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Chef Rob Feenie Goes for a Picnic

We’ve enlisted the Iron Chef to create a simple outdoor menu that’s short on fussiness and long on taste.

Rob Feenie

When Chef Rob Feenie was filming his television show a few years ago, he took his crew down to the beach at Spanish Banks to see what the locals were eating. “It really varied by nationality,” says the Iron Chef, now food concept architect for Cactus Club. There were the typical burgers and hot dogs, but more interesting fare too: “A Portuguese family was eating salted herring, these little pieces of fish they’d deep-fried ahead of time, and they were enjoying them with wine.”

The common denominator? It was all simple, fresh food that’s great at room temperature. For his perfect picnic menu, Feenie selected barbecue duck spring rolls—inspired by the Asian cuisine that’s so prevalent on the West Coast—as an envy-inducing, pass-around snack to start. The heat of spicy dipping sauce lends itself well to summer days, and it’s a good setup for a cooling potato salad and fried chicken.

The potato salad is European in style, meaning no cream or mayonnaise and no eggs—just potatoes, vinegar, onions and tarragon, with a few almonds for texture. The clean and simple acidity is the right counterpoint to fried chicken—like a slaw pairing with a slow-cooked barbecue—and avoids the mayo-in-hot-sun dilemma. Can’t find the tarragon? Dill works just fine, too.

And for that picnic staple, fried chicken, Feenie turned to a buttermilk recipe that’s become a favourite of his brother-in-law. “The last time I made it, we had leftovers for two days,” he says. “And it tastes great out of the fridge—the buttermilk keeps it moist.”

The key to perfect picnic food, says Feenie, is simple fare that can be done ahead of time and tossed into a basket. And simple doesn’t have to mean plain: for Feenie’s crowning glory, he chose fresh brownies with bourbon-spiked caramel sauce. “People walking by are going to want to take them—they’ll be watching you on the beach, spooning this butterscotch on top of the brownies.”

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