Time to Sow – Anytime of the year. Position – Likes full sun, with some shade. Time to Harvest – 40 to 50 days. Cut and come again crop. Companions – Cabbage, Celery, Lettuce, Onion, Peas, Radish. Cooking – Stir-fry, salads, even smoothies. Can be eaten raw or quickly fried.
Irish food culture After leaving and working outside of Ireland for a while now, I have discovered a few things about the perception of the Irish food culture. 1) We don’t have a bold rich historic food culture, so people are ignorant to our views and some of ours foods. (you try to compare dishes or explain similar ingredients and people just don’t want to know) 2) People think we belong to the UK (united kingdom), this really irritated me as Ireland has its own culture, and its own presence in the food world we certainly do not need to piggy back off the UK 3) Beer – so aside from being associated with the UK for food if you’re Irish while living abroad or associated with an Irish establishment, people straight away ask about beer and whiskey. As I sit here at my desk writing these stereotype discoveries, I ask myself what I can do as a chef to showcase Irish food culture. The only solution for me at this moment is to cook even if just for one person at a time, if only just one person opens their mind and learns a little about a different culture then it’s all a success, as food is always enjoy therefore a culture never dies.
The early spring flowers are starting to come through around now, each of them has their own smell and use, each flower is as attractive as the next. As a chef we use flowers as a garnish, to add a pop of colour to a dish, adding orange calendula flowers or a variety of violas. At the moment Gorse or Furze, is a member of the pea family and the flowers, they have a beautiful smell from them. Some people get coconut others get pea; I get both at different times all weather dependant. (that’s me) the flowers themselves are edible as part of a salad or in a dessert by putting them in some boiling water and sugar a simple syrup, and leaving it to cool overnight ti allow the flowers infuse into the liquid, then form there into a panna cotta, a very simple dessert that holds extremely well. Ive used it in some keifer also that’s a whole other subject to get into, using a water keifer or a milk keifer the health benefits and microbiology of the yeasts and bacteria that promote good gut health, I make about a litre every couple of days using flowers and fruit and mint. Next is sweet briar or flowering currant, this scent is one of my favourites in the spring, the smell is so powerful to me I will often smell before i see it much like elderflower the smell draws me in just heaven. I plan on drying out a few this year and put it into a wax burner to add to the scent it may work it may not, I’m going to give it a go anyway. Next on the flowers that appear are primroses, they appear in patches in places this little yellow pop. The flowers and leaves are edible, the leaves are not quite strong to eat, while the flowers can be used to decorate a cake when candied they are a lovely little bitesize snack. Once the flowers are washed, and dried off as much as possible, make a stock syrup equal quantity of sugar and water, cook until the sugar is completely dissolved, then allow it to cool completely as the heat will dull the colour of the flowers. Coat the flowers completely in the syrup, then sieve over icing sugar, place on baking parchment and then leave in a warm dry place to dry out, these can be stored then in an airtight container for up to a week. Alternatively, you can dip the flowers in and egg white beaten with some water, then dipped in some caster sugar, then left to dry out, these hold for a bit longer. I tend to leave the dandelions for the bees until much later in the spring, they are edible, and make a unique tasting tea. Follow along on the Facebook page for more information.
Lockdown life As I alluded to earlier finding motivation to do just about anything is a struggle for me on a day-to-day basis, I make bread every 3 days a kind of sour dough of sorts, originally, I made a bread with yeast and held back some of the mix and allowed it to mature in the fridge, for a few days. The next loaf I made I repeated the process, I’m not one for folding and shaping and doing this that and the other to food. I’m a simple man, less processes that a food involves the better, please and thanks. I don’t mind letting things go or ferment overnight, bake the bread in the morning. Ive been getting ducks from SuperValu Castleisland at what I believe is a bargain price of €6 it does my wife and I the same as a chicken for 2 days, plus it gives me duck fat. This I render out of the duck as I have little better to do and you make think it’s a complicated process, nope, trim the duck put the carcass in a large pot and put it on a low heat and leave it alone for an hour or 2 check it after an hour to ensure it hasn’t stuck to the bottom, it happens. Once all the skins and bones etc. look crispy its done strain it into a large jar, I use a coffee jar with a lid Maxwell house or Nescafé make no difference to be honest. Allow it to cool and put in the fridge where it will keep indefinitely. I also make stocks like I did in the 1st lockdown chicken bones roasted add some veg peelings and some dried foraged mushrooms, cover and boil for an hour strain and cool. nice simple base for a sauce or a casserole or a soup or even if you are that way inclined your own gravy. No granules needed. It’s very basic cooking skills that everyone should be able to do, but most people don’t. Further to this I’ve began to make potato skin crisps, once ive peeled the spuds I wash the skins in cold water to remove the starch and allow them to crisp up evenly. Store them in water until needed, squeeze off the water and toss in some oil and salt, or in my case some duck fat and bake in the oven at 180 for 15 minutes the best crisps ever.
In the midst of this seemingly never-ending lockdown, finding motivation to get out and do stuff is getting harder, I find anyway I know I’m not the only one. There is a beautiful walk near to the house that is quite long and is tough going in parts, it’s a beautiful place to find peace and quiet away for the 4 walls that are closing in ever faster as the days go by in the mental countdown to get back to work, into a kitchen, back to the humm of the combi oven firing up. The whoof of the gas lighting on the ring the rattle and bang of a pot or a pan. The eternal “I busy” followed by laughter from the kitchen porter, even the sound of this rings in my head as I write this piece, brings a smile to a dull evening
Anyway, tangent and mental word soliloquy over (thanks Alexa). While wandering now through the forest I can’t help notice the herbs, flowers, catkins, mushrooms and shrubs all start to wake from their winter hibernation. Every year around this time we begin to plan for a wild garlic forage, with a group in a forestry, I know it seems totally foreign at the moment, it’s not just wild garlic that’s coming up at the moment, there is a multitude of different greens, over the next few pieces I’ll be talking about different ones and their uses, not in a fancy manner just humble food, everything from wood sorrel to primroses, from chickweeds to nettles, yes you read that right nettles. It is spring time and the vast majority of our natural mineral reserves are depleted after the winter, on a typically Irish food diet now we do have supplements and a wider variety of foods available to us than we ever had before, which has lessened the knowledge that we generally have about the world around us, people are often surprised when they see me in a ditch or of a beaten track picking stuff, I will nearly always get asked what have you got there, how will you use that now, I didn’t know you could eat that, or Ive got that near the house or in a flowerbed and never knew you could eat it and dismissed it as a weed. I love this type of interaction, as I can see them smile and that makes me feel that little bit happier, whether or not they do anything with it, doesn’t faze me at all if they do, they do if they don’t well, they don’t I’m not going to force myself or my opinion on anyone, for some people its too far outside a comfort zone and that’s ok, for others they will give it a go and think yes, this is for me or no, not a hope thanks, but no thanks. There is a book that we have put together for uses of wild garlic available from the website or Croi restaurant, follow the page on Facebook for updates on forages and little titbits of info on a variety of different subjects As always follow along @chefpaulc
Christmas 2019 I received an amazing gift from my girlfriend, a book that some chefs would call the bible, Escoffier
– Le Guide Culinaire. I have
used this as a solid reference point since especially when finishing my college
course and cooking meals for special occasions.
Just recently I realised that so far this year I have
used 2 Escoffier recipes in 2 months, so I plan to continue this process and do
12 in 12 months. The first recipe I used was on New Year’s Day.
Saumon Ecossaise – Salmon Ecossaise
This dish is so deceiving in how delicate and light it is. The marriage between the poached salmon and the hollandaise sauce is just as beautiful and as elegant as the pairing of the buttered stewed vegetables and duchess potatoes.
After cooking this particular it easy to see why so many people loved when Escoffier did fish, without even talking about the skills of the various cooking methods, just the share flavour he got from the food is amazing. The man was a wealth of knowledge and knew and did things others at the time could only dream of.
My second dish of the year I cooked on Valentine’s Day.
To say this dish is fit for a king is an understatement, a prime cut of beef nicely seared and served rare with a stuffed mushroom filled with foie gras and parmesan cheese. A veal jus and Potato dauphine to finish. I would lie the ingredients are a little bit of a luxury and this is not your everyday type of steak dish, but I will the flavour alone is worth it. With the first bite of the beef it is almost like travel through history but with food, eating the very meals royalty did so many years before, and being able to reproduce than is not only a privilege but a culinary honour.
As February draws to a close it is time to take out the bible again and I am starting to look towards what to do in March, I think I will do something poultry-based this time.
During a time where working in a restaurant is near impossible for most chefs, I just want to use this time continuing doing what I love, while somehow still being inspired. So with that, I want to thank chef noel for being my mentor and giving me the skills needed. And secondly, my girlfriend who gave me the bible. And here’s to cooking in March