Chef Matthias Fong's steamed scallops (photo: Michael Nangreaves)

Festive Food: Chef Matthias Fong’s Steamed Scallop with Bagna Càuda and Birch Syrup

By Kellie Davenport

“For the holidays, my mom would cook a roast turkey with all the fixings—but the bird would be stuffed with sticky rice, Chinese sausage and oyster sauce,” says chef Matthias Fong.

Though the food consultant and former head chef at Calgary’s River Café was born and raised in Alberta, his parents’ Hong Kong roots left an indelible mark on his culinary style. “As a kid, I was always in the kitchen with my mom and grandma, watching them make traditional Cantonese dishes,” he says. “Now, I love studying food to explore how similar flavours exist in different ethnic cuisines.”

This scallop recipe, for instance, draws inspiration from a classic Cantonese dish of steamed scallops with garlic. But Fong’s version borrows complementary Italian flavours by using bagna càuda, a fondue-like garlic and anchovy sauce. The sweet caramel notes of birch syrup and tart lingonberry lend festive Canadian flair while balancing the intensity of the anchovies and garlic.


• 8 U10 scallops, sustainably harvested
• 200 g mung bean vermicelli
• 8 cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated
• ½ cup olive oil
• ¼ cup butter
• 1 Tbsp dry white wine
• 2 fillets prepared anchovy, chopped fine
• ½ tsp ground sumac berry
• Birch syrup
• Pea shoots
• Handful of lingonberries or unsweetened dried cranberries

Heat butter on medium in a small sauce pot until browned; add olive oil and garlic.

Cook an additional 2–3 minutes until garlic is fully cooked. Just prior to caramelizing, whisk to break up clumps.

Add anchovies; remove from heat. Add white wine to arrest cooking; allow mixture to cool to room temperature. Add sumac and season to taste.

Soak vermicelli in cold water for 10 minutes. Bring a separate pot of water to boil and place a bamboo steamer overtop.

Prepare scallops. If the shells are available, set scallops onto the half shell (a heat-safe dish will also work).

Nest a small bundle of vermicelli (25 g or less) around each scallop. Top with a bit of bagna càuda.

Steam scallops 3–4 minutes, then carefully remove and top with more bagna càuda.

Finish each scallop by surrounding with a few stems of pea shoots and drizzle over several drops of birch syrup.

Tip: For festive flair and extra acidity, garnish with a few lingonberries or cranberries