Archive for February, 2008

Little urchins aren't so grubby

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

Sea urchins are small, spiny shellfish from the same family as the starfish that survive in clean seawater. Their spines are not terribly sharp and are usually brownish or purple in colour.

Sea urchins are not typically eaten in Irish homes or served in restaurants. Most of those picked in Ireland are exported to far-away places such as Japan, where they are eaten uncooked.

They are treated as delicacies in Spain, Greece and Italy, and sea urchin roe is traditionally considered to be an aphrodisiac.

Sea urchins are picked by hand, and those found in Ireland are at their best from September to May. They are most prevalent on the west coast and if you are lucky enough to live on the coast, you can pick them yourself at low tide, in shallow water on the rocky sea floor.

For me, there’s nothing better than the feeling of cooking food that you have gathered yourself.

The first time I tasted sea urchin, they were ones I had picked myself from the sea off west Cork. I was camping near Sheep’s Head, where there were very few shops but an abundance of wild food.

I opened them with a knife and ate them au naturel – they tasted absolutely fantastic.

From then on, I decided against cooking such a beautiful natural food, when, as the Japanese know, it is far superior uncooked. What better way to spend a day than by collecting and preparing such a beautiful delicacy?

Sea urchin with brunoise of vegetables and sea urchin cream (serves four)

4 sea urchins
Half a carrot, finely diced
Quarter of a celeriac, finely diced
20ml olive oil
200ml double cream
5g unsalted butter
Half clove of garlic
Half a shallot
Freshly milled white peppercorns

1. To prepare the sea urchins, make an incision in the top and remove a third of the urchin (much like topping an egg). Keep the removed top aside to use in the sauce. Taking care not to damage it, remove the roe from the centre with a small teaspoon and place in a bowl. Strain the juice into a separate small bowl. Wash the shells and heat slightly in the oven at 50C for two to three minutes.

Sea urchin cream
1. Place cream, shallot and the peeled, whole garlic clove into a pot. The shallot and garlic should only scent the cream.

2. Bring to the boil and simmer, allowing the liquid to reduce by half. Pour in the sea urchin juice and bring back to the boil. Reduce by half again.

3. Remove and pass through a fine sieve, then place back in the pot and fold in the butter over a low heat.

Brunoise of vegetables
1. Slightly sauté celeriac and carrot in a little olive oil for two to three minutes. Season with pepper.

To serve
Half fill the sea urchin shells with vegetable brunoise. Place the roe on top and spoon cream over it. Place the other half of the shell over the cream and serve.

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

A very icy end to the meal

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

A sorbet aids digestion and leaves you feeling refreshed. They are as easy to make as soups and are a great finisher to a meal – and don’t contain any fat or egg yolks.

Historically, sorbets were the first iced desserts, as ice cream didn’t appear on the menu until the 18th century. They were made originally with fruit, honey, an aromatic substance and snow.

The Chinese introduced sorbets to the Arabs, and the technique travelled on to the Parisians, who in turn introduced them to the Italians.

There are many fruits you can use to make sorbets and they are a good way to use up excess fruit at home. You can also use a fruit vegetable such as tomato, pumpkin and courgette, in creating a savoury sorbet to serve between courses.

I like savoury sorbets to have a more slushy consistency, so they are best served with a liquid, such as with a dash of ginger ale with a red pepper sorbet or a splash of aqua libra with a tomato sorbet. Or try a thyme sorbet with a dash of Bombay Sapphire. Tea infusion sorbets are also delicious, using a wide variety of teas such as Earl Grey and green tea.

The sky is the limit in terms of combinations, and imagination is a great tool. At Thornton’s restaurant we use a Pacojet blender to get our consistency right and a sorbet machine is a great help.

If you’re making sorbet at home, the most important thing to concentrate on is the fruit-to-sugar ratio. Sugar doesn’t freeze, so the more sugar used, the softer the sorbet gets.

Another tip is that the fruit or fruit vegetables used should be fully ripe.

Raspberry sorbet (serves 4)
750g fresh raspberries
5g granulated sugar
10ml of water
140g castor sugar
10g glucose
255ml water

1. Place raspberries in a pot, add granulated sugar and 10ml of water and cook over a low heat until the fruit is cooked through. Remove and place into a blender to purée. Remove and pass through a fine sieve to remove the raspberry seeds.

2. In a different pot place the castor sugar and 255ml water and cook over a medium heat to a temperature of 95 degrees centigrade (just until the sugar dissolves). Do not allow to boil as this will increase the sugar content.

3. Remove from the heat and add the glucose, allowing it to dissolve in the liquid. Add the puréed raspberries and mix well. Cover with cling film and place in fridge to cool.

4. Clean the sorbet machine before each use with boiling water only. Allow the machine to cool before adding mixture.

5. When the machine is fully cooled add half the mixture and turn for 20 minutes. If you add half the mixture at a time it puts less pressure on the motor. Remove the mixture and place in a cool container and freeze (-20C). Repeat these steps with the remainder of the mixture.

To serve
Remove the sorbet from the freezer and allow it to soften for about ten minutes. Use a heated dessert spoon to scoop and shape the sorbet onto a plate. The heated spoon gives a nice shine to the sorbet.

Tomato sorbet (Serves 4)

500g vine tomatoes (roughly chopped)
1 garlic clove (roughly chopped)
10 leaves basil
Half a shallot (roughly chopped)
40ml olive oil
5g carageen moss (available from most good health shops)
1 egg white
Pinch of sea salt

1. Place vine tomatoes, garlic, chopped shallot, basil and olive oil in a blender and purée until smooth. Then allow to rest overnight in fridge.

2. Strain the juice from the mixture into a bowl. Place a little juice in the bottom of a pot and place the carrageen moss in on top and dissolve over a low heat.

3. Add to mixture and strain into sorbet machine. Mix until just about set (about ten to 15 minutes).

4. Whisk egg whites until stiff, then add pinch of salt and fold into the set sorbet mix. Remove and place in bowl. Cover and place in freezer.

To serve
As above. This sorbet is good served with a dash of fresh tomato juice (and an optional dash of vodka), between courses.

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

Passionate about pastry

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

Making pastry is a great introduction to baking, particularly for children, as they love messing with flour and eggs. The first time I made pastry, I ended up covered from head to toe in flour. Now I manage to keep myself a little cleaner.

These are a few recipes for pastry and, although it is now possible to buy good ready-made pastry in supermarkets, it is always worthwhile to make your own.

Simpler styles of pastry are sugar pastry and short crust, which are quick and easy to make and involve following some simple instructions.

Puff pastry is perhaps the most difficult and time-consuming type of pastry to make, but there is a great sense of satisfaction when it is prepared – and it beats the shop-bought variety hands down.

While most types of pastry are used for either savoury or sweet dishes, puff pastry can be used for both.

I like to make my own butter for this pastry, by whipping cream until all the fat binds together and the buttermilk is left behind.

Then I remove the creamy fat, which is now butter, wrap it in muslin cloth to squeeze out the excess butter milk, then shape into a cube and refrigerate.

The secret of making puff pastry is to trap the air inside the dough, by layering it. When the pastry is made, you can cut it into small pieces, wrap it in an airtight freezer bag and use it as required.

Puff pastry
500g strong white flour
400ml water at room temperature
15g sea salt
15ml lemon juice
10g white wine vinegar
50g softened butter (unsalted)
400g butter (unsalted)
2 pieces of parchment paper

1. Sieve the flour and place into a mixing bowl with the salt.

2. Add the lemon juice and softened butter, and mix for a minute or so. Add 330ml of water to the flour.

3. When the dough starts binding together, add the remainder of the water. The dough should come cleanly away from the sides of the bowl.

4. Place the dough on a cold slab and knead it for 30 seconds. Fold into a dome shape, cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

5. Remove the other butter from the wrapping and shape it into a cube.
Place it in between parchment paper and roll the butter until it is half its size in height.

6. Make a knife cut at right angles in the pastry and then roll it out to form a square with the corners rolled thinly.
Place the butter diagonally in the centre of the dough and fold over each corner of the dough to meet in the centre. The fat is now enclosed in an envelope of pastry.

7. Roll out the dough to 10cm by 25cm,brush off the excess flour and fold into three. Refrigerate and repeat the same method five times, each time marking the dough with your fingers to indicate the number of rolls. The most important thing is that the layers should be even and properly insulated. Too few or too many will not give you a good puff pastry, as one will be more flaky and the other more dense.

8. When the pastry is made, butter a baking sheet and dust with flour. Roll out the pastry thinly and cut cookie shapes with your favourite cutters. Simply cook in a pre-heated oven at 195ºC for six minutes.

Apple tartlet with Midleton ice cream and Midleton sauce; serves four
4 Pink Lady apples or Cox’s Orange Pippins
100g Frangipane almond pastea
200g puff pastry
1 egg yolk for egg wash
50g granulated sugar
100g peach glaze

1. Roll out the puff pastry and make holes in it with a fork.

2. Cut the pastry with a 12cm cutter and fill the centre with almond paste. Wash and slice the apples thinly and place them in a fan shape around the edge of the pastry.

3. Egg wash the pastry and sprinkle with sugar. Cook in a hot oven at 180ºC for 12 minutes.

4. Remove from the oven and cover with glaze.

Midleton sauce
200g sugar
200g unsalted butter
375ml cream
100ml 20-year-old Midleton whiskey
10ml still water

1. Melt the sugar and water in a pot and boil until golden brown.

2. Dice the butter and whisk it into the sugar. Then add the cream and the Midleton, bring to the boil and reduce until it has a coating consistency.

Midleton ice-cream
10 egg yolks
1 vanilla pod
500ml cream
500ml milk
10ml of still water
80g icing sugar
100g raisins
85g Midleton sauce

1. De-seed the vanilla pod and add the seeds and pods to the cream.

2. Line the stainless steel pot with water, then mix the milk and cream together and bring to the boil.

3. Whisk the egg yolks and add the sugar. Whisk together well. Pour half the milk and cream liquid into the egg and sugar mix. Whisk well and pour back into the liquid. Return to the heat until the temperature reaches 95ºC on a sugar thermometer.

4. Cook for two to three minutes or until you see the first bubble appear. Remove from the oven and stir constantly with a wooden spoon. When the mixture coats the back of the spoon, remove and place into a sink with ice-cold water. This cools the mix as quickly as possible.

5. When sufficiently cool, spin the mixture in an ice cream machine. When the mix is almost ready, add the raisins and pour in the Midleton sauce. Mix again.

6. Remove and place into a sterilised container, then store in a freezer until required.

Dried apple
2 Pink Lady apples
250ml syrup

1. Wash the apples and slice thinly. Dip in the syrup and place on parchment paper, then dry in a oven at 50ºC overnight.

To serve
Place the apple tartlet on the plate. Make a ball of the ice cream and sandwich between two dried apple slices, sauce the plate using the remainder of the Midleton sauce, then garnish with icing sugar and mint leaf.

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

Da capo Dessert

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

There are occasions in life when a special cake is required. If you are up for a challenge, this recipe for opera cake is perfect.

I first tasted this dessert when working in the pastry section of Paul Bocuse’s restaurant in Lyon. I loved the fact that it contained so many of my favourite ingredients.

In Bocuse they used pistachio cream to flavour the cake but, since I prefer vanilla, this is my version. I have been asked for this recipe hundreds of times over the years. It takes a long time to make but it is worth every ounce of patience and effort.

It’s possible to make the sponge the day before as long as it is kept in an airtight container overnight. Opera is broken down into three different stages: almond sponge, butter cream with vanilla and coffee and, finally, ganache.

Almond sponge
1 large free-range egg
50g caster sugar
10g unsalted butter noisette (butter heated until it turns golden brown)
1 free-range egg white
10g icing sugar
20g sieved flour
50g sieved, ground almonds
A pinch of sea salt

1. Butter the baking tray and cover with parchment paper, brush with butter and sprinkle with flour. Preheat the oven to 180C.

2. Beat eggs over low heat for a minute. Add the sugar and beat until the volume has doubled. It is ready when you can draw the figure 8 into the whipped eggs.

3. Fold in the almond and flour.

4. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites add a third of the icing sugar. When the eggs are nearly stiff add the remainder of the sugar and whisk until stiff. Add the salt and whisk for a minute.

5. Fold the whipped egg whites into the mixture. Fold in the noisette butter then pour the mix onto the baking tray, spreading evenly with a spatula. Cook in the oven for 12 minutes.

6. Remove from oven and remove the parchment paper from the sponge and rest it on the paper.

Coffee syrup
250ml water
42g ground espresso coffee or enough coffee for a double espresso.
1 cup espresso
100g sugar

1. Bring water and sugar to boil, add coffee and rest for 30 minutes.

Coffee buttercream
117g butter
6g caster sugar
1tsp ground espresso
1 vanilla pod, de-seeded

1. Dice the butter and mix until soft. Cream together with the vanilla and sugar, then add the coffee syrup.

Vanilla cream
10ml water
200ml of milk
50ml of cream
3 free range egg yolks
50g icing sugar
1 vanilla pod

1. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod into the egg yolks.

2. Mix the water, milk and cream in a pot, add the vanilla stems and bring to the boil.

3. Add the sugar to the eggs and vanilla and whisk. Then add half the boiled liquid and mix. Return pot to a low heat and stir with a spatula. Heat until the mixture coats the back of the spoon – do not boil. Place pot into cold water.

Italian meringue
75g free-range egg whites
65g icing sugar
50g granulated sugar
15g water

1. Mix egg whites and a third of the icing sugar until stiff. Mix in the remainder of the icing sugar.

2. Bring the granulated sugar and water to a boil in a saucepan.

2. Boil without stirring until the syrup registers 112C on a sugar thermometer.

3. Pour the syrup into the egg whites and mix for five minutes.

4. Fold in the buttercream, then fold in half the vanilla cream. Place into a clean bowl and cover.

Chocolate ganache
500ml of cream
250g of 70 per cent dark chocolate
200g of 60 per cent dark chocolate

1. Boil cream.

2. Melt chocolate over a bain-marie (a pot of water on top of which can be added another container).

3. Add the chocolate to the cream and mix well. Cover and cool.

Assembling the opera cake
1. Cut the sponge into three pieces and brush with coffee syrup.

2. Spread one third of the Italian meringue evenly on the sponge, place in a fridge for about 20 minutes to set.

3. Coat with 1/2cm of ganache.

4. Moisten the next two pieces of sponge and layer them using the same method.

The glaze
200g of 70 per cent chocolate 50g of unsalted butter

1. Melt chocolate over bain-marie, melt butter and mix well, cool.

2. Coat the top of the cake with the glaze and cool for 20 minutes.

3. Cut the sides to clean the cake.

4, With the remainder of the glaze place into a plastic piping bag and decorate.

5. Serve with the remainder of the vanilla cream. It is best served at room temperature.

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