ArchiveMarch 28, 2009

Don’t believe the hype – food hygiene and safety

The paranoia that has developed around food hygiene and food safety in the last decade is nothing short of frightening. In a just a few short years, many people have lost the ability to judge for themselves when food is safe to eat.

Instead we rely on food manufacturers who of necessity need to err on the side of caution to guide us on the best before and sell by dates. As a result much perfectly good food is thrown out. The constant barrage of ads on TV warning us about the hazards of having a picnics, barbeques, Christmas turkey… has served to further undermine people’s confidence in their own judgement. The tidal wave of regulations that have been visited upon us by the European Union and our own government, the majority of which are way out of proportion to the risk involved, have wearied and frustrated the Irish people. The regulatory business has developed into an unstoppable industry. Restaurants, food businesses, butchers, bakers and fishermen can not afford to keep continually tweaking their facilities unless there is a genuine problem. At this point in time each regulation needs to be examined carefully to see if it really adds real or just hassle.

I remember life before electricity; I was about nine when electricity came to our little village in Co Laois. Before that there were no fridges or freezers or cold rooms. We had meat safes on the north side of the house with perforated zinc, fly proof sides, so the cool air could filter through. We learned from our mothers how to judge with our senses whether food was safe. If meat smelled a bit high it was given a good wash, seasoned well and thoroughly cooked. I was reminded of this the other night when I found a vac packed duck in the back of my fridge. I had been away for a few days so it had been hidden behind some other bits and pieces for over two weeks. When I slit open the pack and it was good and high. I suspect most people would have run to the bin but I just gave it a good wash inside and out and rubbed a bit of salt into the skin and roasted it.

Six of us had it for supper with some apple sauce and lots of vegetables and everyone remarked on how exceptionally delicious and gamey it tasted.

The duck was reared by Nora Aherne from Elfordstown near Midleton (021) 463 2354. Nora has been rearing beautiful ducks, geese and turkey for us to serve at Ballymaloe for over 30 years. They are available at the Midleton Farmers Market on Saturday mornings, as are JJ and Dan Aherne’s (no relation) organic ducks and chickens (021) 4631058. The latter have to be sent to Cappawhite in Co Tipperary for slaughtering and plucking. We badly need top quality farm facilities and mobile abattoirs to facilitate at a time when more and more farmers and food producers are endeavouring to add value to their produce and raw materials. Free range, organic ducks and chickens are not cheap and nor can they be, they take time to rear 40 ducks and 500 chickens, a week and the organic feed is approximately double the cost of commercial feed.

The only positive development from this recession is the growing interest in self sufficiency, more and more people, are keeping hens, a couple of pigs, growing a few herbs. Last year the sale of vegetable seeds has outstripped flower seeds and already this year promises to be a bumper year for vegetable sales and every vegetable growing class is oversubscribed.

Many doctors and nutritionists tell us we eat far too much meat so why not eat less and trade up, when you buy and use every scrap of Nora Aherne, JJ or Dan Aherne’s ducks in East Cork or from Skeaghanore ducks in West Cork (028) 37428, you can use every morsel and make a fine duck stock from the giblets and carcass and a delicious pâté from the duck liver.


How to Joint a Duck and make the most of every little morsel

First remove the wishbone from the neck end – next remove the wings – stockpot

Remove the legs – roast or use for duck confit

Remove the duck breasts. Tear off the inside fillet, use on a salad tiéde.

Trim excess fat off the duck breasts and save to render down for duck fat

Remove all the rest of the duck fat from the carcass – particularly the pieces near the tail end inside the carcass. Cut into small pieces and put onto a roasting tin in a low oven 100C/200F. The liquid fat will render out slowly, the skin will gradually become crisp and golden. Pour the fat into a stainless steel saucepan or Pyrex bowl.

Save the crispy ‘grillons’ in France these delicious morsels are sprinkled over a salad.

Finally there is the duck carcass, if you have a cleaver, chop into smaller pieces and use for duck stock. Add the duck wings and giblets also and lots of aromatic vegetables and seasoning.

Save the duck liver for pâté or for a salade tiede.

In France, I once ate delicious duck rilettes in a restaurant called La Treille in the Dordogne. The chef explained that he used the little pieces of meat from the duck wings and carcass, which had cooked in the stock. The shredded meat was seasoned with salt, freshly ground pepper and quatre epices, and mixed with duck fat and served with hot thin toast. It was absolutely delicious. In this way every scrap of the duck is utilised and the stock may be used for duck gravy or beetroot soup.


My maternal grandfather, whom we called Papie Tynan, was very fond of his food. He reared ducks, geese, chicken and guinea fowl for the table. The ducks and geese had a happy life, paddling about in the pond and pecking at the rotten apples in the orchard, and they tasted exquisite. Every scrap of the ducks and geese was used, including the blood which was made into a soft pudding and eaten on bread. The feathers were kept for pillows, and the down for quilts.

1 free range duck – 4 lbs (1.8kg) approx. allow 1 lb (450g) duck per serving


2 ozs (50g) butter

3 ozs (75g) chopped onion

1 tablespoon finely chopped sage

3 1/2 ozs (100g) soft white breadcrumbs

salt and freshly ground pepper


neck and giblets

bouquet garni

1 onion, sliced

1 carrot, sliced

Bramley Apple Sauce

1 lb (450g) cooking apples

1-2 dessertspoons water

approx. 2 ozs (55g) sugar (depending on tartness of apples)

Put the neck, gizzard, heart and feet into a saucepan with a sliced carrot and onion. Add a bouquet garni of parsley stalks, small stalk of celery and a sprig of thyme. Cover with cold water and add 2 or 3 peppercorns but no salt.

Bring slowly to the boil, skim and simmer for 2-3 hours. This will make a delicious broth which will be the basis of the gravy. Meanwhile, singe the duck and make the stuffing.

To make the stuffing: Sweat the chopped onion on a gentle heat for 5-10 minutes until soft but not coloured. Remove from the heat add the breadcrumbs and freshly chopped sage. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Unless you are cooking the duck immediately allow to get cold.

When the stuffing is quite cold, season the cavity of the duck and stuff. Roast in a moderate oven 180C/350F/regulo 4 for 1 1/2 hours. approx. When the duck is cooked remove to a serving dish, allow to rest while you make the gravy. Degrease the cooking juices (keep the duck fat for roast or fried potatoes). Add stock to the juices in the roasting pan, bring to the boil, taste and season if necessary. Strain gravy into a sauceboat and serve with the duck.

apple Sauce: Peel, quarter and core the apple, cut pieces into 2 and put in a stainless steel or cast iron saucepan, with sugar and water, cover and put over a low heat, as soon as the apple has broken down, stir and taste for sweetness. Serve warm as an accompaniment to the duck.

Duck Roast with Honey and Rosemary

Serves 4

1 free range duck 3-4 lbs (1.35-1.8kg) weight

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons chopped shallot or onion

2 teaspoons thyme leaves

2 teaspoons chopped rosemary

sea salt and coarsely ground pepper

2 cloves finely chopped garlic

6 fl ozs (175ml) chicken stock

1 oz (25g) butter


2 oranges – segmented

sprigs of flat parsley

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/regulo 4.

Put the duck into a roasting tin. Season with a little salt on both the skin and inside the cavity. Cook in a preheated oven for 30 minutes. Then brush the duck with the honey. Sprinkle on the herbs, shallot and garlic. Cook in a moderate oven and roast for approx. 40 minutes. Baste the duck regularly during cooking, it should develop a rich glaze. After 40 minutes remove the duck to another roasting tin for the remainder of the cooking time 10 – 20 minutes approx. Reduce the heat to 160°C/325°F/regulo 3 if it’s browning a little too much.

Meanwhile make the gravy in the original roasting tin, degrease the roasting pan and deglaze the caramelized juices with chicken stock. Allow the stock to boil and simmer gently to dissolve the caramelized juices and to reduce slightly. When the duck is fully cooked allow to rest in a warming oven for 10-15 minutes.

Carve into 4 portions arrange on a hot serving dish, add the degreased juices from the carving dish to the gravy. Return to the boil, whisk in 1/2-1 oz butter and spoon over the duck. Garnish with orange segments and sprigs of flat parsley or watercress.


Duck Legs Roast with Honey and Rosemary

Use 4 duck legs or duck breasts (Magrets) instead of a whole duck. Cook at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 30 minutes. Brush on the honey and sprinkle with the herb, shallot and garlic mixture. Reduce temperature to 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3 for 25-35 minutes depending on the size of the duck legs.

Salade Composee for Duck with Honey and Rosemary

Selection of lettuces and salad leaves: ie. Butterhead, Raddichio, Cos or Chinese leaves, Lambs lettuce, Curly Endives, Watercress, Rocket leaves beet or Swiss chard leaves.

2 oranges – carefully segmented

2 ozs of fine French beans, blanched and refreshed

4 tablespoons of lardons of bacon

8 croutons of bread (small French stick if possible)

Hazelnut or Walnut Vinaigrette

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons sunflower or peanut oil

4 tablespoons hazelnut or walnut oil

pinch of mustard, salt, pepper and sugar

To assemble the salad:

Brush the croutons with duck fat and place in a moderate oven to become golden brown. Blanch the lardons of bacon to remove the excess salt. Dry them and fry in a little sunflower oil until golden and crispy. Remove from pan and keep warm. Carefully tear the lettuces into bite sized pieces and toss with the beans in the dressing, until the leaves just glisten. Place the duck leg or breast on the plate. Arrange the croutons and orange segments around the salad in a large serving dish or on individual plates. Sprinkle the warm lardons of bacon over the salad and serve immediately.


Ballymaloe Duck Liver Pâté with Melba Toast

Serves 10-12 depending on how it is served.


225g (8oz) fresh organic duck livers

2 tablespoons brandy

200-300g (8-12oz) butter (depending on how strong the duck livers are)

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1 large clove garlic, crushed

freshly ground pepper


Wash the livers and remove any membrane or green tinged bits.

Melt a little butter in a frying pan; when the butter foams add in the livers and cook over a gentle heat. Be careful not to overcook them or the outsides will get crusty; all trace of pink should be gone. Put the livers through a sieve or into a food processor. De-glaze the pan with brandy, allow to flame, add the crushed garlic and thyme leaves and then scrape off with a spatula and add to the livers. Puree for a few seconds. Allow to cool.


Add 225g (8oz) butter and fresh thyme leaves. Puree until smooth. Season carefully, taste and add more butter, cut into cubes if necessary.


This pate should taste fairly mild and be quite smooth in texture. Put into pots or into one large terrine. Knock out any air bubbles.


Clarify some butter and run a little over the top of the pate to seal.

Serve with Melba toast or hot white bread. This pâté will keep for 4 or 5 days in a refrigerator.



It is essential to cover duck liver pate with a layer of clarified or even just melted butter, otherwise the pate will oxidize and become bitter in taste and grey in colour.



Classic Duck Stock


5 duck carcasses

1¼ lb (560 g) carrots

14 ozs (400 g) onions

18 fl ozs (scant 600 ml) red wine

2¼ pints (1.3 L) brown veal stock or chicken stock

bouquet garni

pinch coarse salt

a few peppercorns


salt and freshly ground pepper


Remove the insides of the ducks and chop up the carcasses. Put into a large roasting pan and replace it in a very hot oven 225C/440F/regulo 7-8. Chop carrots and onions. When the duck bones are brown, add the vegetables and continue browning in the oven. When the vegetables are lightly browned, use a slotted spoon to transfer them with the bones to a large saucepan. Degrease the roasting pan. Deglaze the pan with red wine and reduce. Add the wine to the saucepan with the bones and the vegetables. Add the bouquet garni, pinch of coarse salt, a few peppercorns and veal stock. Add enough water to cover the bones completely Bring to a boil and let simmer for approx. 2 hours, skimming frequently. Strain the stock and reduce to about half.


Confit de Canard

Preserved Duck Legs

Makes 4

Confit is an almost exclusively French way of preserving. First the meat is salted and then it is cooked, long and slowly in the fat. Originally confit was made to preserve meat, particularly goose and duck for the winter, but nowadays this essentially peasant dish has become very fashionable.

4 duck legs, preferably free range (or 2 legs and 2 breasts or the equivalent amount of goose)

1 clove of garlic

1 tablespoon sea salt

1 teaspoon freshly cracked black peppercorns

a few gratings of fresh nutmeg

1 teaspoon thyme leaves

1 crumbled bay leaf

2 lbs (900g) duck or goose fat

1 bay leaf

2 sprigs thyme

parsley sprigs

6 cloves garlic, unpeeled

Cut the legs off the duck carcass. *(use the carcass to make duck stock, follow beef stock recipe). The breasts can also be used for confit but you may prefer to use them for another recipe, eg. Grilled Duck Breast with Caramelised Apples.

Rub the duck legs all over with a cut clove of garlic, mix the salt, pepper, nutmeg, thyme and bay leaf together; sprinkle the duck legs sparingly with the salt mixture and put into an earthenware dish. Cover and leave overnight in a cold larder or fridge.

Cut every scrap of fat off the duck carcasses – you will need about 2 lbs (900g). Render the fat in a low oven, strain and keep aside.*

Next day, melt the fat on a low heat in a wide saucepan. Wash the cure off the duck legs, dry and put them into the fat – there should be enough to cover the duck pieces. Bring to the boil, add the herbs and garlic, simmer on a low heat until the duck is very tender (about 1 ½ hours – a bamboo skewer should go through the thickest part of the leg with no resistance).

Remove the duck legs from the fat. Strain it, leave it to rest for a few minutes and then pour the fat off the meat juices. When the duck is cold pack into a sterilised earthenware crock or jar, pour the cool fat over so that the pieces are completely submerged and store in the fridge until needed. (Leave for at least a week to mature. When needed melt the fat to remove the confit).

Serving suggestions:

Serve hot and crisp on a salad or add to the cassoulet or serve simply with thickly sliced potatoes sautéed in duck fat and some Lentils du Puy.


Duck Breast with Spiced Lentils and Caramelised Apples

Serves 4

4 duck breasts, free range if possible

salt and freshly ground pepper


Spiced Lentils

8 ozs (225g) Lentils du puy

a few slices of carrot

1/4-1/2 onion

a small bouquet garni


1 large or 2 small chillies, finely chopped

2 tablespoons fresh coriander

extra virgin olive oil

freshly squeezed lemon juice


Caramelised Apples

2 eating apples – Cox’s Orange Pippin or Golden Delicious

1 oz (25g) butter

1 tablespoon sugar

juice of ½ lemon

1 tablespoon Calvados (optional)




sprigs of coriander or flat parsley

wilted greens



Put the lentils in cold water with the aromatic vegetables and bouquet garni and bring to the boil, simmer until soft but not mushy – 12-16 minutes. Remove the vegetables and herbs and discard.

Season the duck breasts well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Score the duck fat well with a sharp knife. Put the duck breasts onto a cold grill pan fat side down first. Cook on a low heat for about 15-20 minutes or until the fat is crisp and fully cooked. Then turn over and continue to cook until fully cooked but still tender and juicy. Quite a lot of fat will run out and it may be necessary to pour some off the pan. (Duck breasts take about 15 – 20 minutes on the fat side depending on the thickness).


Meanwhile prepare the apple. Peel, core and cut into 1/4 inch (5mm) slices. Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan, toss in the apple and cook gently for 5 minutes, add the sugar and allow to caramelise slightly. Add the lemon juice and calvados (if using) and allow it to become syrupy. Remove from the pan and keep warm.


To Serve

Heat the lentils, stir in the finely chopped chilli, coriander, a good squeeze of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and some olive oil to taste.

Divide the lentils between 4 hot plates; arrange a whole crispy duck breast or very thin slices of duck breast on top. Garnish with caramelised apples and sprigs of coriander or flat parsley and serve with wilted greens.



Pangrilled Duck Breast with Glazed Turnips

4 duck breasts

25g (1oz) butter

6-8 white turnips

1 tablespoon water

100g (4oz) onion finely chopped

3 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

Salt and freshly ground pepper


Score the fat side in a diamond shape pattern. Put the duck breast skin side down on a cold grill pan. Put the pan on a low heat, cook very gently for about 20 minutes on the skin side until the fat becomes crisp and golden. All the fat should render out from underneath the skin, turn over onto the other side and continue to cook for 5-8 minutes. Alternatively transfer to a preheated oven at 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Remove to a warm plate and allow to rest. Meanwhile, peel the white turnips and cut into generous 2.5cm (1 inch dice). Melt a little butter in a casserole, add the turnip and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add about 1 tablespoon of water, cover and cook on a gentle heat for 5-8 minutes depending on the age of the turnips. When almost cooked remove the lid to reduce the liquid.

In another saucepan melt the rest of the butter, add the finely chopped onion and cook over a medium heat until soft and golden. Add the honey, stir for 2-3 minutes, add the wine vinegar and allow to bubble for 3-4 minutes. Add the slightly caramelised turnips and toss gently in the sauce. Taste and correct the seasoning, add a squeeze of lemon juice if necessary.



Fool Proof Food

Florrie’s Banana Nut Brownies

Moist, rich and delicious. Can be an irresistible nibble or a gorgeous pud with a blob of crème fraiche.


Makes 24 medium or 18 large squares

175g (6oz) butter, cut into dice

300g (10oz) light muscovado sugar (5ozs caster sugar and 5ozs soft brown sugar)

175g (6oz) dark chocolate, broken into pieces

100g (4oz) self-raising flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

100g (4oz) walnuts and hazelnuts chopped

3 free range organic eggs

2 ripe bananas, mashed

Preheat oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4

20cm x 30cm (8 x 12 inch) Swiss roll tin (deep tin)

Line the Swiss roll tin with silicone paper. Put the butter, sugar and chocolate in a saucepan on a gentle heat stirring until it’s smooth and melted. Remove the pan from the heat, cool a little

Sieve the flour and the baking powder, add the chopped nuts. Beat the eggs and add to the chocolate. Add the mashed banana to the chocolate mixture. Finally add the chocolate mixture into the flour, mix well and pour into the prepared tin. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes or until almost firm in the centre. Cool in the tin, then turn out and cut into squares.



Hot Tips

Food Heroes

Connemara Smokehouse is one of the few remaining that specialises in wild smoked salmon caught from Clare Island off the West coast of Mayo. Graham Roberts incredibly does all the filleting by hand – 40 to 50 fish an hour – ready for smoking. The family business – opened in 1979 – also specialises in line caught Irish smoked tuna and gravadlax. In 2003 they were invited to BBC Good Food Show as one of Rick Steins’s food heroes; they continue to supply him with smoked tuna for his restaurants. Tel: 095 2373, Patisserie Championship

The first Irish ‘Valrhona Patisserie Championship’ will be held on Tuesday 23rd June in the Dublin Cookery School. The closing date for entry is Friday 8th May. Six people will be chosen to compete in the two categories; the theme is Summertime – with two parts; Bonbons and Plated Dessert. The long term aim is to enter an Irish team in the World Pastry Cup. Winner will receive a three day Stage in L’Ecole du Grand Chocolat Valrhona in Tain l’Hermitage, France. For details on how to enter contact Freda Wolfe of Odaios Foods +353 1 4691455


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