Customers at SoBo Restaurant in Tofino, B.C., clamour for Lisa Ahier's fish tacos. They also love her cornbread.
Ahier has compiled many of the restaurant's top menu items into "The SoBo Cookbook: Recipes from the Tofino Restaurant at the End of the Canadian Road" (Appetite by Random House). The restaurant, which moved to its current location in 2007, evolved from a food truck that Ahier started up in 2003, long before they were cool.
"I chose the recipes that I felt were the best things, the most requested ... the standards that make SoBo what it is because we are 80 to 90 per cent local repeat, and when I say repeat I mean four, five, six days a week because we're economical and sometimes it's easier if you're on your own," Ahier says.
"You're one of these young people, kayak guides or something, and it's more expensive to go to the store in Tofino and buy your food and go home and make it, then you have a little bit of waste ... so all of those sorts of things that my regulars come to me for I wanted to make sure got in the book."
Here are three recipes to try at home:
KILLER FISH TACOS WITH FRESH FRUIT SALSA
Ahier adjusts this recipe according to what fish is readily available. In New York she used snapper, and in Texas she used bass. In B.C., salmon and halibut are her favourites.
Fresh Fruit Salsa (recipe follows)
500 g (1 lb) wild salmon, boneless and skinless
500 g (1 lb) halibut, boneless and skinless
15 ml (1 tbsp) salt
125 ml (1/2 cup) olive oil
250 ml (1 cup) small-diced red onion (about 1 onion)
125 ml (1/2 cup) pureed canned chipotle chilies in adobo sauce
16 crispy hard taco shells
Prepare fresh fruit salsa.
Cut salmon and halibut into 2.5-cm (1-inch) cubes and season with salt. In a large frying pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute for 1 minute. Add fish and fry for about 3 minutes, until just cooked. Add chipotle chilies and saute for 2 to 3 more minutes. Remove from heat.
Fill taco shells halfway with fish mixture, then top with salsa. Serve immediately, 2 tacos per person.
Makes 8 servings.
FRESH FRUIT SALSA
Buy fresh fruit that reflects the season. Ahier mixes it up all the time, combining fruits like peaches and blueberries with watermelon, or pineapple with avocado.
The fruit should be diced smaller than fruit salad-sized, but not so small that the fruit turns to mush. If you intend to prepare the salsa in advance, don't add the avocado until immediately before serving as avocado turns brown quickly.
4 kiwi fruits, diced small
1/2 pineapple, diced small
1 mango, diced small
1 small papaya, diced small
2 avocados, diced small
125 ml (1/2 cup) chopped fresh cilantro
Combine all ingredients and refrigerate until ready to use. This salsa will stand up for about 24 hours, after which time the fruit begins to break down.
Makes 1.25 to 1.5 l (5 to 6 cups).
When Ahier was growing up, her mother ran the kitchen on a tight budget, so this cornbread was the base of a lot of meals.
"We used to cover it with pinto beans, chopped onions and shredded cheese, but now I like it with a slab of butter next to a bowl of chowder. Leftover cornbread makes for wonderful turkey stuffing, or you can cube it and saute it for croutons."
Do not use fresh corn in this recipe. Ahier writes she's been making it for more than 10 years "and at least once a year I give fresh corn another shot. But it always caramelizes, turns black and chewy and lets me down. Sometimes (only sometimes!) fresh isn't best after all."
550 ml (2 1/4 cups) flour
250 ml (1 cup) sugar
175 ml (3/4 cup) coarse cornmeal
10 ml (2 tsp) baking powder
10 ml (2 tsp) salt
300 ml (1 1/4 cups) buttermilk
175 ml (3/4 cup) plus 15 ml (1 tbsp) canola oil
2 ml (1/2 tsp) pure vanilla extract
250 ml (1 cup) frozen corn kernels, rinsed
Preheat oven to 200 C (400 F).
Heat an ovenproof cast-iron frying pan, 15 to 20 cm (6 to 8 inches) in diameter, in the oven for 20 minutes.
While frying pan is heating, in a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, cornmeal, baking powder and salt.
In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, buttermilk, 175 ml (3/4 cup) canola oil and vanilla until frothy. Slowly fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients (there will be lumps), then stir in corn.
Remove hot frying pan from oven and lightly oil with 15 ml (1 tbsp) canola oil. Pour batter into frying pan to about three-quarters full and return to oven for 25 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 180 C (350 F) and bake for an additional 15 minutes or until cooked all the way through. A toothpick inserted into centre of the bread should come out clean.
Remove cornbread from oven and let it rest in frying pan for 20 minutes before cutting.
Makes 8 servings.
BRAISED LAMB SHANKS WITH SHALLOT AND RED WINE SAUCE
This is a classic for the dead of winter when you're craving something rich, roasted and deeply satisfying. Slow oven-roasting breaks down the tough gelatinous muscle so it becomes tender.
You may braise the lamb shanks the day before and reheat them before serving. Bring the meat to room temperature before reheating for best results. If you do it this way it's very easy to take the fat off the sauce.
Serve with mashed potatoes.
50 ml (1/4 cup) canola oil
4 lamb shanks (each 500 g/1 lb)
30 ml (2 tbsp) plus 10 ml (2 tsp) salt, plus more to taste
50 ml (1/4 cup) flour
2 onions, diced medium
8 cloves garlic, whole
4 carrots, each cut into 3 to 4 pieces
4 parsnips, each cut into 3 to 4 pieces
500 ml (2 cups) dry red wine (divided)
250 ml (1 cup) tomato paste
500 ml (2 cups) chicken, lamb or vegetable stock
4 bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
15 ml (1 tbsp) olive oil
8 medium shallots, finely diced
Salt and pepper, to taste
15 ml (1 tbsp) chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional)
Preheat oven to 160 C (325 F).
In a heavy-bottomed, ovenproof frying pan, heat oil over medium-high heat.
Season shanks with 10 ml (2 tsp) salt and dredge in flour. Sear in hot oil until golden brown on all sides, about 5 minutes in total. Remove shanks from pan, leaving drippings behind.
Add onions, garlic, carrots and parsnips to pan drippings. Saute for 2 minutes over medium heat. Add 250 ml (1 cup) of the red wine and tomato paste. Cook for another 10 minutes, until wine has evaporated. Add stock, bay leaves, thyme, parsley and remaining 30 ml (2 tbsp) salt. Bring to a boil and add shanks back in.
Cover frying pan tightly with aluminum foil and transfer to oven to braise for 2 hours, or until shanks are tender enough to be easily pierced by a fork. Remove from oven and let cool. Separate vegetables from meat and set aside. Spoon out any excess fat from juices. Keep 500 ml (2 cups) of the juices for the sauce.
Red wine sauce: In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat and saute shallots for 4 to 5 minutes. Deglaze pan with remaining 250 ml (1 cup) red wine and cook for 5 more minutes, or until volume is reduced by half. Whisk in reserved braising juices. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve lamb shanks with mashed potatoes and reserved vegetables. Pour 50 ml (1/4 cup) sauce over each shank and garnish with fresh chopped parsley, if desired.
Makes 4 servings.
SOURCE: "The SoBo Cookbook: Recipes from the Tofino Restaurant at the End of the Canadian Road" by Lisa Ahier (Appetite by Random House, 2014).