ArchiveOctober 26, 2019

The Ulster Food Trail….

On a recent reconnaissance trip to Northern Ireland, it’s not too strong to say I was blown away by the explosion of artisan food and drink producers.  After three action packed days, I struggled home on the train resembling a ‘bag lady’ with large totes overflowing with produce – so many delicious new finds…..

My adventure began in the Strangford Lough region. I was collected from lovely Clandeboye after a particularly good breakfast of freshly boiled eggs and unctuous Clandeboye yoghurt made from the milk of Lady Duffrin’s fine herd of Jersey cows – Seek out this yoghurt, its superb and I don’t use that word loosely.

After a meandering drive around beautiful Strangford Lough, we arrived at the Echlinville Distillery outside Kircubbin. It’s the first newly licensed distillery in Northern Ireland in 125 years. Since it’s establishment in 2012 it’s at the forefront of Ireland’s spirits renaissance and is the home of some of the North’s best known spirits, including Jawbox Gin, Dunvilles Irish Whiskey and lots of innovative work going on here with barrel aging in various woods… We particularly enjoyed a 12 year old Dunville’s single malt, aged in a PX barrel, the return of an icon originally introduced in 1808.

After our tour and tipple, it was on to the little town of Comber to the super cool indigenous and independent Indie Füde shop. Owner Johnny McDowell bounced out to greet us, his little deli/cum café was packed with small batch artisan products from all over the island of Ireland but particularly the North. Fantastic charcuterie from Broughgammon Farm and Ispini, Boerwors from Hellbent, Buffalo Salami from Ballyriff, Buchanan’s Irish peat smoked back bacon with a delicious layer of fine back fat, Abernethys handmade butter made in Dromara from the cream of the grass fed cows and then a whole counter of wonderful artisan cheese. Blue Buck of course but also several I hadn’t tasted before, a Sperrin blue, a triple cream cheese from Ballylisk of Armagh called Triple Rose. An oak smoked Drumlin Cheddar from Silka Cropp of Corleggy fame in Co Cavan.

I also found some smoked anchovies from East Coast Seafoods and a loaf of French Village Bakery sourdough – How about that for a picnic?

Johnny is properly passionate about local foods and loves to do things differently from eco-friendly packaging, bold designs to bespoke gift ideas, always trying to surprise and innovate, follow Indie Füde (www.indiefude.com) to find out about their cookery demos and pop up supper clubs, Will Brown was cooking up a storm while we were there getting ready for that evenings supper club.

Next day we explored the mid Ulster region – First stop the Lough Neagh Fisherman’s Co-Op in Toomebridge, Co Antrim. Several fishermen were sorting their nets under the watchful eye of a flock of herons on the weir over the River Ban which runs through the 45 mile Lough Neagh. I’d particularly asked to visit this fishery…. we’ve been enjoying the tender Lough Neagh smoked eel at Ballymaloe for many years, both silver and brown eels thrive in the lough. They love dark and stormy nights before a new moon, the eels become restless and move down the river to start their epic 5,000 mile journey back to the Sargasso Sea, carried along on the gulf stream. The fishermen wait in their flat bottomed boats, with their traditional cogull nets and hooks to harvest the fat charged eel, carrying on a tradition and passing on the skills that date back to the Mesolithic times

Cathy Chauhan & Pat Close showed us round the interpretive visitor centre and Science room where school children learn about the intriguing history and life cycle of the eel.

Over 400 tons of Lough Neagh eel are caught and processed every year in line with careful conservation guidelines. A large part of the catch are shipped to Holland for smoking and to Billingsgate in London for the production of Jellied eel. Fresh eel are also available but what I didn’t know was that Lough Neagh is also home to many other species including Dollaghan, a wild brown trout, Perch, Roach, Bream, Pike and Pollan, an ancient fish species which dates back to the ice age and is unique to Ireland. I tasted it both fresh and smoked by North Coast Smokehouse and love it – By the way fresh eel is my favourite fresh water fish, and that’s also available from the Lough Neagh Co-op.

There’s so much more to share with you but enough for this article, to be continued…..

Rory O’Connell’s Roast Red Onion Leaves with Smoked Eel and Horseradish Mayonnaise

Choose small red onions for roasting as you really want the finished leaves to be bite sized. The smoked eel can be replaced with smoked salmon or mackerel but do try to source smoked eel if you can.

Makes approximately 20 pieces or bites

4 small red onions

1 tablespoon olive oil

sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

250g (9oz) smoked eel cut into dice or thin slices

5 tablespoons horseradish mayonnaise (see recipe)

sprigs of chervil or watercress for garnish

Preheat oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 4.

Cut the unpeeled onions in half straight down through the middle and through the root. Brush the cut surfaces with olive oil and place cut side down on a roasting tray. Cook for 20-40 minutes or until the onions feel completely tender. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. When the onions are cool, separate the layers of onion to achieve little cup shaped leaves. These can be prepared in advance and stored at room temperature.

To assemble, place the onion leaves on a serving dish. Spoon a little of the horseradish mayonnaise into the base of each leaf and follow with a piece of eel and a spring if chervil or watercress.

Horseradish Mayonnaise

2 egg yolks

2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon of caster sugar

2 tablespoons of wine vinegar

150ml sunflower oil or light olive oil or a mixture of both oils

1 heaped tablespoon of finely, grated fresh horseradish

1 teaspoon of chopped tarragon

Put the egg yolks, mustard, sugar and vinegar in a bowl. Whisk well and add the oil gradually in a slow and steady stream while whisking all the time. The sauce will emulsify and thicken quite easily. Add the horseradish and chopped herbs. Taste and correct seasoning. It is unlikely to need salt because of the large quantity of mustard.

Chill until needed.

Scrambled Egg with Chervil and Smoked Salmon, Mackerel or Smoked Eel

Makes 24 approx.

Cold Scrambled Egg with Chervil may not sound in the least appetizing. Try it, it makes the very best egg sandwiches, and served here on tiny croutons with little strips of smoked salmon, mackerel or eel on top, it makes a delicious cocktail bite.  Smoked eel is sublime but we need to be aware that eels are endangered in some areas, in which case use smoked salmon or smoked mackerel.

2 really fresh organic eggs

1 tablesp. cream or milk

a dot of butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

trimmings of smoked salmon, smoked mackerel or smoked eel cut in strips

sourdough bread,  7mm (⅓ inch) thick, cut into 5cm (2 inch) squares approx. (large enough for about 2 bites)

chervil

Preheat a pangrill, chargrill the sourdough on both sides.  Cut into squares.

Scramble the eggs in the usual way, taste for seasoning.  Spread some scrambled egg on each piece of sourdough.   Sprinkle with finely grated cheese and top with chervil.

A Salad of Figs, Sperrin Blue Cheese, Cured Coppa, Smoked Almonds and Nasturtium Leaves

I used some Ispini Coppa, Broughgammon Salami.

Serves 4

4 ripe juicy figs

A drizzle honey

A drizzle lemon juice

8 thin slices of artisan salami or coppa

50g (2ozs) crumbled Sperrin Blue cheese

8 smoked or well toasted unskinned almonds coarsely sliced

A few small salad leaves or small nasturtium leaves if available

Extra virgin olive oil

Flakey sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Trim each fig and cut into thirds and place into a wide serving bowl. Drizzle with a little runny honey and a few drops of lemon juice. Toss gently.

To assemble.

Put three pieces of honeyed fig on each plate, top with a few crumbs of Sperrin Blue cheese, a couple of folds of wafer thin coppa or salami. Scatter a few small organic salad leaves and a nasturtium leaf or two on top.

Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, a few flakes of sea salt and a scattering of coarsely sliced, roasted or smoked almonds. Enjoy immediately.

Carrot, Apple and Raisin Salad with Yoghurt and Mayonnaise Dressing

This delicious salad can be made in minutes from ingredients you would probably have in your kitchen, but shouldn’t be prepared more than half an hour ahead, as the apple will discolour.  It can be served either as a starter or as an accompanied salad for ham or pork.

Serves 6

8 ozs (225g) grated carrot

10 ozs (285g) grated dessert apple, e.g. Cox’s Orange Pippin if available

2½ oz (60 g) raisins

salt and freshly ground pepper

Dressing

2-3 tablespoons natural yoghurt

2-3 tablespoons homemade mayonnaise

honey (optional)

Garnish

a few leaves of lettuce

sprigs of watercress or parsley

chive flowers if you have them

Wash the carrots and peel if necessary.  Grate the carrots and apples on the coarsest part of the grater. Mix the yoghurt with the mayonnaise.  Mix the coarsely grated carrot and apple together, add the raisins and season with salt and freshly ground pepper and toss in the dressing. Toss with a fork to mix.   Taste and add a bit of honey if needed, depending on the sweetness of the apples.

Take 6 large side plates, white are best for this.   Arrange a few small lettuce leaves on each plate and divide the salad between the plates.  Garnish with sprigs of watercress or flat parsley and sprinkle with chive flowers if you have some. Season to taste.

Bhapa Doi – Steamed Sweetened Yoghurt

So maybe this isn’t exactly a traditional recipe, but steamed puddings are certainly a forgotten skill and I ate the most sublime steamed yoghurt at Kempies restaurant in Calcutta. This isn’t exactly the same, but it is delicious also. I found it in The Calcutta Kitchen by Simon Parkes and Udit Sarkhel.

The sweetness of the condensed milk works wonderfully with the acidity of the plain yoghurt. This creamy, sliceable textured pudding is similar to a crème caramel – one of my favourites.

Serves 8

800g (1lb 12 oz) natural yoghurt

300g (10 1/2oz) sweetened condensed milk

seeds of 6 green cardamom pods

powdered in a mortar and pestle

8-10 saffron strands

Garnish

Sliced pistachio nuts

Heat some water in a steamer. You could use a bamboo over a wok, but any multi-tiered steamer will work. If you do not have a steamer, upturn a small, metal, flat-bottomed bowl inside a larger pot with a fitting lid. Pour water into this and bring to a simmer. Put the item to be steamed into a suitable dish, cover with clingfilm, and place on the upturned bowl to steam.

Mix the natural yoghurt and other ingredients in a bowl and whisk to incorporate some air but don’t overdo it or the whey will separate. Pour it into 8 small serving bowls. Cover with clingfilm and put in the steamer or on to the upturned bowl. Cover with the lid and steam on a steady simmer for 35-40 minutes.

Carefully remove the bowls and leave to cool. Remove the clingfilm and chill.

Serve chilled, sprinkle with the sliced pistachio nuts.

Letters

Past Letters