certainly buy these patties again. At medium, they were still juicy and very flavourful.

Swiss chard by Kiwan Farms

Devoting space to Swiss chard might seem ridiculous to some but I love the stuff, as I love any and all hard greens like collards or kale. Cooked properly they can be rich and sumptuous or crispy and savoury. Any method, they pair beautifully with meat and are very nutritious.

Rola and Ronnie Kiwan own their farm at the corner of Hunt Club road and Hawthorne. Until referring to a map I believed that intersection was in the middle of the city, inhabited by industrial parks like most of Hawthorne, but apparently there are family farms there! There they grow more than just heavy greens; you can find cucumbers, tomatoes and eggplant among others.
Fresh, delicious red Swiss chard. On a burger blog.
No, it's not April 1st.

The chard from Kiwan farms was delicious - fresh, crisp and meaty. I chopped the leaves coarsely, discarding the hard stems, and fried in a little olive oil on medium heat. Add half a cup of good-quality chicken or vegetable broth after three minutes of frying, and reduce the heat so the broth cooks out.

Glengarry Fen cheese

Margaret Peters-Morris owns her cheese-making facility on pasture that her family has been farming for generations in Lancaster, Ontario. Her grass-munching Holsteins provide all the milk for her broad portfolio of cheeses, which now can be found in a variety of shops across Ottawa, including all Farm Boy locations. I didn't actually buy this cheese at the market, having it on hand from a previous outing to Il Negozio Nicastro on Wellington.

Fen cheese is a hard, crumbly, acidic cheese coloured white with a yellow blush. It reminded me of a less-salty, more well rounded Wensleydale. It acts as a perfect flavour bridge between the jam and the meat. You can slice it thinly with just a bit of crumble, or you can just have at it and crumble it on like you would a blue cheese.

An issue with the cheese was that given the very quick cooking time, it didn't really have time to melt completely. I suggest placing the hot chard right on top and waiting for a few minutes to serve, as the steam from the veggies will contribute to softening the cheese.

Strawberry and balsamic jam by michaelsdolce

I happen to think that Michael and Fumiye of michaelsdolce jams are some of the coolest cats in the Ottawa food scene: chill, creative, ambitious and incredibly good-humoured. Spend ten minutes with them and you'll walk away having purchased an armful of jam solely because their passion for the craft has rubbed off on you. Amy and I have been huge fans of their jams for a little while now - we have four on the go at any given time - so it's almost a shame that I haven't included them earlier.

The genius of the strawberry and balsamic jam is just how well balanced it is despite the ingredients being so sweet. In fact all of michaelsdolce jams are balanced just right to win over anyone who loves fruit in all of its complexity - the sweet, tart or sour. In this burger, the strawberries provided a counterpoint to an otherwise very salt-driven construction, so I really piled on the serving size on one side of the bun.

The top third is gone because my spoon couldn't resist its red hue.
That's it...

Art-Is-In dynamite white baguette

Art-Is-In is the Arcade Fire of the Ottawa food scene. Once upon a time only hipsters knew about them, and now a very large, very diverse crowd are flocking to their market stalls and concrete-and-mortar store in Little Italy. I'm not going to go into too much detail, because I have a review of their famous burger coming up soon.

Their signature "dynamite" baguettes are rich, soft, oily and salty, essentially checking off the biochemical boxes required for you to roll your eyes and sigh. Its gentle crust crisps satisfyingly, a great start to a burger bite. It has good moisture-catching ability and can be sized adequately to fit your burger.

How it comes together

Amy and I agreed that this was one of our favourite burgers in a while. It was earthy and rustic and really evoked the farms where the components were born. While fairly unsophisticated, each component stood out and gave you something to think about. The rich and vibrant colours were fantastic and it was even relatively healthy as far as burgers go.

You can make this burger in almost every city in North America, made with care from ingredients lifted from the march outside your urban stronghold. The ingredients are there; you just need to head down to your local farmers' market, pull out your wallet, and shake hands with the folks that spent time and effort to bring you a fantastic meal. Take the kids, introduce them to the idea of variety and seasonality, and you'll set them on a great path too! It's all part of loving your city.

This was a delicious burger.

1 comment:

  1. I see your delicious Elk Burgers and raise you Wild Boar Ribs: