The Gastronomic Summit in Spain, called Madrid Fusion has now become an annual affair. This year was the fifth and arguably the most spectacular so far. Spain’s avant-garde chefs are now generally considered to be leading the way in what has become known as molecular gastronomy! www.madridfusion.net
The ‘high priest’ of this movement is Ferran Adria, the brilliant young chef whose restaurant El Bulli has become a place of pilgrimage for chefs, food lovers and ‘restaurant collectors’ all over the world. To secure a booking in the restaurant is the equivalent of a win in the lotto. Rumour has it that El Bulli is booked solid for four or five years.
My first encounter with Adria was at Tasting Australia in 2004. He dazzled the crowd with his alchemy, when he made jellies, foams, mousses, soufflés and I can’t remember what else with water alone. He told us about his laboratory and his new toys. To produce this sort of alchemy there are a number of ‘must have toys’ – Pacojet, Thermomix, Dehydrator, and a variety of solutions including liquid nitrogen,
Ferran has inspired and thrilled a whole generation of chefs. To me he was like an over-excited little boy with a new chemistry set – no mention of flavour, it was all about tricky new textures and garnishes – smacked of the emperor’s new clothes.
But that was before I tasted his food, I still haven’t been to El Bulli but I’ve tasted some of his signature dishes at the drinks party he hosted at the Casino de Madrid.
The first realization is that nothing is ever as it seems. A green olive on a tiny plate is in fact a little bubble of olive juice that bursts in your mouth with a delicious essence of olive.
A meltingly tender mussel is suspended in another bubble with a whiff of fresh lime juice. What looks like fish roe turns out to be little beads of lychee juice which have been made by injecting little droplets of a lychee solution into liquid nitrogen through a syringe. A gin and tonic sorbet is made in seconds with dry ice, an oyster on the half shell has a tiny pearl of liquid smoky bacon flavour….. these are just a few of the temptations!
This is not the kind of food that you or I will be doing anytime soon, but as with nouvelle cuisine I’m sure that many of the techniques will be absorbed into the mainstream chef’s repertoire, some will filter down into the keen cook’s kitchen. This year the theme of the conference was Produce. Some chefs such as Heston Blumenthal, UK ‘s most famous proponent of molecular gastronomy ignored the brief and went on a flight of fancy about recreating the childhood memories of a ‘kid in a candy shop’.
The movers and shakers from all over the world were there. Tetsuya Wakuda from Sydney, less of a revolutionary but a true genius in the kitchen.
Seiji Yamamoto, a brilliant young chef from Japan has been applying avant garde techniques to create exciting textures and sensational flavours in his kitchen for several years. For the finale of his demonstration he created a link between creative gastronomy and the latest communication technology – an edible menu on a plate which reads over the latest generation of mobile phone, this was definitely a glimpse of the future.
For those of you who might be going to Tokyo sometime soon book well ahead at Nihonryori/ryugin.
Also thinking well outside the box are Spanish chefs Dani Garcia and Angel Leon. Dani has become famous for his ‘nitrogen cuisine’ and his 21st Century interpretation of Andalusian dishes. Dani has many Irish fans of his restaurant Caluma in Marbella.
Chef Angel Leon, the Prince of Tides, spends almost as much time in the sea as in kitchen and laboratory. Angel has invented a process for using fish scales and fish eyes to enhance the flavour of his food. His latest work in association with the University of Cadiz is on a micro filter algae for broths. These chefs and the growing number of acolytes all have laboratories beside their kitchens and many are linking up with food scientists and technology whizz kids, to go places where chefs have never travelled before.
Charlie Trotter, US super chef from Chicago presented his creations amidst many references to his new book on spa cuisine.
Trotter who has virtually every gastronomic accolade in the US is an outspoken advocate of the use of the freshest sustainable organic ingredients. He uses only naturally raised free range meat and game and line-caught seafood and has banned the use of foie gras in his menus.
Fellow chef Dan Barber has a similar social and moral philosophy at his restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills just north of New York City. The restaurant is in the centre of an organic farm which grows much of the produce for the restaurant. I haven’t eaten at Blue Hill yet but it is high on my wish list – just 45 minutes on the Hudson River Line train from Grand Central Station in New York. www.bluehillstonebarns.com
None of these chef’s recipe are easily reproduced at home so here are some other delicious and more familiar dishes from Spain.
Jago’s Tortilla de Patatas
This recipe was given to us by Jago Chesterton from Huelva in the South of Spain when he was a student at the school.
In Spain you must understand, Tortilla is not just a dish it’s a way of life. Tortillas or flat omelettes not to be confused with the Mexican tortilla which is a flat bread, are loved by Spaniards and tourists alike. You'll be offered them in every home, in the most elegant restaurants and the most run down establishments - no picnic would be complete without a tortilla and every tapas bar will have appetising wedges of tortilla on display. People even eat it at the cinema.
Tortilla de Patatas sounds deceptively simple but its not as easy to make to perfection as you might think.
8-9 eggs, free range and organic
14ozs (400g) diced potato (1.5cm)
6ozs (175g) diced onion
3fl oz (75ml) extra virgin olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp salt and freshly ground pepper
The secret of success is to use enough oil. Put a generous (2.5cm) 1 inch of olive oil into a frying pan. Fry the potatoes and onions in the hot oil for about 5-7 minutes. Add the crushed garlic and cook until the potatoes are golden on the outside and soft in the middle. Drain off the excess oil from the potatoes.
Whisk the eggs in a bowl, add a teaspoon of salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the potato and onion mixture. Put 2 tablespoons of oil back into the pan, when it begins to sizzle pour in the egg mixture then lower the heat, when the egg begins to cook, loosen around the edge continue to cook shaking the pan occasionally. When the tortilla is well set and golden underneath, cover the pan with an oiled plate and turn it out, be careful not to burn your hand. Add a little more oil to the frying pan if necessary. Slide the tortilla back in cooked side uppermost. Cook until firm but still slightly moist in the centre. Serve hot or at room temperature cut into wedges.
Spanish Almond Cake
From Rachel’s Favourite Food by Rachel Allen
This is great warm or cold and keeps for ages, probably more than a week if you didn't keep having a slice! It's so good with a cup of coffee or tea. It's also delicious with a ¼ teaspoon of ground cinnamon put in at the start or the grated rind of 1 lemon or 1 small orange. Also fabulous with ice cream, poached fruit, etc.
3 eggs, separated
5½oz (150g) ground almonds
5½oz (150g) caster sugar
1 dessertspoon icing sugar, for dusting at the end
You will also need a 7 inch (18cm) springform cake tin
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4.
Butter the sides of the springform cake tin and cut a round of greaseproof paper to line the base. Separate the eggs and put the yolks into a medium bowl. Add 4½oz (130g) of the sugar and beat until slightly pale in colour. Add the ground almonds and mix to combine. In another bowl whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks, then add the remaining ¾oz (20g) of sugar and continue whisking the mixture until it forms stiff peaks and is nice and glossy. Stir one-third of the whisked egg whites into the almond mixture, then carefully fold in the rest in two batches, not knocking out any air. Pour the cake batter into the tin and place in the centre of the preheated oven for 35 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean from the centre (too high up in the oven and the top gets too brown). When cooked, let it sit for a few minutes in the tin, then remove and cool slightly on a wire rack. Sieve some icing sugar over the top.
Paella is a fantastic dish to make for large numbers of people. In Spain you can buy a gas ring specially for cooking paella on a picnic.
6 tablespoons approximately of extra virgin olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
1 large green pepper, cut into 1cm (1/2inch) cubes
1 large red pepper, cut into 1cm (1/2inch) cubes
8 cloves garlic, sliced
1 free-range organic chicken, jointed and cut into smallish pieces
225g (8oz) organic streaky pork, cut into cubes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon saffron
1kg (2 1/4lb) paella rice approximately (generous ½ cup per person)
1.8 – 2.4l (3-4 pints) homemade chicken stock (use more if needed)
1 chorizo sausage, sliced
450g (1lb) frozen peas
450g (1lb) mussels in shells
12 prawns in shells
4 very ripe tomatoes
Flat parsley sprigs and coarsely chopped chives
Paella pan, 46cm (18 inch) approximately
Put lots of olive oil in the paella pan. Add the pork and cook for a few minutes until the fat begins to run. Add the garlic, onions and peppers. Cook for 4-5 minutes, then add the chicken. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Then add the sliced chorizo.
Sauté for 15 minutes, soak a teaspoon of saffron in a cup of warm chicken stock and stir around. Add to the pan. Add the rice, (about ½ cup per person). Add stock to almost cover, stir to blend and then don’t stir again unless absolutely necessary. Add the peas.
Bring to the boil and simmer really gently for about 20 minutes until the meat is cooked. About 5 minutes from the end of cooking, add the mussels and the prawns in their shells. Continue to cook until the mussels open and the prawns are cooked. Stand over it and move the ingredients around a little. Bring the paella pan to the table. Scatter with lots of flat parsley sprigs and some freshly chopped tomato and chives. Serve immediately directly from the pan.
Adorable Baby Banoffies
Have a few tins of toffee ready in your larder – then this yummy pud is made in minutes.
1 x 400g (14oz) can condensed milk
8-12 Gold grain biscuits
Freshly squeezed juice of one lemon
225ml (8fl oz) whipped cream
Chocolate curls made from about 175g (6oz) chocolate
Toased flaked almonds
8-12 individual glasses or bowls
To make the toffee, put the can of condensed milk into a saucepan and cover with hot water, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for three hours. By which time the condensed milk will have turned into a thick unctuous toffee.
Break a biscuit into each glass or bowl. Peel and slice the bananas and toss in the freshly squeezed lemon juice. Top with a little toffee. Put a blob of softly whipped cream on top. Sprinkle with flaked almonds and decorate with a few chocolate curls.
Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros published by Murdoch Books
Tessa Kiros was born in London to a Finnish mother and a Greek-Cypriot father. The family moved to South Africa when she was four and at the age of eighteen, Tessa set off to travel and learn all she could about the world’s cultures and traditions. She has cooked at London’s The Groucho Club and in Sydney, Athens and Mexico. She lives in Tuscany with her Italian husband Giovanni and their two daughters. “I have collected these recipes over the years. This food is for families, for young people, for old people, for children, for the child in all….. for life. Some are recipes I remember from my own childhood, others are the food I want to cook now for my family.”
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Sausage and Potato Goulash
This is a great, quick, tasty, meal-in-one that will serve quite a few people or leave you with enough leftovers for the next day. Adults can serve theirs with a twist of pepper. This can be completely prepared in advance and just warmed up to serve. It is important to use good-quality sausages – Italian sausages are also good.
750g (1lb 10oz) good quality sausages
2 tablespoons olive oil
30g (1oz) butter
1 large red onion, finely chopped
1-2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1kg (2lb 4oz) potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
250g (9oz) tinned diced tomatoes
A piece of cassia bark or ½ cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Slice the sausages into rounds about 1cm (½ inch) thick. Heat the oil and butter in a large heavy-based pan (cast iron is good) and sauté the onion for a couple of minutes over medium heat. Stir in the paprika, cook for 30 seconds or so and then add the sausages. Continue cooking, stirring fairly often, until the sausages turn golden in places. Add the potatoes, tomatoes, cassia and bay leaf and 500ml (17fl.oz/2 cups) of hot water. Season with salt and bring to the boil.
Lower the heat, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes until the potatoes are softened and the soup is thick and stewy. Stir with a wooden spoon from time to time and shuffle the bits at the bottom to make sure they don’t stick. If the potatoes are not quite done after that time, take the pan off the heat and leave it with the lid on for the potatoes to continue steaming. Mix the parsley through and serve hot, or even at room temperature.
Urru now open in Mallow –
Ruth and Willie Healy have just opened a sister shop of Urru, their very successful Bandon culinary store.
Stocking olive oils and cheeses, Arbutus breads, Bubble Brother Wines, handmade chocolates, Farmhouse cheeses, Glenilen Dairy and Ummera Smokehouse products to mention a few. Urru, Bank Place, Mallow Tel 022 53192 and McSwiney Quay, Bandon Tel 023-54731.
Grow Your Own Veg
Bored by bags of limp salad? Put off by overpriced tasteless produce? Want to reduce your food miles and pesticide input? The RHS will show you how with Grown Your Own VEG online - this coincides with a new BBC2 and RHS TV series Grow Your Own Veg and a book of the same name. www.rhs.org.uk/vegetables
La Brea Bakery Café
Ireland’s first La Brea Bakery Café is now open in Arnotts Department Store, Henry St. Dublin.