Cook this: Arctic char with Montreal steak spice from Nirjutit Imaani

‘You know that Frank’s hot sauce commercial, ‘I Put That $#!t on Everything’? That’s the Montreal steak spice phenomenon up here,’ says Iqaluit chef Sheila Flaherty

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Our cookbook of the week is Nirjutit Imaani: Edible Animals of the Sea by Nunavut Arctic College Media, with a foreword by Iqaluit chef Sheila Flaherty. Tomorrow, we’ll feature an interview with Flaherty.

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To try another recipe from the book, check out: Turbot tacos and Arctic-char-in-a-bannock-blanket.

“Our country food, inuksiutit, is integral to our culture — a culture richly steeped in customs and practices around harvesting, butchering, and preparing inuksiutit,” writes chef Sheila Flaherty in Nirjutit Imaani.

Arctic char — a cold-water relative of salmon and trout — is one such vital country food. Inuit eat it many ways, including raw, quak (frozen), pipsi (dried), candied and smoked, baked, stir-fried and scrambled.

“(My husband Johnny and I) always have it on hand,” says Flaherty. “We just have a batch right now drying on a hockey stick on our porch. Because we’re making pipsi, dried fish.”

Flaherty’s audition dish for MasterChef Canada was Arctic char ceviche with avocado salad — “nice and fresh.” (She went on to appear in the fourth season of the series, which aired in 2017.) Now, with her culinary tourism company sijjakkut (Inuktitut for “by the seashore”) in its pilot phase, she’s offering her Arctic char sushi rolls.

“We love eating it. Quak, which is coming out of frozen. We love eating it baked. I miss Canadian Chinese food, so I make Arctic char balls,” says Flaherty.

In Nirjutit Imaanicontributors from all three regions of Nunavut (Qikiqtaaluk, Kivalliq and Kitikmeot) feature Arctic char in recipes for antipasto, ceviche, chowder, dip, sushi, sandwiches, tacos, burgers, an indoor method of making pipsi with a smaller portion of fish and more.

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Here, in a recipe shared by Vanessa Otokiak of Cambridge Bay, Arctic char fillets are slathered with mayonnaise, squeezed with lemon and sprinkled with Montreal steak spice.

“You know that Frank’s hot sauce commercial, ‘I Put That $#!t on Everything’? That’s the Montreal steak spice phenomenon up here. Like, we put that on everything,” says Flaherty, laughing. “Actually, you know what? I don’t have one. I’m looking at my spices. I need to go get a jar.”

Nirjutit Imaani: Edible Animals of the Sea
Nirjutit Imaani: Edible Animals of the Sea, published by Nunavut Arctic College Media, placed first in the Arctic category at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2022. Photo by Nunavut Arctic College Media


Recipe from Vanessa Otokiak in Cambridge Bay

1 1/2 lb (680 g) Arctic char fillets
2 to 3 tbsp mayonnaise, divided
1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp Montreal steak spice

Step 1

Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C). If using a barbecue, preheat it to medium-high.

Step 2

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil (or lay out a piece of foil, if using a barbecue). Pat the fish down with a paper towel and lay it skin-side down on the foil.

Step 3

Working with 1 tablespoon at a time, spread enough mayonnaise over the char so that it is covered in a thin layer. Evenly pour the lemon juice over the mayonnaise. Finally, sprinkle the Montreal steak spice over the top.

Step 4

If using the oven, bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the thickest part of the fish is firm to the touch and the top is just beginning to brown.

Step 5

If cooking the fish on the barbecue, fold up the two longest sides of the aluminum foil so they meet in the middle above the fish. Fold these together, then roll in the shorter sides so the fish is completely enclosed in the foil package. Place it on the grill. The fish will cook very quickly — after 4 or 5 minutes, carefully unwrap the foil and check that the fish is firm and flaky. If it’s not, fold the aluminum foil back up and return to the barbecue for another 2 or 3 minutes, until the fish is firm to the touch and flakes easily with a fork.

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Step 6

Cut the fish into four even pieces and serve with potatoes or rice.

Serves: 4

Variations: Adriana Kusugak in Rankin Inlet makes a version of baked char that’s similar to this dish, but a bit spicier. Instead of using lemon juice and Montreal steak spice, try mixing 1/4 cup of mayonnaise with 1/4 cup of sweet chili sauce and spreading that over the char before baking it.

Recipe and image excerpted from Nirjutit Imaani: Edible Animals of the Sea published by Nunavut Arctic College Media. Text copyright © 2021 Nunavut Arctic College Media. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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