Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Many Flavors of Ireland

Most people are not aware of the rich and varied food culture of Ireland. The focus has always been on locally produced ingredients that create a basic but hardy dish. One might say the Irish were locavores and proponents of whole food long before it was fashionable. The green island is not only very fertile but the climate, influenced by the Gulf Stream, has allowed year-round agriculture. Today there is much more to Irish cuisine than just basic wholesome food. There has been an influx of people from a variety of countries during the economic boom between 1995 and 2007 called the Celtic Tiger. Many fell in love with Ireland and stayed adding their own flavors to Ireland.

Luckily, John and I arrived in Dublin in time for their annual Taste of Dublin event where it was possible to sample the culinary delights of many of Dublin’s restaurants all in one location. The object was to “Excite the taste buds of Dubliners.” There were plenty of free samples plus signature dishes were available for a nominal charge from some of the prominent local restaurants such as The Ritz Carlton Powerscourt’s Gordon Ramsey Restaurant and The Strawberry Tree at BrookLodge. There were demonstrations of Thai, Malaysian, and Indian recipes. The libation samples included Gecko cocktails, a Veuve Clivquot Champagne Bar, Crabbies Alcoholic Ginger Beer, and more. Truly heaven for foodies.

My husband, John and I, joined a cooking class with the renowned Catherine Fulvio who runs the Ballyknocken House and Cookery School in the beautiful Wicklow Mountains south of Dublin. We made Open Ravioli with Wild Mushroom and Chicken Sauce. Even though she is Irish she is married to an Italian and offers a variety of classes with an international flair.

Catherine’s Fulvio’s Wild Mushroom and Chicken Sauce
2 chicken fillets, diced
3 spring onions, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 tbsp. thyme, chopped
1 tbsp. parsley, chopped
150 g wild mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed
75 ml white wine
100 ml heavy cream
salt and finely ground black pepper to taste
2 tbsp. olive oil

Heat oil in frying pan to simmer, add spring onions. Simmer 1 minute. Add garlic herbs and chicken. Saute for 3-4 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook 3 minutes more. Season to taste. Increase heat. Add white wine, cook 2-3 minutes. Stir in cream and cook 2-3 minutes or until sauce becomes thick. Set aside. Cut prepared pasta into triangles, place on plate and top with Wild Mushroom and Chicken Sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Serve.

Those who think Ireland is a country of quaint cottages should head to the Wicklow Mountains south of Dublin for a different viewpoint. Powerscourt Estate is how the landed gentry lived on their huge estates. The gardens of Powercourt are among the most amazing in all of Europe. Adjacent to the estate is the beautiful, Palladium-style Ritz Carleton Hotel with a Gordon Ramsey signature restaurant. The restaurant features locally raised products insuring the best and freshest ingredients. John and I enjoyed a wonderful lamb meal and just when we thought we could not eat another bite we saw the dessert menu. We could not pass on the Chocolate Fondant with Chocolate Ganache Ball. Our ravings brought an invitation to meet with the chef. The next day, before we left, we met with Pastry Chef Ludovic Lantier, who shared his recipe with us.

Chocolate Fondant with Chocolate Ganache Ball
Chocolate Ganache Ball
300 g cream
50 g sugar
100 g water
220 g dark chocolate

Chocolate Fondant
500 g dark chocolate
500 g butter
10 egg yolks
1 whole egg
250 g sugar
100 g flour

16 egg whites
250 g sugar
10 g egg white power

First make the ganache balls. Heat the cream, sugar and water together add to the chocolate, then place in molds, (small half sphere) freeze them. Melt chocolate and butter until smooth. Mix well egg yolks, one whole egg, and sugar for 15 minutes. Then make the meringue. Wisk well the egg whites, sugar, powder egg white until it forms stiff peaks. Pour the meringue mixture into the chocolate mixture then add the flour gently, fill up 1/3 of the greased mold, put the ganache ball in the middle and cover it with the mix. Sprinkle with toasted almonds and rock sugar. Put it in the oven at 375 F for 13 minutes. Freezes well. Serve with ice cream, possibly vanilla or white chocolate.

Sadly, we had to leave the Ritz Carlton. We headed to Roscommon where we had set up a cooking class with Sarah Browne. It was another of those wonderful Irish experiences. She took us to see Tessie, her 91-year-old grandmother. Tessie showed us how to make boxty, a traditional Irish recipe.

1 lb – “old” potato
1/ 2 cup – self rising flour
1/ 2 cup milk
Pinch salt

Bacon grease, butter or cooking oil for frying. Grate potato, mix in flour and milk to make a stiff batter. Add a little salt. It is best to let the mixture sit for an hour but it is not necessary. Fry until golden brown on both sides. Best if cooked in bacon grease or butter.

After leaving Tessie’s house we walked down the lane to Sarah Browne’s cooking school. We were surprised to learn that the traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal in Ireland is not Corned Beef and Cabbage but Bacon and Cabbage.

Glazed Loin of Bacon with Cabbage
3.5 lb bacon loin, with a good layer of fat
3 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp pressed apple juice
15 whole cloves for studding

Cover the bacon in water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and discard the water. Cover with cold water again and bring to a boil. If any white foam or scum comes to the surface repeat the process of refreshing the water and boiling. Then, boil the bacon, with the lid on the saucepan for 15 minutes per pound weight plus an extra 15 minutes. Allow the bacon to rest in the bacon water for 30 minutes or so before removing it. Reserve the bacon water for cooking the cabbage. Use a sharp knife to score the fat into diamonds. Stud each ‘diamond’ with a clove. Mix the brown sugar with the apple juice and rub it gently into the scored fat. Bake in the oven (350F) for 20 minutes until the top is golden and caramelized. Baste with the falling juices a few times while in the oven. Carve and top with parsley cream sauce. Serve with sides of cabbage and champ.

No doubt about it. Ireland can serve up a bountiful meal of great variety and much of it is locally produced. The cooks, and restaurants, all seem to know exactly where their ingredients come from. Ireland is an undiscovered treasure for those who wish to tickle their palates.

1 comment:

  1. Hi
    Thank you very much for your ideas to post comments and beauty full image. relay very interesting. This is great blog. There is a great satisfaction formed when the wonderful warm aroma from Irish soda bread is spreading through your kitchen.

    Festivals of Africa