How Borealia makes a French-Canadian bonfire classic without burning down their kitchen
The traditional method of making éclade, a dish from the southwestern coast of France that was introduced here by Samuel de Champlain in 1605, involves burying mussels under a giant heap of flaming pine needles. Evelyn Wu and Wayne Morris, the husband and wife team behind the new Ossington restaurant Borealia, have discovered how to make the dish indoors—and, more importantly, without burning down their kitchen.
“You normally do it outside on the beach,” says Morris, “They usually use a big wooden plank and arrange the mussels downwards so when they open up the ashes don’t fall into them. Then you just pick them and eat them.” Borealia’s method, inspired by Wu and Morris’s fascination with Canada’s wealth of classic immigrant cuisine, involves a little less fire and a lot less tree. Oh, and a gun that shoots smoke. Here’s how they do it.
“In the beginning, when we were delusional enough to think we could do the traditional method for customers,” Wu says, “I was thinking, where are we going to keep all these trees?” Instead, for each order Borealia uses about three cups of slightly dried pine needles taken from a tree in Wu’s parents’ yard.
Morris buries a pound of butter with the needles. Using a barbecue lighter, he torches them. They quickly turn to ash, melting the butter.
After the butter has liquefied, Morris strains it through a conical metal sieve to remove chunks of ash and needles.
The remaining liquid has a murky, ashen sludge floating on its surface. “Anything that has fat is a really good medium to carry flavour,” Morris says.
Morris dices some shallots and leeks.
Using the strained “mussel butter,” Morris sweats the shallots and leeks for a couple minutes, until they’re tender.
Meanwhile, staff scrub the mussels, sloughing off the stubborn beards and barnacles. Each order consists of about a pound of mussels.
Morris adds the mussels to the butter, shallots and leeks. “We try to cook everything low and slow, and add a bit of white wine just to get that steam in there,” he says. He cooks them for two to three minutes, until they become opaque and start to yawn open.
Then, Morris lifts the mussels one by one onto a plate and spoons extra mussel butter over them. He covers the lot with a glass cloche.
Using some of the remaining pine needles, Morris packs the chamber of a smoking gun, a handheld smoking device. “The batteries power a little vacuum that sucks air in and then cycles the air through,” Morris says. “You could use it as a bong or something, for sure.”
Morris uses a lighter to ignite the needles in the chamber and starts up the gun. He directs the nozzle up into the cloche.
The smoke will remain in the cloche for about three minutes, just enough time to get it tableside. When the cloche is lifted, billowy smoke unfurls from under it, clouding the area. “Customers love the theatrics of it” Wu says. “And once the theatrical aspect is gone, the smoke is still the mainstay, because it’s right in the butter.” The finished buttery mussels have a lush, arboreal flavor with a hint of smoke—and no residual ashes.