The word “picnic” conjures up so much: old blankets with food spread out for easy grazing, relaxed conversation, and a warm summer breeze. We’re a nation of picnic enthusiasts, and in anticipation of the official start of summer, we asked three chefs what they like to take to the beach or the park when dining outdoors with family and friends.
Their suggestions are a step-up of plastic-wrapped sandwiches, carrots, and a bag of chips (although those are fine, too). Chefs Vikram Vij, Suzanne Barr and Ryan Oabel love to create a delicious, picnic-friendly dish from scratch. As long as you have that, they say, the rest can be bought in the store.
The Chef: Suzanne Barr
The inaugural chef-in-residence of the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto, 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 2cm 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 favorite is Walkerswood†
1 small red onion, cut into 1.5 inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1.5 inch pieces
2 courgettes, cut into 1.5 cm cubes
2 dozen wooden skewers soaked in water overnight or at least 2 hours before use
Place the chicken in the bowl. Add salt, pepper, oil and hot jerk sauce. Mix well and cover with foil, beeswax or biodegradable plastic. Let it marinate overnight in the fridge.
Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and begin adding it to the wooden skewers. First add a chicken cube, then onion, bell pepper, zucchini and finally chicken. Finish by adding the remaining chicken and vegetables to the skewers and fire up your grill. Place the skewers on a grill for 3 minutes per side until the meat and vegetables have nice grill marks but are not burnt. Remove from the grill and place in a container.
Side dishes and snacks: Tzatziki, Greek salad, sweet and salty popcorn and slices of Dutch apple pie.
The Chef: Ryan Oabel
Co-owner of three popular Montreal restaurants, Sanwits sandwich shop, Le Petit Vibe (Filipino/Hawaiian cuisine) and Tadhana (tapas-style Filipino dishes).
The recipe: Pinakbet Cauliflower Steak With Candied Tomatoes
1 whole cauliflower
1 whole butternut squash
1 400 ml can of coconut milk
1/2 cup vegetable stock
8 cherry tomatoes
1/2 tsp truffle oil
1 tsp brown sugar
To make the cauliflower steak:
Cut 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 pumpkin puree:
Cut the butternut squash in half and season with salt and pepper
Roast the pumpkin at 350 . for 45 minutes
Scoop out the pulp. Puree the pumpkin in a blender with coconut milk and vegetable stock. Oabel late the puree cool and transport in a glass jar.
To make the candied tomatoes:
Cut cherry tomatoes in half
Spread on a baking tray
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 topped with tomatoes and mash for dipping.
Side dishes and snacks: Ensaladang kamatis (tomato salad) with burrata, taro fries, maple syrup pudding cake (his favorite brand is Massibec)
The Chef: Vikram Vijo
Owner of two restaurants in Vancouver, the eponymous Vij and My Shanti, both known for their tasty and inventive Indian cuisine.
The recipe: Butter Chicken Schnitzel
2 lbs boneless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into 2 inch or 3 inch pieces
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup breadcrumbs
½ to ¾ cup cooking oil
Place the chicken pieces on a counter top and pat them lightly with the heel of your hand. Set the chicken aside on a plate. Spread flour on another plate and mix salt. Divide 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 the excess flour, then dip the chicken into the beaten eggs to lightly coat both sides. Finally, coat the chicken in the breadcrumbs, making sure to coat both sides and shake off the excess. Place the coated chicken pieces on an unlined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining chicken pieces.
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a deep skillet over medium heat for three to four minutes, or until the oil is hot enough that the chicken begins to cook immediately. Cook for three minutes on each side. (Meat should be white without pink). Transfer the cooked chicken schnitzel to the lined baking sheet to drain. Repeat with the remaining chicken pieces. Let cool, place in a container.
Homestyle Butter Sauce (for picnic dipping)
¼ cup cooking oil
2 to 3 tablespoons 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 not using garam masala)
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cayenne pepper (optional)
1 ½ cup water
1 ½ cups whipped cream
Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat for one minute. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute or until golden brown. It will get a little 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 pepper. Stir well and cook for four minutes. Stir in the water and cream and turn off the heat. When cooled, place in container.
(If you’re short on time, this dish is also available through the chef-powered meal kit, Chefdrop, in Southern Ontario).
Side dishes and snacks: Naan bread, vegetable pakora and gulab jamun (dumplings made with flour and soaked in cardamom sugar for dessert).
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