Memories of Canada. Part 3 – manly things

By MurrayPage | local guides | August 13, 2012

Barbecue – Barbecuing is not something to be taken lightly. In Canada, as in the rest of North America, people take their barbecues seriously. There is no such thing as a disposable barbecue in Canada. Purists (and there’s plenty of them around) will tell you that charcoal is the only way to grill, but you will still find people with gas barbecues plumbed into the mains gas supply. That is where the similarities with our pitiful attempts in this country end. A barbecue is not about flash grilling your burgers and sausages because the coals are too hot and you’re too impatient to wait. Barbecuing is about cooking long, low and slow. Broiling is a term that is waved around quite a lot, but I still haven’t managed to work out what it means other than that you close the lid of the barbecue and ignore it for a few hours. The best barbecue I came across while there was in a tiny town called Keene near Peterborough, Ontario and called itself Muddy’s Pit BBQ. I could yack on for hours about it, but simply, there are two trailer-sized smokers in which they slow cook a whole variety of meats which are then sold by weight. I was recommended the carnivore sampler for obvious reasons and ended up with a beautifully wrapped parcel consisting of a pound of brisket, ribs, pulled pork and sausage all of which tasted incredible. There was so much flavour from being cooked in the smoker meant that there wasn’t even any need for sauce. Now I have been told that this is quite common and that it is the only way to barbecue and I am a convert. I used to think I was a good barbecuist, but I have so much to learn.

Canadian tire – this shop is paradise. It sells literally everything that isn’t edible. The best way to describe it is a cross between Halfords, B&Q, Wilkinsons, SportsDirect, Screwfix and Cotswolds. With added hunting, fishing and shooting departments not found anywhere in the UK. Only here can you buy a paddling pool, a lawn tractor, hockey skates, an outboard motor, shotgun ammunition, doe attracting scent, a trailer tent, steak knives, professional grade power tools, knife-spoons and pepper-spray holsters. It is a shop with good PR as well, buy an item there which is later reduced, take in the receipt and the difference will be refunded.

Chicken wings – chicken wings are one of the most excellent foodstuffs known to man, but the wonder of wings goes much further than just hormone-enhanced deep fried poultry, it’s the whole culture of it. Wings and beer is the perfect accompaniment to an evening of televised sport of which, much like the rest of the continent there is plenty. Throughout Canada (or at least the small amount of it I have seen) every pub (unlike America, pubs are common, and usually serve food) worth its beer has a ‘Wing night’ where wings are on special offer for anything down to 10cents per wing. Wings are, in my humble opinion, perfect drinking food. A seasoned wing-connoisseur (such as I like to think I have become) will eat their wings one-handed with the simple intention of maintaining a clean hand for drinking with. There are a few important factors governing the quality of a chicken wing and as with any food it is down to personal preference. The key variables are size, coating and sauce: As with any supposedly natural foodstuff, maximising the size of a chicken wing is the producers holy grail and bigger is usually better if you like a meaty wing, but the down-side is that you can almost guarantee any wing that appears larger than normal will almost certainly have come from a hormone altered chicken so for the purists and animal welfare-types bigger is not better. Another consideration to throw into the mix for size is that a smaller wing will have a higher surface area (and thus coating / sauce) to meat ratio – better taste experience. So it’s not an open and shut case; there are a huge variety of coatings applied to chicken wings but they all fall into two categories – breaded or dry-rub ‘buffalo wings’. The best breaded wings I have come across consistently came from a chain of grill-houses in Ontario called Montanas, were known as double dusted wings and (like any good homemade chip connoisseur will tell you is the secret) were double fried. However, personally I prefer buffalo wings. I’m not even sure why they’re better, but they just are. Something about the better sauce absorption properties; which brings me neatly onto sauce. There are usually 4 or 5 sauce choices at your average wing vendor – honey and garlic, (very sweet, very tasty), mild (no Idea, never tried it), medium (plenty of flavour, not enough kick), hot (sauce of choice every time) and extra hot / devil / suicide etc (never had the guts) but some more specialised places will have hundreds of different sauce combinations on their wings and while it’s great to have the choice, and some of the combinations are ingenious, there really is only sauce to choose from – that’s why they’re usually called hot wings. I really miss chicken wings.

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