Archive for June, 2008

Sweet pastry and tart lemon

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

Sunday, June 29, 2008
By Kevin Thornton
When it comes to defining the seasons, sometimes we just have to ignore the weather and go with our tastebuds. It’s the summer time and summer means citrus.

Citrus fruits are light and refreshing at this time of year, and are great palate cleansers during or after a meal. This lemon tart is delicious served with fresh raspberries or with a homemade sweet sorbet.

When buying lemons it is best to opt for relatively soft ones, as these tend to contain more juice. Taste the lemon mixture as you making it and add more lemon juice if a more tangy taste is preferred.

If you’re serving the tart with afternoon tea, try making your own tisane – a herbal tea which is a nice accompaniment to this zesty dessert. It’s made by placing either fresh lime leaves or fresh mint leaves in a teapot and adding boiling water.

Tarte au citron (lemon tart)

Ingredients (serves 6-8)
Sweet pastry:
250g (8oz) flour
4 egg yolks
Half teaspoon salt
100g (3 and half oz) sugar
125g (4oz) butter
Seeds from two vanilla pods

2 eggs
100g (3 and half oz sugar)
grated rind and juice of 1 and half lemons
125g (4oz) melted butter
60g (2oz) whole blanched
ground almonds
27-30cm/11-12 inch pie pan


Sweet pastry:
1. Sift the flour onto a clean work surface and make a large well in it.

2. Put egg yolks, salt, sugar and vanilla into the well and mix with fingertips until sugar dissolves.

3. Pound the butter with rolling pin to soften, add it to the well and quickly work with other ingredients until partly mixed. Draw in flour, pulling dough into large crumbs using fingertips of both hands. Press the dough together – it should be soft but not sticky.

4. Work on small portions of the dough, pushing it away from you on the work surface, then gathering it up with a spatula, drawing it towards you and pushing away again. Continue this until the dough is smooth and pliable. Press it into a ball, wrap and chill for 30 minutes or until firm.

Lemon filling:
1. Make the sweet pastry and chill for 30 minutes or until firm. Set the oven at moderately hot (190C/375F).

2. Roll out the dough, line the pie pan and chill until firm. Bake blind in a heated oven for 12-15 minutes or until set, but not brown. Take from the oven, remove paper and let the pie shell cool slightly. Put a baking sheet in the oven to heat.

3. Meanwhile, make the filling. Beat the eggs and sugar until light and thick enough to leave a ribbon trail when the whisk is lifted. Stir in the rind and lemon juice, followed by the melted butter and ground almonds.

4. Set the pie shell in the pan on the hot baking sheet and pour the mixture into the shell. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the filling is golden brown and set. Serve at room temperature.

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

Deceptively simple Dauphinoise

Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

The Savoy and Dauphiné areas in the French Alps are renowned for rich dairy pastures. A typical dish from these regions is gratin, in which local milk and cheese is used.

There are at least half a dozen recipes for gratin Dauphinoise, the best known of which is the sliced potato and milk mixture. Some use cream, some are topped with cheese; others are flavoured with garlic or layered with wild mushrooms.

The perfect gratin Dauphinoise – a deceptively simple dish to make – is soft and melted with just the right balance of seasoning. If it is cooked too fast or too long, the milk in gratin Dauphinoise has a tendency to curdle, as potatoes have an unexpectedly high acid content.

In this lovely, rich recipe, the potatoes should first be blanched in milk to remove the acid, then simmered in cream.

This recipe is a great accompaniment for many meat dishes but is also a perfect summer meal that can be served hot or cold and teamed with a simple chicken salad.

Gratin Dauphinoise (potato gratin with cheese and cream)

Ingredients (Serves 6)
Half clove garlic
750g potatoes (1 and half lbs)
Salt and pepper
Pinch of grated nutmeg
600ml milk (1 pint)
300ml (half pint) double cream or crème frâiche
45g (1 and half oz) grated gruyère cheese
30g (1oz) butter
And a shallow baking dish (about 1.25l/2-pint capacity)

1. Rub baking dish with the cut side of the garlic and then butter the dish.

2. Peel the potatoes and cut them in thin slices. Don’t soak them in water as this removes some of the starch needed to give the gratin a creamy consistency. Season the slices with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

3. Bring the milk to the boil in a large saucepan, whisking occasionally to prevent it from burning. Add the potatoes to the boiling milk and simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until slightly tender. Drain the potatoes and discard the milk. Set the oven to a very hot temperature (220C, 425F).

4. Return the potatoes to the saucepan and add the cream. Bring to a boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, for another 10-15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender but not falling apart. Taste for seasoning.

5. Spoon the potatoes and cream into the buttered baking dish, sprinkle with cheese and dot with butter. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. Serve hot from the dish.

Bowled over by beetroot

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

My mother told me long ago that there were two things in life everyone should be able to do: cook and repair clothes.

That way, you’d never go hungry or naked. Cooking is still an essential skill, but one that is fast disappearing in homes all around the country.

Creating good food takes time and patience, but the best advice I can give is not to be intimidated and just get stuck in.

Cooking, I believe, is both a science and an art. As with the creation of other works of art, you can’t be too cautious in the kitchen.

Cooking has always come relatively easy to me, but I know that’s not the same for everyone.

So in my recipes I take different elements of my dishes and present the best and easiest way to create them, without losing the ethos of Thornton’s in the process. So go on, take the plunge!

Beetroot salad

Beetroot, with its magic burgundy colour and smell of summer, is perfect in salads at this time of year. When I was young, most beetroot was bought in a jar, because it took so long to cook, and there is a certain knack to capturing the rich colour – which can be lost when beetroot is boiled.

The best way to protect beetroot’s flavour and colour is to bake it in the oven, unpeeled. When working with beetroot be careful – the colour gets everywhere.

I use surgical gloves which you can get in the chemist and which protect my hands from staining.

Roasted beetroot summer salad, serves ten

2kg fresh beetroot
2 grapefruits
2 oranges
100g of rock salt

1. Wash the beetroot, arrange the salt on a tray covered with tinfoil. Then wash the grapefruits and oranges and cut into small pieces. Place the beetroot into the centre of the tinfoil, squeeze the citrus fruit on top and drop it on top of the beetroot, fold the tinfoil into a parcel around the beetroot and close.

2. Place it into a warm oven at gas mark 3 or 130 C in a fan for about four hours. Then remove it from the oven, insert a knife into the beetroot and if it goes in easily, it’s cooked. Open the tinfoil and you will get a wonderful smell as the beetroot cools down. The citrus fruit helps the beetroot retain its colour without taking away from its flavour.

3. Remove the skin on the beetroot by rubbing it with your fingers (still wearing gloves). It should come off easily.

4. You can slice the beetroot thinly or dice it, but again be careful where you do it, as the colour gets everywhere.

5. Dress the beetroot with the following dressing and serve with salad leaves.

Salad dressing
4 oranges
1 lemon
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
100ml virgin olive oil
20ml of cider vinegar
1 egg yolk
Sea salt
Fresh milled white pepper to taste

1. Peel the lemon and oranges and chop into fine pieces, place in a pot and barely cover with water. Then place on the stove and bring to the boil.

2. Remove and place in a blender and cool. Add the egg yolk and mustard, seasoning, cider vinegar and olive oil, mix for one minute, taste and season.

Salad leaves
With so much variety in salad leaves and herbs available in the supermarkets now, there is no reason why you can’t make an exciting salad with the best, fresh, young seasonal leaves.

Try lambs lettuce, sorrel – which gives a slight lemon taste – frizze, baby oak leaf, leaves from young broccoli, chives and chive flowers.

Experiment with other flavours, too. I picked a bunch of wild rocket recently when out walking, and it made a beautiful, simple salad with balsamic vinegar dressing and parmesan cheese.

All you have to do is wash the leaves, dry them on kitchen paper or in a salad spinner, and place them in a bowl and season. Slice the beetroot into thin slices, arrange them on the plate and make a little bouquet of salad leaves.

Mix a little dressing just before you sprinkle it around the salad. Serve with a few beetroot crisps.

Stewing in the black stuff

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

This week I have opted for a much simpler dish, one that I often cook at home. Stews are the ultimate in comfort food, are easy to prepare and economical to produce. At the same time, they are nutritious and wholesome, using the best of Irish meat and vegetables.

Like all stews, this dish tastes even better the next day, and goes well with various accompaniments. Although you will want to choose the best, freshest vegetables for the stew, take care when shopping for organic vegetables.

A lot of organic vegetables available in Ireland are also imported, so label-checking is important. In my opinion, buying Irish is best.

Braised beef in Guinness
Serves 4
Cooking time: 1 hour 10 minutes

1lb sirloin beef
1/4 litre lightly whipped cream
1 litre beef stock
1/2 litre Guinness
2 medium onions
1 clove garlic
1 carrot
1 leek
1 celery root
Dozen mushrooms
Crushed black peppercorns
Sea salt
1 tsp honey
4 tomatoes (roughly chopped)
Bay leaf
50g butter

1. Trim the beef and cut into 2cm strips. Then season, and saute the beef in a hot pan. Remove from the heat.

2. Clean and wash all the vegetables. Dice the onions, slice the mushrooms and crush the garlic. Then chop the carrots and celery root in 4cm pieces and cut the leek into matchstick strips.

3. Saute the vegetables in a warm pan or pot.

4. Chop the thyme and basil, add some crushed peppercorns and mix this with the vegetables.

5. Place the honey and the bay leaf in the stew pot, then pour in the beef and the vegetables, before adding the Guinness and beef stock.

6. Bring the mixture to boiling point, cover with a lid and place in a warm oven 350F, 180C or gas mark 4 for about 35 minutes.

7. Remove from the oven and add the cream with a wooden spoon. Cook for a further ten minutes in the oven.

8. Correct the seasoning and fold in the butter.

To serve
Serve with either roast or mashed potatoes, a leaf of basil and a flower of thyme.

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

The uncommon delicacy of quail

Sunday, June 1st, 2008

Quail is the collective name for several mid-sized birds of the pheasant family. They are seed eaters that nest in the ground and are capable of short, rapid bursts of flight.

The common quail was previously favoured in French cooking, but the quail that makes it to our tables nowadays is most likely to be the domesticated Japanese quail, as this species is now bred throughout the world for culinary use. When choosing quail, female birds are the better option as they have a higher proportion of meat.

The quail egg is the smallest of all commercially available eggs. They have a beautiful speckled shell and a thick membrane that makes themeasy to peel when warm. The yolk is extremely large in proportion to the volume of the egg and is more dense in consistency than a chicken egg, with the white being more watery. Quail eggs are considered a delicacy and are sometimes used raw in sushi.

Quail can be bought in Ireland in most quality supermarkets and butchers. As far as I am aware there are no Irish breeders of quail. The variety we use in the restaurant is La Belle Rouge.

The following recipe, as with most of my recipes, can be tried in its entirety or the separate components can be done separately. I hope you enjoy it.

Roast quail with savoy cabbage, potato confit, tarte tatin of shallot, quail egg brioche and thyme sauce (serves four)

4 quail
Marinade as follows:
1 bunch thyme
1 small clove garlic
15ml olive oil
12 peppercorns
1 bayleaf

Remove quail legs and thigh bones. Make a marinade by mixing all the above ingredients together. Pour it over the quail leaving it overnight in the fridge. Remove the quail from the marinade, season and brown in a hot pan on three sides.

Place the quail into oven at 180 C for 10 minutes. Check and baste often. Remove quail and allow to rest for two minutes. Remove both breasts from each bird. Season the flesh side of the breast and place the two sides together. Serve on top of the cabbage.

Thyme sauce
5g thyme leaves
100ml white wine
10ml red wine
1 tsp sherry vinegar
1 shallot (diced)
300ml chicken stock

Dice shallots and wash the thyme. Place red wine, white wine and vinegar in pot. Add shallots and thyme and cook until reduced to glaze. Add stock and reduce by half. Correct seasoning. Fold in butter and it’s ready to serve.

Ballontine of quail
8 quail legs
4 quail hearts and livers
1 small bunch chives
Salt/ pepper to taste
12ml brandy
1 egg yolk
1ml thyme oil

Remove all of the bone and the skin from four of the quail legs, but retain the skin for later.

Remove only the thigh bone from the other four, remove the skin and cut the meat into small pieces.

Make a farce with the heart, liver and this quail meat by adding the egg yolk, brandy, salt/pepper and mixing, then passing the mixture through a fine sieve. Chop the chives and mix in, then correct the seasoning.

Fill the remaining legs with the farce and fold the skin back over the leg. Season and wrap the legs tightly in clingfilm and then in tinfoil. Cook in boiling water for 12 minutes.

Remove and rest for a further 10 minutes.

Remove the wrapping and serve with the cabbage and quail breast.

Savoy cabbage
1 head savoy cabbage (shredded)
10g unsalted butter
tsp of olive oil
100ml water
1 shallot (diced)

Remove outer leaves of cabbage, cut remainder in quarter and shred finely. Wash cabbage and dice the shallot.

Heat a pan and add the butter and shallot, then add the cabbage. Season and cook for two minutes.

Add water and cook for a further three minutes. Drain and toss in the butter.

Quail egg brioche
4 quail eggs
Sea salt
4 rings of brioche
Clarified butter

Cut four slices of brioche and cut into 5cm circles. Then cut into rings by taking out the centre with a cutter. Heat a pan and melt butter, then cook brioche until golden brown.

Break the eggs into each of the brioche rings, season with salt and continue to cook until soft. Serve.

Potato confit
4 potatoes cut into cylinders
200ml duck fat
1 sprig of thyme
14 white peppercorns
5g sea salt

Cut potato into four cylinder shapes approx 3cm long. Season and place in warm pan.

Cover with duck fat, add sprig of thyme and cook in the oven at 65 C for approx 30 minutes. Remove, season and serve.

Tarte tatin of shallot
4 shallots
4 rounds of puff pastry
Egg wash

Peel shallots and saute whole until golden brown. Add butter and sugar and caramelise.

Place in small moulds and cover with puff pastry.

Egg-wash and bake in oven at 185 C for 12 minutes.

Remove and allow to rest for a couple of minutes, then turn out and serve.

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