Archive for January, 2008

Chocolate's hot secret

Sunday, January 27th, 2008


Learning how to make pastry and bake can take a great deal of time, and even more patience. But when it’s done right, this is an area of cooking with which you can have terrific fun.

Commis chefs and apprentices usually start in the pastry section – for a number of reasons, the first of which is discipline. Since everything has to be measured correctly, they learn precision. Pastry also allows for creativity and, as presentation is key, artistic flair.

Since both baking and pastry rely heavily on the way ingredients interact, many consider it a science. So, in order to be a good pastry chef, it is not only important to know how to create dishes, but it’s also essential to understand the basics behind the way the ingredients function.

During my own training, I spent two years in a pastry shop in Canada. If I was going to be a head chef one day, I wanted to know exactly what I was talking about. By the time I got my first head chef position, the experience enabled me to work confidently in the pastry corner.

Unlike other areas of the kitchen, very little has changed in pastry-making since the 1800s, when Antonin Careme – one of the greatest pastry chefs of all time – is said to have elevated French pastry to an art form.

Chocolate is a key ingredient for the pastry chef. Imagine how impressed someone would be on St Valentine’s Day if you could give them chocolate you made yourself.


The secret of chocolate is to understand exactly what happens when it is heated. Taking short cuts rarely works, and usually leads to the chef spending too much time fixing the errors.

To make chocolate truffles, use quality chocolate, such as Valrhona, Opera, Calabeau or Green & Blacks. Bars of these brands are available in most quality supermarkets and delicatessens.

Ganache for chocolate truffles

Ingredients
1/2 litre of cream
250g of 70 per cent chocolate
200g of 62 per cent chocolate
100g salted butter
20g cocoa powder for rolling the ganache
(Optional: hazelnuts)

Method
1.Heat the cream until it just comes to the boil

2. Roughly chop the chocolate and melt over a bain-marie (a pot of water on top of which another container can be added).

3. Add half of the melted chocolate to the cream, and mix. Add the remainder of the chocolate, and mix well.

4. Cut the butter into small pieces and fold it into the chocolate cream.

5. Place the chocolate into a dry, clean container, cover it with a lid, and allow it to rest until set in the refrigerator.

6. Remove and, with a small spoon, roll the ganache into small balls.

7. Sprinkle cocoa powder on the palms of your hands, and roll the balls. Be careful that the chocolate doesn’t melt.

8. Place the balls into the fridge for about 20 minutes to set. Now they are ready for dipping in couverture chocolate to finish them off.

Tempering chocolate
The process for preparing chocolate to coat truffles or to put in chocolate moulds is called ‘tempering’. Buy chocolate moulds from specialist food equipment shops, or via mail order. Tempering chocolate is very easy to do, but you have to be careful.

Method
1. Use 1kg of chocolate, keeping back 100g for later use.

2. Chop 900g of chocolate into even pieces, and place in a stainless steel bowl.

3. Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water, making sure that no liquid or moisture comes into contact with the chocolate, so the water should be barely simmering.

4. Stir the chocolate so that it melts evenly and maintains an even temperature.

5. Bring the temperature of the chocolate up to 40°C. Use a thermometer for an accurate reading – make sure it doesn’t go above 43°C or the chocolate will be damaged.

6. Remove the chocolate as soon as it has reached 40°C.

7. Add the 100g of chocolate cut into four pieces to the rest, and melt it until the chocolate reaches 33°C, and then 29°C. Do not bring the chocolate below 29°C, as it will lose the shine you are looking for and you will have to repeat the process. Tempered chocolate should coat the back of a spoon and create a good shine.

8. Now the chocolate is ready to be used for covering the ganache balls for truffles, or poured into the moulds to make chocolates. Place the ganache balls on a cocktail stick and dip into the tempered chocolate. Then use a piece of air board or a potato to hold the cocktail sticks so that you get an even coating.

9. If you want to decorate the truffles, put some of the remaining chocolate into a small piping bag, and then style them to your heart’s content.

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

Shell out on eggs

Sunday, January 20th, 2008


In the professional kitchen, eggs are used in a variety of ways. For example, we slightly dry fish eggs or roe from salmon and trout so the skin or the membrane is a little hard.

The eggs are a beautiful red colour and when you bite into them they burst in your mouth. Amazing. I love using herring eggs, as they are a wonderful opaque colour and, like salmon and trout roe, they can really finish off a dish.

All fish produce eggs; however, when they are doing so, the flesh of the fish doesn’t taste very good, as all of the nourishment is going into the reproductive process. We use the flesh of fish caught during their reproductive phase for mousses and stocks only.

I can clearly remember the first time I saw garden snail eggs. These are pure white and look incredibly exotic; they also have a fantastic flavour. As you might imagine these are hard to get so the price can be as much as, if not more than, that of even beluga caviar. Because of the increasing demand, snail eggs are now being farmed in America, Italy and France.

But to my mind you can’t beat real, free-range eggs. Like many kitchens, the eggs that we use most commonly at Thornton’s are chicken and duck eggs. Duck eggs are stronger in flavour than chicken eggs as they are not farmed as intensively. Duck eggs are more difficult to get hold of, but are great for making omelettes.

When I was a child, my dad made me eat a raw egg for breakfast at 6.30 every morning, and then he would head off for a ten-mile run. He said it would make me strong and give me lots of stamina like him, and I believed him.

At first I hated the taste and texture, but I got used to it and every day I would break and egg into a cup, mix it with a fork and knock it back before heading off to school. More palatable by far was the omelette my mother used to make using our own chicken and duck eggs from the farm.

Her recipe was simple: whisk three eggs in a bowl with a pinch of salt. This helps to break down the white of the egg, making it easier to blend the yolk and white together.

Then ”clean” the omelette pan with salt before using it. You do this by adding salt to the pan and placing it on the heat for a few minutes. Take the pan off the heat and use kitchen paper to rub in the salt. The latter, in this instance, acts as a much better solvent than water to clean your pan before cooking with it.

Dispose of the salt, return the pan to the heat, and add a little olive oil. Add the eggs and stir until the liquid starts to bind. Add whatever filling you wish to the centre of the mixture and fold the eggs over like an envelope to close. The entire process of cooking an omelette should take about 30 seconds. It is incredibly easy to make the perfect omelette, but surprisingly few people can make one.

When we are hiring new chefs at Thornton’s, making an omelette is always the first test of their culinary skills.

One of my favourite dishes is fried duck eggs with white truffle shavings on top. This combination provides a wonderful contrast both in terms of flavour and cost. Duck eggs are about €2 each, while white truffle costs a good deal more!

I place the truffles in a box with the eggs, as the porosity of the shell allows the eggs to take on the flavour of the truffle. In this way I can have truffle eggs for breakfast and also make truffle custard and truffle ice-cream.

This trick doesn’t work only with truffles; if you place eggs with any kind of strong food it will affect the way they taste.

Here is a recipe for truffle scrambled eggs – brilliant and so easy to make. You can substitute the truffle for something else if you wish, such as mushroom.

Truffle scrambled egg
For 4 persons
6 medium-size eggs
50 ml cream
50g unsalted butter
25g chopped truffle
5g sea salt
4 slices of truffle
1 slice of brioche
4 egg shells, halved
4 chive pastry pieces

Method:
1. Break the eggs into a bowl, add the salt and mix well. (Retain the halved egg shells for serving the dish.) Add the truffle and cream and mix again. It is best to use a fork and whisk clockwise as it helps to mix the white and yolk together and provides a little air to the mixture.

2. Cut the pastry into 6cm by 4cm pieces and lay them on parchment paper. Blanch the chives, cut them to the same length place them carefully in the middle of the pastry pieces, and lay another pastry piece on top. Cover with parchment paper with another tray on top and cook them in an oven at 150ºC for four minutes until golden brown.

3. Melt the butter in a warm pan. Add the truffle and egg combination and stir with a wooden spoon over a low heat until it starts to set (do not overcook, as the egg is better when it is runny or soft).

4. In the meantime, cut the brioche into four thin pieces, like the soldiers you used to eat when you were a child, and toast then until golden brown.

5. Place the truffle scrambled egg into the eggshells, and serve in an egg cup, with a slice of truffle on top and a slice of the chive pastry and some ”soldiers” on the side.

Kevin Thornton is one of the chefs featured in the Guerrilla Gourmet series on RTE One this Friday. Thornton will cook a five-course gourmet meal for his guests against the backdrop of the Rock of Cashel. He will use only camping gear to recreate the conditions under which the last meal was served on the Rock in the 15th century.

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

New take on fish and chips

Sunday, January 13th, 2008

No Irish chef could talk about vegetables without mentioning the special place of potatoes in the national diet.

When I was growing up, there were only a couple of types of potatoes used in Irish households: one was what we called the ‘reject’ and the other was termed ‘floury’.

The rejects were small, new potatoes that were rejected by the farmer. Once cheap, today these potatoes are used widely in restaurants and have become much more pricey. Floury potatoes were so termed because they burst their jackets when boiled (if over-cooked, they fall apart completely). But, if caught in time, strained, buttered and cooked for a further ten minutes, they are delicious.

Today, there are so many varieties of potato available that chefs need specialist knowledge to get the right potato for each dish. For example, I use Roosters and Maris Piper to cook potato souffle. Roosters are a tasty red potato with pale yellow, dry, floury flesh, while Maris Pipers have a creamy skin and flesh, and a floury texture. For the souffle, the Rooster is cooked in a fondant stock and the Maris Piper is pureed. Combined, they provide a good balance of bite and softness.

The time of year is another factor to be considered when choosing potatoes for a dish, as the temperature affects the solid components of the potato and its water content. At any given time of year, the staff in Madding’s at the Dublin Corporation Market are always on hand to help me choose the right potatoes for the restaurant.

Did someone mention chips? Ah, chips is a word that has been haunting me since the time of the rugby Six Nations last year. Since then, I have become known as the chef who doesn’t serve chips – but this is not strictly true. What is true is that I won’t serve chips unless they are the best I can make.

The perfect chip requires the perfect potato. Large Maris Pipers are good at this time of year. They should be washed in cold water, peeled and cut into 8cm by 2cm pieces, then dried in a clean cloth or kitchen paper. Next, blanche them in sunflower oil for five minutes.

Then, turn up the heat on the chip pan and cook the chips until golden brown (approx five minutes). Remove, place on kitchen paper, season with salt and serve them in a paper cone with ketchup (Heinz is best). If you make chips from a potato with a higher water content than Maris Pipers, they can be soggy and will stick together like paste.

Purple potatoes were produced in Sligo up to a few years ago, and I found them brilliant for making chips. I cooked them with their skin on so they wouldn’t lose colour. The following dish is my take on fish and chips, but for this, you won’t need ketchup.

Fillet of cod with golden potato, prawn bisque and sabayon, serves four

Ingredients
4 pieces of cod – about 120g each
4 Maris Piper potatoes
30g clarified butter
10g potato starch
Sea salt
Fresh ground white milled pepper
2 lemons
20ml olive oil
1 egg

Method
1. Butter a tray and cover with parchment that has been cut into the same size as the cod fillets. Butter the paper and season. Place the cod on top. Season the cod and brush with egg wash.

2. Wash and peel the potatoes, then slice them thinly with a small cutter. Place the potatoes in a pot and bring them to the boil; cook for one minute only. Remove from the heat and refresh the potatoes under running water.

3. Dab the potatoes dry with kitchen paper and place into a pot. Add the potato starch and clarified butter and mix. Arrange the potatoes on the cod and place into the fridge. When the potatoes have cooled, brush with clarified butter.

4. Heat a copper pan and rub the base with olive oil. Place the cod fillet into the pan with the potato side on the bottom and cook until the potatoes are golden brown.

5. Butter a dish and cover with parchment paper cut the same size as the cod. Season the cod, then place it onto a tray and cook in the oven for five minutes at 170 degrees Celsius. Remove from the oven, squeeze the lemon juice on the fish and serve.

Bisque

Ingredients
20ml of brandy
200ml of dry white wine
1kg of prawn shells
1l of fish stock
100g of miripoix
1/2 bulb of garlic
1/2l single cream
2 bay leaves
1 small bunch of thyme
10g of white peppercorns
20g of unsalted butter
Sea salt
Fresh ground white pepper

Method
1. Heat a pot and rub it with olive oil. Add the prawn shells, cook for ten minutes and mix well.

2. Add the miripoix, peppercorns, bay leaves and thyme, and mix well.

3. Flambe with brandy, then add the white wine and reduce the liquid by around three quarters.

4. Add the fish stock, bring to the boil and simmer for four hours, removing any impurities.

5. Remove the liquid and pass it through a fine strainer.

6. Return it to the heat, add the cream and reduce the liquid by three quarters again. Taste and correct the seasoning, before adding the unsalted butter and serving.

Sabayon

Ingredients
3 eggs
10ml truffle juice
20ml of dry martini
30ml of water
Sea salt
Milled white pepper

Method
1. Break the eggs into a stainless steel bowl, mix with a whisk, season and add the truffle juice, dry martini and water.

2. Whisk over a hot hob until light and cooked, then serve.

Garnish
Six baby artichokes, cleaned and blanched. Cut in half, season and finish off with olive oil.

To serve
1. Arrange the veg on the plate.
2. Add the sauce to the plate and spoon over the sabayon.
3. Place the cod fillet with potato topping on the sabayon and serve.

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

Taking the vegetarian option

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

With the new year comes a raft of resolutions – many of which will be diet related.

If you are making changes to your diet for a healthier and happier 2008, you may be considering the power of vegetables. Most dietary and medical experts agree that a well-planned vegetarian diet can be a more healthy way to eat than following a meat-based diet.

But can you follow a vegetarian diet and still get all the nutrients necessary to remain healthy? The answer is yes, although special care must be taken when feeding children and teens a vegetarian diet, especially if it doesn’t include dairy and egg products. As with any diet, you should understand that the nutritional needs of children change as they grow.

Vegetarianism was first recorded as a practice in ancient India, and in 6th century Greece and Italy. In both instances the diet was closely connected with the idea of nonviolence towards animals (called ahimsa in India) and was promoted by religious groups and philosophers.

However, it practically disappeared in Europe following the Christianisation of the Roman Empire. Medieval monks restricted or banned the consumption of meat for ascetic reasons, but none of them eschewed fish.

The practice re-emerged in Europe during the renaissance period and became widespread in the 19th century. The first vegetarian society was founded in England in the 1850s and other countries soon followed.

The movement grew in popularity in the 20th century as a result of nutritional, ethical and, more recently, environmental and economic concerns. Today, India accounts for 70 per cent of the world’s vegetarians.

Most chefs – especially French chefs – have a problem with vegetarians. For the life of me, I don’t know why, although I do take exception to people who call themselves vegetarians and then say they eat chicken and fish. There are four types of vegetarians, as follows:

Ova vegetarian: eats eggs but no meat
Lacto-ovo vegetarian: eats dairy and egg products but no meat
Lacto-vegetarian: eats dairy products but no eggs or meat
Vegan: eats food from plant sources only.

I first heard the word ‘vegetarian’ in the 1960s, the decade of peace, love and brown rice. A whole decade later I met my first vegetarians when I was picking grapes in Switzerland. I picked alongside two sisters from Germany who were vegans.

They insisted on buying brown bread, pasta and rice, but when it was my turn to do the shopping I bought white flour versions of these cupboard staples, just to annoy them. However, they taught me a lot about nutrition and the importance of variety within a vegetarian diet.

Vegetarians should keep a close eye on their consumption of the following vitamins and minerals:

Vitamin B12: dairy produce, eggs, cereals, bread soy drink.
Vitamin D: dairy produce, fresh orange juice.
Calcium: dairy produce, green leaf vegetables, chickpeas, fresh orange juice.
Protein: dairy produce, eggs, tofu, dried beans, nuts.
Iron: eggs, dried beans, dried fruit, wholegrains, green vegetables.
Zinc: wheatgerm, nuts, vegetables.

Some of my favourite vegetables include the following:

* Artichoke is a fantastic vegetable that can be prepared easily. Remove the leaves and place into water, milk and lemon juice (to prevent them from oxidising), then blanch for four to five minutes, strain and finish with olive oil and seasoning.

* Avocado has a smooth flesh when ripe and if you plant its large stone it will take root within a few months. Good in salads, where a few drops of lemon juice will stop it from browning. Also good pureed and mixed with garlic, mayonnaise and seasoning.

* Courgettes have a soft skin and flesh and are good thinly sliced and sauteed in a hot pan with olive oil, diced shallots, sea salt and fresh milled pepper. Finish off with fresh chives.

* Winter squash has a much harder skin and larger seeds than the summer squash. The seeds can be dried out and used for powder or roasted and eaten. Use winter squash in soups and sauces.

* Aubergines have a beautiful glossy skin and can be white, purple and black. The flesh is delicious roasted with garlic, thyme and olive oil, and seasoned with sea salt and fresh milled pepper. It is used in a lot of dishes, the most famous of which is ratatouille.

Ratatouille
Serves 5
2 medium courgettes
2 aubergines
2 red peppers
2 green peppers
2 medium onions
5 plum tomatoes
3 cloves of garlic
10ml olive oil
1 bouquet garni (flat leaf parsley, rosemary, thyme, tarragon)

Method
1. Wash the vegetables and peel the onions, garlic and aubergine.

2. Slice the courgettes 1cm thick, cut the aubergine into 2cm squares, half the peppers, remove the seeds and cut into 2cm square.

3. Blanch the tomatoes in boiling water for 30seconds, remove and refresh in iced water to stop the cooking process. Then remove the skin and cut the tomatoes into quarters.

4. Cut the onions into 1cm square and chop the garlic finely.

5. Heat the olive oil in a heavy pan, saute the onions until lightly brown, add the aubergine and peppers and cook for two to three minutes. Then add the courgettes and tomatoes and, finally, the chopped garlic.

6. Mix all the ingredients thoroughly, seasoning with sea salt and fresh milled pepper.

7. Place the bouquet garni on top and cook with the gas at the lowest heat for 30minutes, Remove the bouquet garni and serve with a courgette flower.

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