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Friday, 27 January 2012

The English Market - Corned and Spiced Beef

Cork City is home to the English Market, an indoor market with more good food under one roof than virtually anywhere else. It’s not just me that rates it, Rick Stein is a huge fan and the Queen included it in her Irish Tour last year. More importantly the people of Cork adore the market.

Founded in 1788 the market has been (in their own words) “Serving a City”. Certainly if I lived within reach I would be shopping on a daily basis and ensuring that I only used the freshest, local seasonal produce, as it is, the English Market is an absolute must on my regular forays into Ireland.
So for my Christmas trip I had to get some Cork specialities including Corned Beef and the very special Spiced Beef.

Irish Corned Beef is the real thing, not the homogenous mass in rhomboid tins found in Supermarkets in the UK, and has a long tradition and a close affinity with Cork City.

UK tinned corned beef is very finely minced and usually has some gelatine to achieve the set, Irish Corned Beef is pure Beef and remains in joint shape. It has a lot in common with Salt Beef though Salt Beef is brined whilst Corned Beef is packed in Salt Crystals to cure. As the Salt crystals are generally the size of Peppercorns the term Corned Beef came into use, not because and Wheat or Maize based ingredients are added.

By the 16th Century the newly developing trans-Atlantic trade was demanding foods that would last the several weeks of a crossing and Corned Beef was the ideal choice. Cork, being close to Cobh the last big port before the Atlantic, rapidly expanded production and by 1668 was producing half of Ireland’s annual beef exports.

Ironically, despite producing vast amounts of Corned Beef, it was not widely eaten in Cork, massive exports and the high price meant that the local diet was more likely to include Pork.

Increasingly Corned Beef is being brined, rather than leaving it to develop its own liquid, though the use of Brisket still separates it from Salt Beef.

In the USA Corned beef is huge, a staple of the Barbecue culture which seems to extend across the states and is also hugely influential in the production of Pastrami.

This takes the production a couple of steps further, once brined the beef is hung again, smoked and then spiced.

Cork produces a similar product the Spiced Beef though here the smoking stage is omitted and the beef is smothered with spices, each butcher and family seeming to have their own secret mix. Unlike Corned Beef a bottle of Stout (of your preference – but in Cork either Murphy’s or Beamish naturally) is added to the boiling water. Though a traditional part of Christmas, the Spiced beef is available year round, especially in the English Market, but in the weeks before Christmas every butcher will have a supply for their customers.

Personally I love both the Corned and Spiced Beef and recently a couple of friends went to Matt Tebbutt’s Foxhunter restaurant and enjoyed his Corned Beef. This inspired them to go home and start brining their own. Once tasted real Corned Beef becomes an essential part of life!

Of course the meat is delicious hot, think the old fashioned Boiled Beef and Carrots of Cockney Sing-along Fame, makes a great hot sandwich again highly popular in London – though I questioned a Salt Beef sandwich there once and was told that it was, indeed, Corned Beef from Cork!! The texture and taste gave it away.

Cold Sandwiches are also brilliant though some of our American Cousins have been known to take this to excess!

And of course a real Corned Beef Hash, Crispy Potatoes, Onions and long shards of Corned Beef griddled to perfection and set off with a runny fried egg and a little Sourdough on the side.

It’s time to fight back, form The Campaign For Real Corned Beef and get this traditional dish back on every table and Restaurant menu.

Just in case you have been inspired - or even vaguely interested I am including a recipe for brining your own Corned Beef, taken from Darina Allen’s excellent Forgotten Skills of Cooking and given to her by Michael Cuddington, a Master Butcher, shortly before he retired. The book lso has Spiced Beef and Pastrami recipes but to getv those you will have to buy it!

Start by getting 2.5 Kilos (5lb) of Topside, Brisket or Silverside. Brisket has the best Fat/muscle ratio and is THE traditional cut.
6litres (10 ½) pints of water
800g (1lb 12 oz.) salt.
Stir together in a large Stainless Steel Saucepan.
Tie the Brisket with Kitchen String to keep a nice shape and make Carving easier.
Place the Brisket in the brine and add another 110g (4oz) salt on top of the beef.
Place a cold Sterilized plate on the beef and a weight on the plate to ensure that the beef is totally submerged. Leave the meat in the brine for 5 days. (Some People like to leave it in the fridge).

After 5 days remove and cook. Matt Tebbutt recommends washing the beef in clean water and keeping it in the fresh (unsalted) water for a day to remove excess salt, I haven’t done that and have not noticed an excess saltiness.

Don’t just throw the brine away – it makes an excellent weed killer for paths and gravel areas!

To Cook
Bring the meat to the boil in fresh cold water and then simmer gently for 3 hours. If you want to serve the meat cold leave it in the cooking liquor until cold and – if you have one- put the meat into a Meat Press to firm up.

Corned Beef, simple, traditional and Great!

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Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Spice Time at Corrigans Mayfair

Richard Corrigan has long been one of my favourite chefs, his commitment to really good ingredients, treated well and served simply - but with class  - rings several of my bells.

Corrigan’s Mayfair – in the Grosvenor House Hotel – serves modern food based upon the principles outlined above. From Time to time the restaurant runs a special event, in addition to the usual menu, this time it was based around spice.

A few old favourites from the kitchen were combined with dishes from Atul Kochar – Michelin starred owner of Benares and an accompanying drinks selection to produce the Spice menu.

This was to be served in the Bar for just two weeks and would be highlighted by demonstrations from Atul and my old friend Arun Kapil of Green Saffron. Did I have to go? That is like asking questions about ursine, sylvan personal hygiene.

So onto the train, and off to that London place.

I had missed Atul’s demonstration but wanted to see Arun’s latest creations so I booked lunch, the demo would be at 6 but having dinner would mean a very late return to Wales.

Settled on a barstool I ordered a Manzanilla Sherry whilst perusing the menu, as I intended to have bias toward seafood the slight saltiness of the Manzanilla as opposed to a Fino would be complimentary.

The menu is served tapas style and Richard Corrigan is famed for his generosity of portion so initially I intended to try three dishes, but secretly hoped that I could manage more!

The menu varied slightly from the online version but did not diminish the potential for enjoyment.

Whilst waiting for my first dish I sampled the breads, tasty little rolls and brilliant wheaten bread.

Thus set up it was time for the first dish.

 Crab meat with a citrus salad combined segmented orange with thinly sliced blood orange, black cardamom and Rosewater. Rosewater and crab may not seem the most obvious flavour pairing but believe me this works!

Next up Lord Lurgan's Broth. This is based on an old recipe for Mulligatawny found in an antique book passed to Richard when he took over the premises. With a slight modern update this was a soup that really delivered. The oyster of a chicken was combined with Bhuna spices, coriander and a little basmati rice in a clear, clean consommé. The broth was of sparkling clarity and the tender shreds of chicken melted in the mouth.

My third dish was the Spiced Roast Lobster. Combined with a rich bisque, made from the shell not used in the presentation, three generous pieces of lobster, tail, claw and body made for a memorable taste sensation. Roasting in the shell made for some fun teasing the succulent morsels out but a thoughtfully provided finger bowl meant that every last shred could be extracted as my photo shows.

At this point I decided that Yes, I could manage another couple of dishes and the odyssey continued.

Potato Cakes combined light mashed potato with finely chopped herbs and came served on spiced chickpeas and with a tamarind chutney accompaniment. Each component delivered great taste and when combined opened up whole new horizons.

Finally I opted for the Prawns served with an almost satay sauce, but lighter and more subtle than any satay that I have ever had. So good that I forgot to take a photo until I had finished.

Though the dessert dishes looked inviting and were getting praise from fellow diners, a quick cleansing and invigorating espresso completed the meal, and I went for a walk to aid digestion and to think about the demo yet to come.

Returning to the restaurant I enjoyed another coffee whilst the group of tasters assembled.

Richard joined us, explained the concept of the special menus and demonstrations and introduced Arun, who not only supplies special spice blends to him but worked with Richard on the Channel 4 series Cookery School providing recipes for the semi-finalists to cook.

I have seen many chef demos and usually they are held in fair size rooms with a seated audience. This would be different. “We’ll go through to the kitchen and do the demo at the pass” said Richard and we all headed into the busy early evening kitchen.

As we assembled on the restaurant side of the pass, just in front of the Chef’s Table, head chef Chris McGowan – who had worked with Arun in developing the dishes which would go onto the restaurant menu – joined Arun.

Starting with an explanation of spicing and Arun’s philosophy of using only the freshest spices and using them as seasoning to bring out the ingredients, taking in examination of fresh spices such as Cubeb Pepper and really fresh Mace – it should be pink not brown – we got to grips with spicing.

One of Arun’s dishes was Crisp Spiced Grey Mullet with a Muhammara Red Pepper Relish. Crisp Panko crumbs are mixed with Shallots, soft and hard herbs Parmesan and Green Saffron’ s 1-2-1 Fish Spice Blend. This blend is probably one of Arun’s most complex, involving some 42! Spices. It’s the balance of base and high notes, light and dark aromats and astringents that give the blends the capacity to develop in your mouth giving different palate experiences as you eat. The Muhammara paste, easily blended in a food processor makes a great accompaniment and the finely diced Swiss Chard is a base for the fish.

“Let’s all move into the kitchen to see the dishes cooked, but it will be hot there so a cooling chilled champagne should help” Richard announced and the entire party moved in and huddled around one of the flattops whilst Arun cooked off the Mullet and Chris did the Roast Lobster that I had enjoyed previously. How many other chefs would open their kitchen to 15 or so demo attendees during service? Not many but it made the experience for many most of whom had never set foot in a working professional kitchen before, and certainly not one of this calibre.

Once the dishes had been cooked we retired back to the restaurant for questions and thanks and then those who had yet to try the menu took their seats whilst I headed for the station, but not before being given a selection of Green Saffron Spices and the recipes.

The use of the kitchen for the demo really set this apart from other demos and tastings that I have attended, Richard Corrigan will be doing other specialist menus and demos on a regular basis and I for one will be there for them.

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Saturday, 14 January 2012

Midleton and Douglas, A tale of two Markets

The Saturday of our Ireland trip was the first major sourcing of ingredients for the Christmas and New Year’s period. For years I have been putting in a quick weekend trip, so that I can get some foods that are unavailable in the UK, but are very much part of the celebrations in Ireland.

The best of foods can be obtained in the Markets so we had to visit three, two Farmers Markets and the legend that is The English Market.This post is about the Farmers Markets.

First off Midleton, the oldest Farmers Market in Ireland, started by Darina Allen and the banner on the way in says it all.

From the amazing Arbutus Bread, Dan Ahearne’s organic meats the Ballymaloe Cookery School stall, local vegetables, Farmhouse Cheeses, Gubbeen charcuterie and cheese, and on to Frank Hederman’s smoked fish products Midleton Market has something for everyone. Sadly bad weather prevented the fresh fish from being landed so one stall was missing.

Right at the top end Jane Murphy has her stall with her Ardsallagh Goat Cheeses. When we visited Jane was back on the farm desperately completing a huge supermarket order. This Christmas her Cranberry Roulade cheese was in all of the big Irish supermarkets and Jane had 500 to get out that day.

There is a different relationship between artisan producers and supermarkets in Ireland. This does not imply that all is sweetness and light but rather that the supermarkets react to the Irish sense of locality.

On any Irish high street the majority of shops are local independents, contrast this with say the corporate cluster that is Cwmbran. Butchers, Bakers and Greengrocers enjoy local support and, in the right geographic localities, there are fishmongers such as Ballycotton Seafood in Midleton. Costa and Starbucks have not achieved the near monopoly that they seem to have managed in the UK so local cafes and restaurants thrive.

It is this sense of locality that makes supermarkets behave differently. Firstly there is a big drive to Buy Irish, intensified no doubt by the recession so sourcing is on a national if not local basis.
Then there is immense local pride. In County Cork butter is likely to come from Bandon Creamery or Glenilen Farm, of course Kerrygold and Avonmore are there but the local brands more than hold their own. Cheeses will be as much local as the ubiquitous Mitchelstown and breads will include locally produced as well as Brennans, Pat The Baker etc.

One chain that really gets behind local producers is Supervalu, a grouping of independents coming together to achieve economies of scale. Each champions local food heroes and has photos of them around the store. Obviously each has different local producers highlighted.

So, back to the Farmers Market and Jane Murphy and Ardsallagh goat cheese. Jane has her stall right outside the Hurley’s of Midleton branch of Supervalu and a huge photo of her hangs on the external wall. Though Jane was not there herself, the stall was and we managed to get some of her more mature cheese to bring home. Temperature would not be an issue as it was December and the boot of the car was equivalent to a domestic fridge.

In fact it was so cold that we took shelter in Hueley's Supervalu.

I did have an ulterior motive in going into the shop, and one that illustrates the difference between supermarkets on opposing sides of the Irish Sea.

The first Saturday in December is the Supervalu Customer Party – don’t see ASDA, Tesco or Sainsbury doing that here.

Within seconds of entering we were tucking into hot sausage rolls and enjoying an Irish Coffee, perfect for beating off the cold of the Market. There was also a range of seasonal nibbles available with coffee, juice or wine to ease their progress. In fairness I was also looking for things to collect on the Monday to take home like Buttermilk, just can’t get the real stuff here.

Warmed both internally and externally we headed off to the second market of the day at Douglas in Cork.

Douglas again shows that big business and artisan producers can co-exist, being located in the car park of a large shopping centre. Just a couple of miles away Mahon Point has a similar relationship, the Market operating on a Thursday and using the ground floor of the multi storey if wet!

The beauty of Farmers Markets is that being populated by small producers each is different and you can go to a couple in a day and find different stalls in each. So some of the produce is going to be similar, veg is likely to mirror other markets especially if it is local and seasonal but there will be variations even within broad categories. Bakers make different loaves and particularly with Sourdough bread no two starters are the same so each has a unique range on offer.

A couple of stalls really stood out for me.

Annies Roasts offer rotisserie chicken and soups. Annie Murphy raises chickens near Youghal and attends both Douglas and Midleton markets to bring hot, chicken goodness to people. She also caters to parties and outside events from her unique Rotisserie on wheels – think large trailer crammed full of spits and you have the idea.

Though the sun had come out I was glad to lay my hands around a big cup of Annies wonderful chicken and vegetable soup. You could tell it was based on a really good stock made from great chickens.

Annie and I chatted for a while about chickens, production and markets in general before I wandered off to investigate other stalls and producers.

Dropping off at Badger and Dodo for a much needed Espresso I made my way to Ballyhoura Mushrooms.

Lucy Deegan and Mark Cribbin are the owners and operators of Ballyhoura Mountain Mushrooms, Mark being on duty that day. They forage and dry mushrooms at home on their Aga and have only recently moved into selling through Farmers Markets.

In addition to dried mushrooms, foraged amongst the Ballyhoura Mountains, and cultivated ones they sell Truffle Trees!

Small Hazel trees have truffle spores injected amongst the roots to give you the chance to grow your own, and you won’t need a pig or dog to sniff them out, you know where they are!

I picked up some nice Boletus, Chanterelles and a Forest Mix before sampling a very rich Soup made from the mushrooms and the stock produced when you soak the dried mushrooms before use. (I have recently used the forest mix and the stock to make a deep and rich Steak and Mushroom Pie).

Just before I left Mark said “Wet your finger, dip it in here and tell me what you think”. With that he poured a small amount of dust onto a plastic lid.

Finger duly wetted I complied and an absolute taste sensation flooded my mouth. Rich, dark, salty yet sweet with believe it or not a taste of Smoky Bacon Crisps this was pure Umami.

“That’s my Porcini Dust” said Mark, “we dry the Porcini and then powder it in the Magimix before adding a little Sea Salt”. I had to buy a tub, which can be used to give extra flavour to Soups or as a marinade. I first used it as a topping to a slow roast tomato with a touch of Balsamic and Parmesan in a starter for my New Year’s Eve extravaganza and it went well, even with one mushroom-detesting guest!

As we had already visited Midleton the market was drawing to a close though there was still a steady influx of shoppers so we left and went to review our purchases and plan strategy for completing the shopping list before heading back to the UK.

Strategising is of course best done in convivial surroundings with an alcoholic input so it was off to the Blackbird at Ballycotton for a planning meeting….

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Monday, 9 January 2012

Praline Ice Cream

Just after Christmas my Dad gave me a container of hazelnuts from the tree in his garden, “Apart from eating them as they are we don’t have a way of using them” he said thrusting the container into my hands.

Straight off I thought of making Praline, some to go with chocolates, some to be an ‘added ingredient’ in a crumble topping but mostly in Ice Cream.

After an hour of hot nutcracker action I had around 300 grams of fresh nuts – so much better than the shop bought version which can go rancid during storage – ready for use.

First off they got roasted at 180c until the skins began to peel back. The roasting serves two purposes intensifying the flavour and making skinning them very easy. Once roasted the nuts went onto a clean tea towel and were rolled around until most of the skin had flaked off and golden nuggets of goodness were left.

Mixed with granulated sugar the nuts went on to a low heat in a heavy bottomed saucepan until the sugar melted and turned into caramel. It is important not to stir the pan during caramelisation to avoid re-granulation and to keep an eye on the pan to stop the caramel darkening to much – a dark caramel will taste bitter, not the result you are looking for.

Once all the sugar had melted the pan was shaken a little to ensure that all the nuts were coated and the whole poured onto a Silpat Mat. Baking parchment on a baking tray will achieve the same result and, though some cooks will tell you that this operation should be carried out on top of a marble slab I have never found it necessary

Once cooled the mixture can be peeled off the mat or parchment in one piece and set aside.

Blitz it in a food processor to a dust of your preferred texture and seal in plastic containers.

So, Praline made, it was time to tackle the ice cream.

As a regular visitor to Italy I have a great fondness for Gelato and have made my own for some years. Again it was my Dad who gave me the start with a small ice-cream maker which lasted me about 20 years but which died in the summer. Good though it was ice cream could only be made after the bowl had spent 12 hours in the freezer so to make two flavours was a three day operation.

I took the death of the machine as a sign that I should upgrade to a freezer/churner model, and persuaded Mrs K that she would benefit from nicer textured ice cream and a faster production and that around £250 was only the cost of a decent Magimix. In the end we found an ‘end of season’ bargain, a De Longhi machine reduced from £250 to £70 (barely more than a bowl freezing model).

But I digress.

Some years ago in Dingle I came across Murphys Ice Cream. Two brothers, sons of ex-pat Kerryfolk, left New York to return home and make the best ice cream in the world. This meant using the best cream in the world and none comes better than Kerry Cream – sorry for any offense to residents of Jersey and Guernsey.

Once set up Sean and Kieran opened a small shop in Dingle followed by one in Killarney ( there’s now a Dublin outlet and their ice creams are sold in major retailers and historic buildings too).

It was in Dingle that I first tried their wares and was absolutely blown away by the texture, creaminess and flavour. It may not quite be the best in the world yet (there are many I have still to try) but it is the best ice cream north of Milan!

I could wax lyrical about their sea salt ice cream (made with sea salt distilled by themselves from buckets of water collected in Dingle Bay) the Titanic Banana Split (with chocolate funnels) or the Tasting Plate (several ice creams of your choice and three sauces to mix and match) but this is a serious food blog and gastro-porn is not encouraged.

Luckily the brothers had collected their recipes in the Book of Sweet things which I rapidly purchased and Kieran kindly signed for me.

This is my Ice Cream bible, covering Ice Cream, Gelato, Granite and Sorbets and their accompaniments and is always to hand.

Anyhow, though I do not have Kerry Cream I do have Calon Wen milk, organic, not homogenised and the only milk produced and bottled in Wales, Green Saffron Vanilla and a proper Gelato maker, with home-made Praline this should be a triumph.

Egg yolks and sugar are combined and then milk warmed just to the ‘shivery’ stage is whipped in before being returned to a very low heat and brought up to 73c. The milk is held there for about 3 minutes until the eggs are pasteurised and a silky custard has been made. Heating above 75 degrees will produce sweet scrambled egg so a jam thermometer is a must.

The custard is cooled and the placed in the fridge to come down to 5c and then cream is whipped until it doubles in volume and mixed through before being whipped again. A soft mixture is achieved without the addition of lots of air (the commercial process developed by a research chemist called Margaret Thatcher!) and the whole put into the ice-cream maker and freeze churned for about 20 minutes.

At this point add the Praline, I used 2 dessertspoons, any earlier and it will just sink to the bottom rather than mix through. Churn for another 15 -20 minutes and then put into containers and thus into the freezer. Take out 10 minutes before serving to ensure easy scooping.

So how did it taste?

I asked Mrs K who normally rates things from “Alright” to “Yum”, but on this occasion she remained silent with a beatific smile on her face.

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