Easter Chickens Hatch in the Office

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Such excitement, we’ve just been watching the first three little chicks slowly emerging from their shells – it takes them several hours to struggle free. At first they seem wet and bewildered but soon dry out and fluff up in the warmth of the incubator. I invested in this far from essential piece of equipment a few years ago as part of my ongoing campaign to educate the cookery school students on the 12-week Certificate Course (prospective cooks and chefs) about how food is produced and where it comes from. We also use it on the ‘How to keep a few chicken in your garden’ course as an option for those in urban areas who would like to keep a few hens but daren’t let nature take its course for fear of being dubbed the neighbour from hell when the cock wakes the neighbours at 4.30am in the morning. 

We have hatched out several batches of chicks by now – it takes about 21 days from start to finish and delights everyone from my grandchildren to the grannies. 

Easter has always been about eggs, which have, since ancient times been a symbol of fertility, rebirth and resurrection. During Lent people fasted rigorously, the hens went on laying and so the eggs piled up. They were preserved in a variety of ways. I certainly remember buckets of eggs submerged in Waterglass. These were used for cakes. The simpler buttered eggs didn’t last so long but had a delicious curdy texture and are certainly worth doing if you have access to fresh free range eggs. Ideally they should be warm from the nest. Really fresh free-range organic eggs are a wonderful whole food but for many people a forgotten flavour. Now at last they are starring in their own right on menus from coast to coast in the US. But not just any old egg, really fresh eggs from now rare breeds. Some are names familiar to many of us, for example Rhode Island Reds, Leghorn, Marrans, Light Sussex, others are less well known – Buff Orpington, Plymouth Rock Bantams, Frizzlies, Cochins, or the little Aracuna whose blue shells continue to delight. 

Fortnum and Mason, a mecca for gourmets in London, sell the eggs of these fancy fowl individually for those who want to present their dinner party host or hostess with a unique edible gift – much more fun and delicious than a dodgy bottle of wine. Here are some of my favourite recipes …………………….. 

Chorizo and Parsley Scrambled Eggs

This is so good for breakfast but also makes a delicious tapa.
Serves 4

6oz (175g) chorizo, finely chopped
6 free range eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablesp olive oil

Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan, add the chorizo. When the fat starts to ooze out add the beaten eggs and stir gently over a low heat until just set. Add lots of freshly ground pepper and chopped parsley. 
Serve in an earthenware dish with some crusty bread.

Warm Salad of Gubbeen Bacon with Poached Egg and Gabriel Cheese

A gorgeous little salad which totally depends on good ingredients. Make it with battery produced eggs and indifferent bacon and you’ll wonder why you bothered.

Gubbeen bacon is cured and smoked by a brilliant young artisanal producer called Fingal Ferguson, son of Tom and Giana Ferguson who make the famous Gubbeen farmhouse cheese on their farm in West Cork. If you can’t lay your hands on this, look out for the best quality smoked bacon you can find.
Gabriel cheese is a hard cheese made by their near neighbour Bill Hogan. A good nutty Parmesan may be used instead.
Serves 4

a mixture of organic salad leaves
170g (6oz) smoked Gubbeen bacon lardons
4 eggs free-range organic 
Caesar Salad dressing 
25g (1oz) freshly grated Gabriel cheese, alternatively use Parmigiano Reggiano
freshly chopped parsley

First make the Caesar dressing.- you will have more than you need for this recipe but it keeps for several weeks so save it in the refrigerator for another time.

Fill a small saucepan with cold water, add a little salt. When the water is boiling, reduce the heat, crack the egg and allow it to drop gently into the water. Cook in the barely simmering water for 4 to 5 minutes or until the white is set and the yolk is still soft. You may cook the eggs separately or together depending on the size of your saucepan.

Meanwhile heat a frying pan, add a little olive or sunflower oil. Cook the lardons of bacon until crispy and golden.

To assemble the salad. 

Put a little caesar dressing on the plate. Quickly arrange a selection of lettuce and salad leaves on top. We also add a little freshly cooked asparagus or chicory in season or some chard or beet greens. Sprinkle the hot sizzling bacon over the salad, top with a poached egg. Drizzle some caesar dressing over the poached egg and salad leaves. 

Sprinkle with freshly grated cheese (use a microplane or a fine grater) and a little chopped parsley and serve immediately.

Caesar Dressing

2 egg yolks, preferably free-range
2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 x 2oz (55g) tin anchovies
1 clove garlic, crushed
a generous pinch of English mustard powder
2 teaspoon salt
½-1 tablespoon Worcester sauce
½-1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
6fl oz (175ml) sunflower oil
2fl oz (50ml) extra virgin olive oil
50ml (2fl oz) cold water

We make this dressing in a food processor but it can also be made very quickly by hand. Drain the anchovies and crush lightly with a fork. Put into a bowl with the egg yolks, add the garlic, lemon juice, mustard powder, salt, Worcester and Tabasco sauce. Whisk all the ingredients together. As you whisk, add the oils slowly at first, then a little faster as the emulsion forms. Finally whisk in the water. Taste and correct the seasoning: this dressing should be highly flavoured.

Ham and Egg Pie

This lovely old-fashioned picnic pie comes from Rachel’s Favourite Food at Home by Rachel Allen, published by Collins.
Serves 6-8

200g (7oz) Shortcrust Pastry, made with –
125g (4¼ oz) flour
75g (3oz) butter
Pinch of salt
½-1 egg

Filling:
15g (½ oz) butter
1 onion, peeled and chopped
6 eggs
75ml (2¾ fl.oz) double cream
150g (5oz) cooked ham or cooked bacon rashers, sliced into 1 x 2cm (½ x ¾ in) pieces
1 tablesp chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F) Gas Mark 4.

Roll out the pastry and line a 25cm (10in) ovenproof plate. Trim the pastry so that it is a bit bigger than the plate, then fold up the edges slightly so that you have a slight lip all the way around. This will prevent the cream from running off the plate when you put it in the oven. Place the pastry on its plate in the fridge while you prepare the filling ingredients.

For the filling, melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the onions and cook over a gentle heat until soft. Whisk two of the eggs in a bowl, add the cream, the cooked onions, chopped ham and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour this into the pastry case. Carefully break the remaining eggs onto the tart, trying to keep the egg yolks intact.

Bake for 25-35 minutes in the preheated oven until the custard is set in the centre and the eggs on top are just cooked. Serve warm or allow to cool and pack for a picnic. Cut slices of the tart straight from the plate.

Foolproof Food

Boiled Eggs with Soldiers and Asparagus

Those of us who are fortunate enough to have some space to keep a few free range hens are blessed indeed. The eggs laid by my happy, lazy hens are completely perfect - white curdy albumen and rich yellow yolks. When you have access to eggs of this quality, treat yourself to a boiled egg - absolute perfection but sadly a forgotten flavour for so many people. Little fingers of toast called dippies or soldiers are the usual accessory but during the asparagus season in May a few spears of fresh green asparagus make a deliciously decadent dip.
Serves 2

6-8 spears of fresh Irish asparagus
2 fresh free range eggs
salt and freshly ground pepper
a few pats of butter
1 slice of fresh white pan loaf

Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil, gently slide in the eggs, bring the water back to the boil and simmer gently for 4-6 minutes, according to your taste. A four minute egg will be still quite soft, five minutes will almost set the white while the yolk will still be runny, 6 minutes will produce a boiled egg with a soft yolk and solid white.

Meanwhile toast the bread, cut off the crusts and spread with butter. Cut into fingers. Immediately the eggs are cooked, pop them into egg cups on large side plates. Put the cooked asparagus (see below) and soldiers on the side and serve with a pepper mill, sea salt and a few pats of butter.

To cook asparagus
Trim the stalks of the asparagus, cook in boiling salted water for 7-8 minutes or until a knife will pierce the root end easily. Drain and keep hot. 

Wild Garlic Frittata

A frittata is an Italian omelette. Unlike its soft and creamy French cousin, a frittata is cooked slowly over a very low heat during which time you can be whipping up a delicious salad to accompany it! It is cooked on both sides and cut into wedges like a piece of cake. This basic recipe, is flavoured with grated cheese and a generous sprinkling of herbs. Like the omelette, though, you may add almost anything that takes your fancy. In Spring we often add Wild Garlic to the basic frittata for a delicious variation.
Serves 6-8

10 large eggs, preferably free range organic
1 teasp salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper
85g (3oz) Gruyére cheese, grated
30g (1oz) Parmesan cheese, grated
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
2 teaspoon thyme leaves
4oz (110g) wild garlic leaves chopped
30g (1oz) butter

Wild Garlic flowers for garnish

Non stick pan – 22.5cm (10inch) frying pan

Whisk the eggs in a bowl, add the salt, freshly ground pepper, fresh herbs, chopped wild garlic (keep back a little for sprinkling on top after) and grated cheese into the eggs. Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan. When the butter starts to foam, tip in the eggs. Turn down the heat, as low as it will go. Leave the eggs to cook gently for 12 minutes on a heat diffuser mat, or until the underneath is set. The top should still be slightly runny.

Preheat a grill. Pop the pan under the grill for 1 minute to set but not brown the surface. 

Slide a palette knife under the frittata to free it from the pan. Slide onto a warm plate. Sprinkle with a little chopped wild garlic and the wild garlic flowers.
Serve cut in wedges with a good green salad.

Besançon Rhubarb Tart

Serves 10-12
Pastry
8 ozs (225g) plain flour
6 ozs (170g) butter
Pinch of salt
1 dessertsp. icing sugar
A little beaten egg or egg yolk and water to bind

Filling
1lb (450g) or a little more rhubarb, cut into small pieces
6-8 tablesp. Castor sugar
½ pint (300m) cream
2 large or 3 small eggs
2 tablesp. castor sugar 
1 teasp. pure vanilla essence 

1 x 12 inch (30.5cm) tart tin or 2 x 7 inch (18cm) tart tins

Make the shortcrust pastry in the usual way (see recipe) and leave to relax in a fridge for 1 hour. Line a tart tin (or tins), with a removable base and chill for 10 minutes. Line with paper and fill with dried beans and bake blind in a moderate oven 180C/350F/gas mark 4 for 15-20 minutes. Remove the paper and beans, paint the tart with a little egg wash and return to the oven for 3 or 4 minutes. Arrange the cut rhubarb evenly inside the tart shell. Sprinkle with 6-8 tablespoons castor sugar. 

Whisk the eggs well, with the 2 tablespoons sugar and vanilla essence, add the cream. Strain this mixture over the rhubarb and bake at 180C/350F/gas mark 4, for 35 minutes until the custard is set and the apples are fully cooked. Serve warm with a bowl of whipped cream.

Hot Tips

Buttered Eggs are available from Moynihan’s Poultry Stall at the Princes Street side of the English Market in Cork – Tel 021- 4272614

Cork City Slow Food Convivium – Chocolate and Coffee Evening
Next event will be Tuesday, April 24th at 8pm in the Aga Show Room, behind the Clarion Hotel. Chocolate will be supplied by Emily and Sarah Hehir of Cocoa Bean, Limerick, Coffee will be supplied by John Gowan of Cork Coffee Roasters. Members €10, Non €15. Bookings Phone 021 4505819 Email: jacquesrestaurant@eircom.net  or simonekelly2@eircom.net  

Slow Food Clare
Sunday 6th May – Kilrush Community Garden, Shorthorn Beef Barbecue Contact -Michael Gleeson gleesoncoore@hotmail.com 

Four Rivers Slow Food Convivium
Wednesday 9th May Visit to Flahavans Mill in Kilmacthomas, Co Waterford at 7.30pm – see the manufacturing process, learn about the history of cereal production in the area, experience the success story of a small local food manufacturer. www.flahavans.com  Contact Donal Lehane to book – lehane@iol.ie  Tel 087-6780014, 051-396288

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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