Arctic char liver pate on thin bread: recipes from ‘The Boreal Feast’

Arctic char liver pate birch syrup pecan squares
Hakan Sarnaker's This Bread, from "The Boreal Feast: A Culinary Journey Through the North", is pictured. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ HO, Harbour Publishing - Cathie Archbould

In her new cookbook The Boreal Feast: A Culinary Journey Through the North, Michele Genest explores the wild ingredients of the boreal region and incorporates them in plenty of creative recipes. Here are three to try.

Hakan Sarnaker’s Thin Bread

This crunchy, nutty version of the thin bread served at the award-winning Faviken restaurant in Sweden is a good introduction for those who are want to make it. Genest’s friend Hakan Sarnaker served it during her visit to Sweden. It’s gluten-free, and a great staple in any season.

Corn flour is found in the baking section of the supermarket. Essentially very finely ground cornmeal, the texture of corn flour is floury, not grainy. Don’t mistake cornstarch for corn flour.

These are delicious spread with Smoked Arctic Char Liver Pate (recipe follows), says Genest.

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  • 250 ml (1 cup) corn flour
  • 125 ml (1/2 cup) sunflower seeds
  • 125 ml (1/2 cup) sesame seeds
  • 50 ml (1/4 cup) pumpkin seeds
  • 50 ml (1/4 cup) flaxseeds
  • 5 ml (1 tsp) fennel seeds
  • 5 ml (1 tsp) anise seeds
  • 5 ml (1 tsp) ground juniper berries
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • 50 ml (1/4 cup) canola oil
  • 250 ml (1 cup) boiling water

Cut 2 sheets of parchment paper to fit 33-by-23-cm (13-by-9-inch) baking trays.

In a bowl, stir dry ingredients together. Add oil and stir to combine. Add boiling water and mix thoroughly. The dough will be quite runny at first, thickening as the corn flour absorbs the water.

Using a spatula, spread as thinly and evenly as you can onto parchment paper. Don’t worry if there are small gaps in the dough. (It’s easier to spread the dough on the paper before moving it to the baking tray.)

Bake in a 150 C (300 F) oven for 1 hour. Turn oven off, prop door open and leave bread in cooling oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on baking trays. When at room temperature, break bread into large pieces.

Will keep for several days in an airtight container.

Makes about 4 dozen pieces.

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Smoked Arctic Char Liver Pate

When researching The Boreal Feast, Genest says one of the ingredients she was really thrilled to learn about was fish liver and she heaps kudos on her friend Jennifer Hess for teaching her about Arctic char livers.

For many years Hess worked at Icy Waters Arctic Char aquaculture company near Whitehorse. “She really wanted to use the whole fish as much as possible, so she started saving the livers from the Arctic chars and smoking them.”

The flavour is like that of smoked oysters, with the buttery texture of foie gras.

Genest adapted the elk liver pate recipe from her first cookbook, The Boreal Gourmet, to use Arctic char livers. She suggests spreading the pate on crackers, such as Hakan Sarnaker’s Thin Bread.

You can substitute smoked chicken livers for the Arctic char livers.

  • 500 g (1 lb) smoked Arctic char livers or smoked chicken livers
  • 250 g (8 oz) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 ml (1/2 tsp) ground mace or grated nutmeg
  • 10 ml (2 tsp) dry mustard
  • 2 ml (1/2 tsp) ground allspice
  • 2 ml (1/2 tsp) toasted juniper berries, crushed
  • 3 green onions, finely chopped
  • 2 ml (1/2 tsp) minced garlic
  • 50 ml (1/4 cup) cognac
  • 30 ml (2 tbsp) finely chopped parsley
  • 75 ml (1/3 cup) 35 per cent cream

Place all ingredients except cream in the bowl of a food processor and process until pate is completely smooth. Add cream, scraping down sides of bowl with a spatula. Store in an airtight container; the pate will keep for 1 week in the refrigerator. Serve at room temperature.

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Note: The livers are high in oil, which sometimes seeps to the top of the pate after a few hours. Blot the surface with paper towel and whisk the pate with a fork before transferring to a ramekin to serve.

Makes about 750 g (1 1/2 lb).

File photo of Arctic Chars. GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

Birch Syrup Pecan Squares

Birch syrup plays a major role in flavour in these traditional pecan squares.


  • 175 ml (3/4 cup) butter, softened
  • 125 ml (1/2 cup) sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 500 ml (2 cups) flour
  • 2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt
  • 5 ml (1 tsp) baking powder


  • 175 ml (3/4 cup) butter
  • 250 ml (1 cup) brown sugar
  • 30 ml (2 tbsp) birch syrup or golden corn syrup
  • 500 ml (2 cups) chopped pecans

Heat oven to 180 C (350 F) and grease a 33-by-23-cm (13-by-9-inch) baking dish.

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Base: In a bowl, beat butter and sugar together until light; add egg and beat until fluffy. Sift together flour, salt and baking powder and beat into butter mixture. Press into baking dish and bake for 10 minutes or until base just begins to colour. Remove from heat, leaving oven on, and let cool for 10 minutes before covering with topping.

Topping: In a saucepan, melt butter and sugar together over medium heat, stirring to combine. Stir in birch syrup, then stir in pecans. Spoon onto cooled base and spread evenly. Bake for 15 minutes or until entire top is bubbling.

Let cool on a rack. Cut into squares when thoroughly cool.

Makes about 42 squares (each 2.5 by 4 cm/1 by 1 1/2 inches).

Source: “The Boreal Feast: A Culinary Journey through the North” by Michele Genest (Harbour Publishing, 2014).

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