Archive for July, 2008

A treat worth sticking with

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

I was about eight years old when I first saw caramel being concocted. As a child, it seemed to me to be a similar process to when the council was resurfacing the roads – laying the steaming hot tar with the white stripe down the middle.
I was helping out in a kitchen for the summer holidays and the chef was making the sweet treat. I marvelled at the colour of the mixture as it was changing by the second, from light brown to dark brown, right in front of my eyes. The chef said ‘‘taste it’’ and, like a fool, I did. I put my finger into the boiling-hot sugar mixture and it burned so sorely that I followed my next natural reaction, which was to stick it in my mouth. My finger stuck to my tongue and my love of caramel quickly disappeared.


Since then I have learned that you can stick your finger into caramel only if you have iced coldwater at the ready. The trick is to dip your finger into the caramel really quickly and then plunge it straight into iced cold water. The caramel instantly hardens and you can taste it safely.

To make caramel all you need is sugar and water, a heavy-duty pot, a pastry brush, coldwater and heat. However, the art of caramel-making is much more difficult than its ingredients would have you believe. Temperature and timing are crucial, so the only way around the problem of hitting the right temperature at the right time is by investing in a sugar thermometer.

A variation on simple caramel is nougat. The word comes from the Latin words ‘nux gatum’ meaning ‘nut cake’. The quality of the nougat depends crucially on the quality of the ingredients used – especially the nuts and the honey.

Honey comes in a wide variety of flavours, which reflect the area from which the honey is sourced. For example, honey from France’s Provence region will have a taste of lavender, while honey from parts of New Zealand will have a nutty or vanilla flavour.

When making nougat, bear in mind that the finished product will be soft if the temperature of the nougat is kept under 120 degrees, and hard if it rises above 150 degrees. The recipe below is for iced nougat. The nougat can be made in advance, poured on to rice paper, allowed to set and cut into blocks. Once it has cooled, it should be stored in an airtight container. The biscuits too can be prepared a few days in advance.

Iced nougat with biscuit and glazed Fruit

Iced nougat
75g sugar
25g water
75g nibbed almonds
50g hazelnuts
25g pistachio nuts
75g crystallised fruit (ginger, mango, orange peel, papaya, grapefruit peel)
4 tbsp cassis
40g egg white
75g icing sugar
18g water
41g honey
5g glucose
250g cream

Biscuit
25g soft butter
50g icing sugar
37g egg white
30g flour
1/4 orange zest
5g crushed pistachio nuts
Seeds from one vanilla pod

Fruit
50g blueberries
40g redcurrants
White of one egg
2 tbsp granulated sugar
Fruit coulis (orange is best)

Method:

Nougat
Dice the crystallised fruit and marinade in the cassis. Then whip egg whites to stiff peaks, fold in the icing sugar, and set aside. Next, whip the cream in a separate dish and add the marinated fruit.

Boil the sugar and water to 120 degrees until they form a soft caramel, then add almonds and pistachios and mix. Pour the mixture on to a greased tray and cool, then crush it up finely.

Boil the water and honey to reach 120 degrees, then let the mixture cool to 112 degrees. Mix in the crushed caramel and fold in the whipped egg whites using a metal spoon.

Place the mix into 5cm moulds. Cover and freeze for 24 hours.

Biscuit
Mix the egg whites, flour, sugar, pistachio nuts, orange zest and vanilla seeds together in a bowl. Then add the softened butter and place the mixture in the fridge for about six hours.

Grease a baking tray, roll out the biscuit dough and cut into shapes. Place the biscuits on a tray and cook in oven at 150 degrees for about eight to ten minutes or until golden brown.

Leave biscuits to cool on the tray.

Fruit

Dip the blueberries and redcurrants in egg white, remove and roll in granulated sugar. This is a way to preserve the fruit.

To serve
Arrange the fruit around the plate. Remove nougat from moulds and place in centre of plate. Arrange biscuit around. Pour on the fruit coulis (I make my own, but M&S; does a range of fresh coulis). Place some orange peel or a mint leaf on top, dust with icing sugar 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

Tomatoes: a taste of the sun

Sunday, July 20th, 2008


Tomatoes are a true reflection of summer. Believe it or not, there are around 4,500 varieties of tomatoes available in Ireland.

They come under the various headings of beef, plum, vine, cherry, red, green, black and yellow, each of which has an incredible range of shapes and colours.


When the first organic, fresh tomato enters our kitchen each year, we marvel at its slightly sweet, acidic smell. Just picked from the vine, the skin of a good tomato should be smooth and firm with a deep, rich colour. The best way to serve tomatoes is to slice them and sprinkle them with rock salt, chopped, fresh basil leaves and extra virgin olive oil.

When shopping for tomatoes, ask about varieties and origin. To recognise a good tomato, trust your own sense of taste and smell. A good one should be juicy and firm with a balance of acidity and sweetness. Look for quality in supermarkets and farmers’ markets around the country.


Tomatoes are a versatile food, but I love to marry them with just a few other seasonal foods, such as basil and wet garlic. It’s a great dish for lunch or early evening.

For this tomato tartlet, the tomatoes can be cut roughly into quarters for a rustic look. Unlike most other pastries, puff pastry works with both savoury and sweet dishes.

Tomato tartlet with confit of cherry tomato and basil oil


Ingredients, serves 4
250g puff pastry
200g pesto
16 firm plum tomatoes
8 red cherry tomatoes
4 yellow cherry tomatoes
2 shallots
3 cloves of wet garlic
4 basil leaves
50ml basil oil
10ml olive oil
sprinkle of rock salt

Pesto ingredients
30g of pine kernels
140ml of first press virgin olive oil
20g of fresh basil leaves
Sea salt and fresh milled pepper
1 clove of wet garlic
pinch of sugar

Pesto method
Place all the ingredients into the blender for a few minutes. Remove and taste for flavour. Correct the seasoning as required. Remove and place in a clean container. This stage can be done in advance and the pesto kept in the fridge.

Ready-made puff pastry method
1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees, then roll out the pastry and cut into 10cm rings.

2. Dust a baking tray with flour. Place the cut puff pastry on the tray and prod it with a fork to stop it from rising. Place another baking tray on top of the pastry and put it in the oven for seven minutes.

3. Remove the top tray and return the pastry to the oven for a further two minutes or until it is a light brown colour. Remove and rest.

Tomato concasse method
1. Wash the plum tomatoes and cut an X into the top of each with a sharp knife.

2. Blanch the tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds. Refresh them in cold water, then remove the skin, cut in half horizontally and remove the seeds.

3. Cut half the tomatoes into small discs, place them in a little olive oil and set aside.

4. Dice the remaining tomato trimmings, dice the shallots and finely-chop the garlic.

5. Add a little olive oil to a heated pan. Add the diced shallots and sauté for two minutes without colouring. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the diced tomato and cook for a further minute, then season.

6. Remove the tomatoes from the pan and drain off the excessive juice.

Confit of tomato method
1. Place the olive oil and a clove of wet garlic in the pot.

2. Pierce the cherry tomatoes with a knife and place them in warm olive oil (40 degrees) for about 30 minutes, then remove and place them on kitchen paper to absorb the excess oil.

3. Dip the four basil leaves in hot water and cook them in hot oil for five seconds until crispy. Remove and place on kitchen paper. Sprinkle with a little sea salt.

Tartlet method
1. Cover the base of the tartlet with the pesto. Sprinkle a little tomato concasse on top.

2. Assemble the tomato discs on top.

3. Place the tart in a hot oven (190 degrees) for five minutes.

4. Remove from the oven and place the tartlet in the centre of the plate. Sprinkle with a little rock salt and place the basil leaf on top. Pour a little basil oil around the tartlet and assemble the cherry tomatoes on the plate.

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

A currant work of tart

Sunday, July 13th, 2008


Sunday, July 13, 2008
By Kevin Thornton
With an abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables and salads, the summer season is a chef ’s dream. Today, most produce is available year round but, in truth, fruits and vegetables have quite a short season, meaning locally-grown produce is only available for about three weeks of the year.

So, it is extra special when your favourite fruits and veg are in season and can be bought locally. In August, for example, pick up Irish tomatoes and eat them washed, sliced and sprinkled with rock salt, a dash of olive oil and shredded basil leaves.

It is worth trying to shop and eat seasonally. If some foods aren’t in season, there are always plenty of other foods that are. At this time of year, berries such as whitecurrants, blackberries and redcurrants take centre stage. They are all so different in flavour but taste great mixed together, so they are ideal for tarts which can be prepared in advance for Sunday lunch.

I have provided the recipe for vanilla ice cream below, for which you will need to use an ice cream maker. Of course, a good quality vanilla ice cream can be used instead.

Black and whitecurrant tart with vanilla ice cream and redcurrant sauce


Ingredients, serves eight
For the short crust pastry
500g plain flour
3 egg yolks
125g granulated sugar
200g unsalted butter
5g sea salt
1 vanilla pod
1 zest of orange
100ml orange juice

Method
1. Sieve the flour into a mixing bowl and add the sugar, salt and egg yolks.

2. Cut the vanilla pod in half, remove the seeds, chop them and add to the flour. Blanch the orange zest. This removes the acid from the orange peel but keeps its flavour. To do this, cover the zest with water, bring it to the boil, strain it and then add to the mix.

3. Mix in the bowl for a few seconds.

4. Cut the butter into small cubes, soften and add to the mixture. Mix for a minute and add the orange juice a little at a time. The pastry should bind together and come cleanly away from the bowl.

5. Remove, place into a clean bowl and refrigerate for about an hour.

6. Remove the pastry. Butter the tart mould and dust it with flour. Dust the counter top with a bit of flour and roll out the pastry onto this surface. Cover the mould with the pastry and, with your hands, press the pastry into the tart tray.

7. Blind-cook the tart. This can be done by covering the pastry with parchment paper and adding dried marrowfat peas or rice onto it, to put pressure on the pastry to keep it flat while it cooks. Place it into a hot oven at 180C for five minutes.

8. Remove the paper and the rice or dried peas. Put the tart back in the oven for a further couple of minutes to finish cooking. It should be a very light brown colour.

For the pastry cream
250ml of milk
250ml of cream
A drop of still water
1 vanilla pod
125g of icing sugar
165g of plain white flour
3 egg yolks
3 whole eggs

Method:
1. Put a drop of water into a stainless-steel pot. Add the milk and cream.

2. Cut the vanilla pod in half and add the seeds to the eggs.

3. Add the pod shells to the liquid and bring to the boil.

4. Put the flour, sugar, eggs and vanilla seeds into a stainless steel bowl and mix well with a whisk until it is forms a smooth paste.

5. When the milk and cream has boiled, pour half of it into the flour and egg mixture. Mix well and pour back into the pot with the liquid.

6. Return to a low heat and stir constantly for about five minutes. Cover with a lid and place the pot over a larger pot filled with simmering water to cook for a further hour, mixing regularly.

7. Remove, place into a clean bowl and cover.

8. The secret to making pastry cream is not to rush it or take short cuts. The flour takes time to cook correctly. It keeps for a few days and can be used with all kinds of pastry filling.

For the vanilla ice cream
10 egg yolks
3 vanilla pods
500ml cream
500ml milk
10ml of still water
125g icing sugar

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

2. Line a stainless steel pot with water. Mix the milk and cream together and bring to the boil.

3. Whisk the egg yolks. Add the sugar and whisk well. Pour half the milk and cream into the egg-and-sugar and mix well with a whisk.

4. Pour back into the liquid. Return to a hot hob and bring to 95C using a sugar thermometer. Cook while stirring with a wooden spoon. When the back of the mixture coats the back of the spoon, remove the pot and place it into a sink of ice cold water. This cools the ice cream mix as quickly as possible.

5. When sufficiently cool, spin in an ice cream machine.

6. Remove and place in a sterilised container, then freeze until required.


To assemble the tart you will need
Pastry cream
Ice cream
Tablespoon of apricot jam
500ml vanilla ice cream
200g whitecurrants
300g blackcurrants
200g redcurrants
10g granulated sugar
8 sugared vanilla pods

Method
1. Juice 100g of redcurrants. Add a little sugar and place into a pot on a low heat. Reduce by half, then pass through a fine sieve into a clean, cool container.

2. Glaze the remaining redcurrants by dipping them into egg white and cover with granulated sugar. Leave on a sugared tray over night at room temperature. The sugar glazing protects the berries so they will last for a few days.

3. Cover the pastry base with pastry cream and line the berries on top.

4. Heat the apricot jam and cover the berries with the apricot glaze.

5. Put the tart on the plate and line the plate with the sauce. Place the sugared berries beside the sauce and serve with a few scoops of balled ice cream.

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

Chocolate mousse made with love

Sunday, July 6th, 2008


Sunday, July 06, 2008
By Kevin Thornton
The first time I saw and worked with a fresh cocoa bean, I was excited. The experience was even more special, as the beans I worked with were from the plantation that supplies the chocolate we use at Thornton’s.

I was thrilled to meet the person who grows the cocoa beans that I use. To me that’s what food is about – amazing people who take huge pride in what they do and pass enormous pleasure on to others.

Then it is up to the likes of me not to mess it up as I pass it on. When so many people go to great lengths to understand and respect their produce and have such pride in what they do, it gives me enormous pleasure to work with their produce.


This is a dish I developed as an ode to the beautiful cocoa bean. It is simple and can be prepared in the morning for a dinner party or for a garden lunch in this beautiful Irish weather. Ahem. The secret when working with chocolate is firstly to ensure the product is of good quality and secondly, not to overheat it.

Remember not to be too intense when you work, as I believe cooking is all about energy. Think about the produce – the person who planted the bean, the one who looked after it while it grew, the chocolate maker, the person who cooks the recipe. Remember that it goes through a lot before it reaches its final destination. Enjoy it, as chocolate is the way into everyone’s heart.

Opera Chocolate and Mango Mousse (serves 12)

Ingredients

Chocolate mousse

500g of 65 per cent chocolate
100g of 72 per cent grated chocolate
300ml of cream
4 medium-size free range eggs
80g of icing sugar
1 litre of lightly whipped cream
4 leaves of gelatine
1/2 glass of port

Mango mousse

150ml of mango puree
50ml of passion fruit puree
1 mango diced
1 leaf of gelatine

To garnish

5 raspberries each
100 ml of chocolate glaze (100g of 72 per cent chocolate, 5 drops of almond oil)

Method

Chocolate mousse

1. Melt the chocolate in a bowl of warm water, covering the bowl with cling film so as not to allow any moisture in.

2. Boil 300ml of cream to make an anglaise. Mix the sugar and eggs together for a few seconds. When the cream comes to the boil, mix half into the egg mix and stir well. Pour the rest of the egg mix into the cream, return to the heat and cook for a few minutes or until you see the first bubble, stirring consistently. Make sure it does not boil.

3. Pour the mix into the chocolate. Melt the gelatine in the port liquid and pour into the mix. Cool the chocolate for a few minutes. Fold in the slightly whipped cream and, after 5 minutes, fold in the grated chocolate. This gives the mousse a crunch.

Mango mousse

1. Mix the mango and passion fruit puree together. Cut the fresh mango into small pieces, add the gelatine, the puree and dissolve over a low heat.

2. Pour the mango mix into 8cm moulds to about 1cm in height only. Allow to slightly set for a few minutes and then pour the chocolate into the top of the mould. Refrigerate for about five hours.

3. To finish, melt some chocolate. Mix with a little almond oil and pour over the top. This gives the finished product a beautiful shine.

To serve

Place a chocolate ring in the centre of each plate. Remove the ring and scatter plate with raspberries.

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