Archive for November, 2007

Making the most of meat

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

Many of us are seeking a closer relationship with what we eat. This is true of all of the food groups, but perhaps none more so than meat, where provenance makes a huge difference to taste.

For some, eating meat is a basic fact of life. For others, it is a moral quandary.

At Thorntons, we cater comprehensively for meat and non-meat eaters, and for me the most important thing is that the meat I use and eat is fully traceable, and of the highest quality.

Meat can be broken down into four categories:

1.Carcass meat: beef, veal, lamb, mutton, hogget, pork and goat.

2.Offal or internal organs: liver, kidney, heart, tongue, oxtail, crubeens, sweetbreads (glands).

3. Poultry: chicken, duck, guinea fowl, quail, turkey and goose.

4.Game: four-legged – venison, wild boar, rabbit and hare, and two-legged – pheasant, partridge, grouse, plover, wild duck (teal, mallard) woodcock and snipe.

This week, I am going to look at beef, lamb and offal.

Beef
We produce great beef in this country – mostly Angus, but also some French Limousine. It is important to know where it comes from; your butcher should be able to tell you exactly from which farm your beef originates.

Beef should always be aged before it is cooked. A good butcher will usually hang his meat for at least 21 days in a refrigerated room with controlled humidity. This makes the enzymes present in the meat break down the fibres, tenderising it and giving it a more pronounced flavour.

An aged cut of beef will be dark red in colour and it should have some fat running through it like marble. If both of these requirements are met, you are off to a good start.

The various cuts of beef are as follows:

Chuck is from the neck and is used for braising and stewing.

Rib is best used for roasting and steaks because it is so tender.

Loin is another prime cut of beef which is used like the rib (hence the name sirloin steaks).

Round is from the leg and usually used for braising, but if handled well and hung for a longer period it can be roasted with great care.

Shank is used for stewing, roasting or consomme. Flank is good for grilling or barbecuing.

Brisket is used for corned beef and is really good for a pot roast.

Fillet is the most prized part of the animal. It is used for roasting (whole), for steaks (fillet steak) – including steak tartare, when it is cut into – cm pieces served with diced shallot, capers, chives and raw egg yolk.

Veal is a milk-fed calf that never eats grass or grain, so its colour remains pale pink. It is slaughtered at about 20 weeks old, so it is much more tender than beef. The flavour is quite neutral, meaning it is great with items that have a strong flavour, such as lobster and morels.

Lamb
Lamb is what you call meat from a sheep under one year old. Spring lamb is available from March to June and ordinary lamb from July to December. Between one and two years old it is called hogget, and above two years old it is called mutton.

We only use spring lamb until June and lamb until the middle of September. As with beef, it is important that lamb is hung in order to tenderise it. It should also have a small amount of fat through the meat for flavour.

My favourite Sunday lunch is roast lamb, and this is how I cook it at home.

Ingredients
One leg of lamb
Garlic cloves
Rosemary
Rock salt and olive oil
Miripoix
50ml of white wine
Lamb stock

Method
1. Stud the leg of lamb with cloves of garlic and rosemary, brush with rock salt and olive oil and cook in a slow oven at 60 degrees Celsius for about five hours.

2. Remove and turn the oven up to 175 degrees Celsius. When hot, return the leg for about 20 minutes to brown.

3. Remove the leg and rest it for about ten minutes. In the meantime add a miripoix (a selection of diced vegetables) to the roasting pan, deglaze with a drop of white wine and lamb stock, and reduce by half.

4. Pass through a fine strainer and serve with the leg.

5. Serve with roasted root vegetables and potato puree.

Offal
In James Joyce’s Ulysses, we are told that ”Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls”. But today, the notion that we are what we eat gives us pause when we consider the inner organs of beasts and fowls beloved by Bloom.

”Thick giblet soup,” Joyce goes on, ”nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crust crumbs” and, most delectable to Bloom’s palate, ”grilled mutton kidneys”.

I think offal is fantastic; as well as being delicious, it is really economical and nutritious.

However, it is rarely used today, as most people find it distasteful and don’t really know how to cook it. I am particularly partial to veal offal, which is excellent, particularly veal kidneys.

Kidneys should be bought with a protective covering of fat, which you should remove carefully before cooking.

Then remove the connective tissue in the centre of the kidney with a sharp knife, being careful not to damage the meat. Finally, remove the membrane surrounding it.

Kidneys should be soaked in milk for an hour, as this helps to remove any impurities.

Veal kidneys are so tender they can simply be sauteed in olive oil; however, Il ike to make more of a fuss about them by cooking them in the following way:

Ingredients
Veal kidney
Pork fat
Olive oil
White wine
Madeira
Miripoix
White peppercorns
Fresh thyme
Bay leaf

Method
1. Marinate for a few hours in a little olive oil, white wine, miripoix, white peppercorns, fresh thyme and bay leaf.

2. Wrap in pork fat to protect the kidney and to add flavour.

3. Saute the wrapped kidney in a warm pan, add the marinade and then place the kidney on top.

4. Cover with a lid and cook in an oven at 175 degrees Celsius for 15 minutes. Remove the kidney and deglaze the pan with Madeira.

5. Cook the liquid for a few minutes, season, remove and pass through a fine sieve.

6. Slice the kidney and pour the sauce over the offal. The fat removed from the kidney can be cut into small thin strips and sauteed in a hot pan to make crispy, then served on top of the kidney. Accompany with root vegetables.

Sweetbreads
Sweetbreads is the name of a dish made from the thymus gland or pancreas of an animal younger than one year old (in the restaurant we only use veal or lamb).

The two organs have different biological functions, but look fairly similar and so are considered, for the purpose of cooking, to be comparable. Thymus sweetbreads are slightly longer and more irregular, with pancreas sweetbreads being larger and more rounded.

As with most offal, they are best soaked in milk overnight or for at least three hours to remove any impurities, then the membrane should be removed with a sharp knife. It can also be removed by blanching the sweetbreads and refreshing them – this makes them stiffer and easier to handle. I prefer the first way, as I have more control in the cooking.

Veal sweetbreads with wild mushrooms

Ingredients
Veal sweetbreads
Selection of mushrooms
including girolles, chanterelles and horn of plenty
Olive oil
Fresh thyme
Tarragon
Whole white peppercorns
Sliced shallot
Celery and diced carrot
Veal stoc
k
Brandy

Method
1. Marinate the sweetbreads in olive oil, fresh thyme, tarragon, whole white peppercorns, sliced shallot, celery and diced carrot.

2. Heat a pan, season the sweetbreads and saute for two minutes.

3. Remove and add the marinade without the oil, cook for a minute, stirring the vegetables.

4. Add the sweetbreads and a little veal stock and cook for about four minutes in the oven.

5. Remove and reduce the juice, correct the seasoning.

6. Serve the vegetables on the plate and the sweetbreads on top.

7. Wash, season and saute the mushrooms.

8. Flambe with a little brandy and serve with the sweetbreads.

Kevin Thornton is a Michelin-starred chef and owner of Thornton’s Restaurant on St Stephen’s Green in Dublin. www.thorntonsrestaurant.com

Get your claws into lobster

Sunday, November 18th, 2007

Ireland has access to some of the best wild shellfish in the world, which means I can truthfully say that some of my most memorable dining experiences have been enjoyed here at home.

Shellfish is divided into two categories: crustaceans and molluscs. With 52,000 recorded species, the ones that we eat are only the tip of the iceberg. The crustaceans we consume include lobster, crab, shrimp, prawns, crawfish and freshwater crawfish.

My favourite is undoubtedly lobster which, like all shellfish, must be alive when you buy it. Some lobsters and crabs will stay alive for one or two days after being removed from the water if they are stored correctly in seaweed in a fridge in the dark.

Opinion is divided on how to cook it. Some say plunge the lobster into boiling water, others believe it is more humane to kill it first. This is done by inserting the tip of the knife into the back of the shellfish, just behind the head. As lobsters have relatively simple nervous systems, this severs the main nerve, killing the lobster before it enters the cooking water.

I find that the best way to cook lobster is as follows:

1. Put them in fresh water for four hours, then make a court bouillon (see article on fish stocks 07/10/2007) and place lobster in it for one minute before removing and placing in a bath of iced water.

2 . Remove the claws and cook for a further seven minutes in the bouillon before again placing in an ice bath.

3.Remove the tail by placing your forefinger and thumb on either side of the lobster from where the tail begins, and move it from side to side until it is released. Then squeeze the shell to crack it. Remove the flesh in one piece, and the central vein which runs down the back.

4.Crack the claws with the back of a chopping knife, and hit the claw once on each side to crack the shell. Then remove the flesh in one piece with a lobster fork.

5.Make a lobster stock with the shell, then add a bruinoise of vegetables (carrots, leeks and celery cut into 1cm square pieces and blanched for two minutes) to the basic stock.

6.Cut the lobster in half, and season with sea salt and freshly milled pepper. Squeeze a little lemon juice on the lobster, place the flesh on top of the vegetables with the claws, then cover with lobster stock. Cover the dish with a lid and place into an oven at 50 degrees Celsius for seven minutes. Remove and arrange the lobster and the vegetables in a serving bowl, and pour the lobster juice on top.

Next week: prawns and scallops

Kevin Thornton is a Michelin-starred chef and owner of Thornton’s Restaurant on St Stephen’s Green in Dublin. www.thorntonsrestaurant.com

Go wild for fresh fish

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

When I think of fish I think pure, delicate, clean, wild and fresh. There is nothing like wild fish and, as with other food, if I can’t have the best – even in very small quantities – I prefer to do without.

Fish is my favourite food in the world and it takes precise cooking under the correct temperatures to serve it correctly. The Greeks and the Romans knew the value of fish, as did the Egyptians. Long ago the Catholic Church wisely encouraged its members to eat fish on a Wednesday and Friday as well as during Lent. It said that eating fish prevented idle chatter, since fish themselves were proverbially mute.

They forgot to mention the sheer nutritional goodness fish has – the proteins and naturally occurring oils – so much more of which is known about today.

There are about 29,000 species of fish, but we only use a fraction of them for cooking. Its flaky texture is related to its unique anatomy, which requires special treatment.

Fish muscles consist of segments of rather short fibres which are separated by large sheets of thin connective tissue. It is this weak connective tissue and short muscle bundles that result in the great tenderness of fish and its troublesome tendency to fall apart if not cooked correctly.

Salmon is one of the most delicious varieties of fish, particularly wild Atlantic salmon. It is in my view far superior to its brothers and sisters from anywhere else in the world.

It is well worth ordering it when you see it on a menu as it is getting rarer and rarer, due to overfishing and the shortening of the season. This year I got only four wild fish for the restaurant.

What is widely available is farmed salmon and farmed organic salmon, both of which can be good. However, as the word ‘organic’ for me means natural, I don’t understand how something can be termed natural if it’s bred in a pen.

The Atlantic salmon spends its young life in fresh water before migrating to the sea. It swims about 5,000 miles during its life cycle and returns to its birth place in spring to lay its eggs.

The salmon then dies within a few days of spawning. Her eggs will hatch into alevin and then quickly develop into parr with camouflaging vertical stripes. The parr stay for one to three years in their natal stream before becoming smolts – which are distinguished by their bright silvery colour with scales that are easily rubbed off.

It is estimated that only 10 per cent of all salmon eggs survive long enough to reach this stage. The smolt body chemistry then changes, allowing the fish to live in salt water.

There are many ways of cooking salmon; sauteeing, grilling, poaching in fish stock or cooking in duck fat to make a confit. This is a delicious way to cook salmon that is guaranteed to become a favourite among family and friends.

Ingredients for four persons:
4 fillets of salmon, 120g each
50ml of virgin olive oil
1 lemon
Sea salt, fresh milled pepper
5 stalks of lemongrass

Garnish: potato and celeriac puree
3 Maurice Piper potatoes
200g celeriac
1 shallot
Chives
250g unsalted butter
Sea salt
Fresh milled pepper

Sauce:
12 cherry tomatoes
2 shallots, diced
1/2 clove garlic (pureed)
fresh herbs, chopped (tarragon, chives, flat leaf parsley)
1/2 bulb fennel, diced
1/2 ginger, peeled and diced
2 inches of lemon grass, chopped finely
3 plum tomatoes concasse (tomatoes, with a cross cut on the top and placed in boiling water for 30 seconds, then placed in an ice bath. Remove the skin, cut in quarter, remove the seeds and dice the tomato into 1cm sq)
100ml olive oil
10ml of 12-year-old balsamic vinegar
20ml of Santa Sofia (white wine)
1/2 lime, juiced
1 lime, grated
Sea salt, fresh milled pepper

Method:

1. Season and saute the salmon in a hot pan with olive oil until golden brown with the flesh part facing down. Place the salmon on the stalks of lemongrass and place in the hot oven at 175 degrees celsius for ten minutes.

2. In a separate pan, add the olive oil, diced shallots, ginger and diced fennel. Cook slowly for two minutes, add the Santa Sofia, balsamic vinegar, tomato concasse, season with sea salt and fresh milled pepper, add the lime juice and chopped herbs to taste.

3. Place the potato and celeriac puree in the centre of the plate. Place the salmon on top, arrange the cherry tomatoes, place the sauce on top and serve. This is great with Santa Sofia, which is fresh just like the salmon.

Tips when buying fish:
1.Test the freshness of the fish by examining its eyes which must be bright and shiny, the gills should be bright red. It must also be firm to the touch and have a pleasant smell.

2.The best place to buy fish is at a fish market. Sadly the Dublin Corporation Market doesn’t exist any more, so I buy most of my fish from small boats which come in on the west coast of Ireland. The Howth Market is only open to professionals, but there are a number of quality fish shops in the north Dublin town. Southsiders should try Caviston’s in Glasthule.

3.When buying fish from a fish shop make sure you quiz the fishmonger about the quality of the fish. Ask if it is farmed or wild, and when and where it was caught.

4.The best place to seek out fish is a harbour. If you see the fish coming off the boat make an offer to the fisherman to buy some. Small boats go out in the morning and come back that evening or go out at night and return early morning.

Find out about the sailing times from the locals. Then keep the source of your wonderfully fresh fish to yourself.

Kevin Thornton is a Michelin-starred chef and owner of Thornton’s Restaurant on St Stephen’s Green in Dublin. www.thorntonsrestaurant.com

Delicious dumplings and risotto

Sunday, November 4th, 2007

Dumplings and risotto are two other basics in a cook’s repertoire. They can act as an accompaniment to a whole range of dishes, and risotto also works as a starter or a main course meal on its own.

To me, dumplings mean childhood. My mum used to cook them with boiling fowl and root vegetables on cold winter days. They are also great in stews, soups or casseroles, where the balls of dough sit partly submerged in the cooking juices and expand as they are half-boiled, half-steamed for about ten minutes. The cooked dumplings are airy on the inside and moist on the outside.

Dumplings can also be sweet. When I last visited Scotland, I had a pudding called ‘clootie dumpling’, a sourdough dumpling made with dried fruit and spices and cooked in water. It’s often fried and eaten with ham, eggs and tattie scones in the morning. (Ireland’s ‘dumpling’ is Scotland’s less appetising-sounding ‘dough-ball’.)

The focus here, however, is on savoury dumplings – those which are a part of traditional Irish cuisine. Originally intended to make up a filling meal in winter and sometimes to stretch a dish further, they are now a rare treat.

Dumpling recipe (serves 4)
2 shallots, finally diced
100g unsalted butter
10ml olive oil
800g old bread
250g white flour
7 eggs
1/2 ltr of milk
30g chives, tarragon, and parsley
10g sea salt
5g fresh milled white pepper

Method

1. Break the bread into small pieces. Add the milk and soften for about 15 minutes.

2. Saute the shallots in butter and the olive oil until lightly brown. Remove and place into a bowl and cool.

3. Add the softened bread with the shallots. Chop the herbs and add them to the mix. Follow by adding the flour, then the eggs and season. Mix into a dough.

4. Rest for 30 minutes.

5. Roll out the dough into long strips, cut into 10g pieces and roll into small balls.

6. Poach the dumplings in chicken stock for 15 minutes.

Risotto
One of the all-time Italian classics is now a popular choice worldwide, and is easier to cook than many people think. There are several theories as to how to make the perfect risotto, but there are a couple of universal points: you must have the right type of rice and a decent, hot stock.

How you add the stock is a matter for debate. Traditionally, it is ladled over the rice and lots of stirring takes place until the stock is absorbed.

Modern time-saving methods involve adding all the stock at once and popping the whole thing in the oven, or just cooking it gently over the stove. I still like to do mine the old-fashioned way.

With the combination of different grains, stocks, flavourings and methods of cookery, you can ring the changes to make a huge variety of dishes. I always keep risotto rice in the cupboard and it is a firm family favourite.

The three most popular grains of risotto rice are arborio, carnaroli and vialone nano. Arborio is the most widely-used grain. It is large and rounded, and has a wonderful creamy texture. I have used this in today’s recipe, as it is widely available.

Carnaroli is long, elegant grain that tends to hold its shape well even when completely cooked. It’s a good choice if you find that your risotto always turns a little mushy. Although vialone nano can be difficult to get hold of, it has the creamiest, smoothest texture of all risotto rices.

Griolle risotto (serves 4)
1 shallot, finally diced
25g olive oil
10g unsalted butter
200g arborio rice
1/2 ltr vegetable stock
1 ml of dry martini
5g hard unsalted butter
50g parmigiano Reggiano
100g of fresh griolles (mushrooms)

Method

1. Saute the shallots in 15g of olive oil and the butter, without colouring. Add the Martini.

2. Wash the rice and add to the shallots. Cook it slowly for about five minutes, stirring constantly. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Add a quarter of the stock and cook until the rice has absorbed it.

4. Wash and saute 50g of griolles for a minute, then add to the rice.

5. Add the remainder of the stock in two parts. Cook until creamy and al dente.

6. Grate the cheese and add 40g of parmigiano and the remaining butter to the rice. Correct the seasoning.

7. Sprinkle the remainder of the parmigiano onto parchment paper in 6cm circles. Cook in a oven at 110ÂșC for a few minutes to soften and bind together to make a tuille.

8. Saute the rest of the mushrooms, season and use for garnish along with the tuille.

Kevin Thornton is a Michelin-starred chef and owner of Thornton’s Restaurant on St Stephen’s Green in Dublin.www.thorntonsrestaurant.com