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Born into a family of cooks in Venezuela, chef Jefferson Alvarez (of Fraîche in West Van) moved to Ottawa when he was 16, and then worked his way through internationally revered kitchens (like Morimoto in Philadelphia and Arzak in Spain). It’s this spirit of culinary adventure that inspires him to put exotic items like muskox, ostrich, yak, and sturgeon on the menu at Fraîche.
How to Buy Sturgeon is an underrated fish with rock-star qualities: it’s hard to overcook, it stands up to strong flavours, and it’s certified Ocean Wise (when farmed on the Sunshine Coast by Albion Fisheries and Target Marine. It is illegal to harvest wild white sturgeon in the Fraser River). Good fishmongers sell sturgeon (check that it originates from a licensed farm), though it might require pre-ordering, and it’s available year round. Look for fillets with dense cream-coloured flesh, beautiful golden fat, and little odour. Unlike most fish, which flake apart when cooked, sturgeon is pleasingly meaty and steak-like with a subtle flavour.
How to Cook Smoking a piece of fish at home is surprisingly quick with an improvised homemade smoker. Start with a large stainless-steel pan and add a few applewood chips to the bottom (available at most camping and hardware stores). Use several ramekins or small bowls to suspend a small rack above the chips. Cover the pan with another of the same size (even aluminum foil will do), and gently heat on a burner for a few minutes. When the chips begin to smoke, lay your fish skin side down on the rack and cover again. Take the smoker off the heat, and allow to sit in a well-ventilated area for 10 to 15 minutes. The fish can then be cooked in various ways. For a simple preparation, Alvarez pan-fries smoked sturgeon in olive oil until golden—a few minutes on each side—and serves with a tangy tomato relish (recipe at Vanmag.com).