Archive for August, 2008

Sharp's the word for lemons

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

A perfect finish to a light meal of fish – such as last week’s recipe for black sole – is this baked lemon pudding.

It is a sharp, lemony sponge that produces its own sauce and is easy to make. I like to serve this dish in the summer with a bowl of whipped cream, flavoured with fresh vanilla seeds from a vanilla pod, and let people help themselves to a bowl of deep red raspberries sprinkled with a little icing sugar and the juice of a lemon.

Raspberries and lemon are a wonderful combination. Another lovely dish to serve with this pudding is raspberry fool, the recipe for which is also included here. In a fool I like pieces of the fruit among the cream, but those who prefer a smoother texture can work the berries to a purée in a blender or push them through a sieve.

Sharp lemon pudding

Ingredients (serves six)
3oz butter, softened
6oz demerara sugar
Finely grated zest and juice of 4 lemons
4 large eggs, separated
2oz flour
8 tablespoons milk

1. Grease the inside of a seven-inch soufflé dish with a small knob of butter. Preheat oven to 350F / 180C.
2. Using an electric or hand-held beater, cream the butter with the sugar until they form a creamy white, fluffy consistency that will form soft peaks.
3. Add the lemon zest and juice and then add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after adding each one. The mixture may curdle here, but that’s fine. Beat in the flour and then add the milk one tablespoon at a time.
4. With a wire whisk or an electric hand-held whisk, beat the egg whites until they are stiff and form peaks. Fold them gently into the mixture, ensuring they are thoroughly mixed until all the white disappears.
5. Pour the mixture into the buttered soufflé dish. Place the dish into a roasting tin and pour hot water into the tin until it comes half way up the sides.
6. Bake until the top of the pudding has risen and is golden brown (it should take about 45 minutes) and serve hot.

Raspberry fool

Ingredients (serves four)
8oz raspberries
8oz fromage frais
4oz creme fraiche or thick double cream
1 tablespoon icing sugar (for sweetening if desired)

1. Crush the berries in a bowl with a fork.
2. Fold in the fromage frais and creme fraiche, slowly but thoroughly. If desired, sweeten the fool with a tablespoon of icing sugar.
3. Spoon into glasses and chill for an hour in the fridge before serving.

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

Get to the heart of sole

Sunday, August 24th, 2008

Black sole, more widely known as Dover sole, is a wonderful fish. Sole is a flat fish that lives at the bottom of the sea and, like all flat fish, its skin is too tough to eat.

When grilling sole, you must remove both skin sides (black and white). Black sole is at its best when it is between one to three days old, as it is difficult to remove the skin if it is too fresh.

When I worked as a teenager in Chez Hans, grilled black sole was served on the bone and the waiters would then de-bone the fish at the table.

Unfortunately, this skill is rarely seen these days. The photographs above shows some of the process of skinning and filleting a sole.

To prepare sole very simply, butter a grilling tray. Season the sole fillets on both sides with sea salt and freshly milled white pepper, brush with melted butter and place under a hot grill until the fillets are golden brown. Turn the fish and grill on the other side, again until golden brown.

Remove from the heat, squeeze lemon juice over the fillets and serve. The following dish requires a little more work, though most of that is in the preparation. It is best served with summer vegetables and/or salad leaves.

Fillet of black sole with parmesan crust
Serves four

Ingredients: black sole
8 fillets of black sole (two fillets per portion)
Sea salt
Fresh milled white pepper
1 lemon

1. Season the fillets and squeeze the juice of half a lemon over them.
2. Put one fillet on top of a second one and wrap tightly in clingfilm. Repeat, so that you end up with four portions (two fillets per portion).
3. Place the wrapped portions in a pot of boiling water for five minutes, then remove and unwrap. Squeeze the rest of juice over the fillets and place them on a baking tray.
4. Cut the parmesan crust to the size of the fillet and place on top. Grill until the crust starts to melt.

Ingredients: parmesan crust
500g butter
850g fine breadcrumbs
150g grated parmesan cheese
3 free-range egg yolks
3 lemons zested and finely-chopped
Juice from half a lemon

1. Cream the butter. Add in the breadcrumbs.
2. Add the parmesan and chopped lemon zest.
3. Add the egg yolks and the lemon juice, and mix well.
4. Roll the mixture out thinly between two pieces of greaseproof paper and place in a freezer to set overnight.

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

The knowledge of salmon

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

17 August 2008
Most wild fish found in Irish waters is exported to countries such as France, Spain and Japan, with the result that it is getting increasingly difficult to get hold of at home.

Ironically, Ireland imports a huge amount of farmed fish from around the world.

Much of the tuna available from Irish fishmongers and supermarkets, for example, comes from Indonesia, while a lot of the sea bass comes from Greece. A supplier recently told me that he gets great scallops from the US and Canada, as well as farmed halibut from Iceland.

So when you get the chance to get hold of wild Irish salmon, don’t miss the opportunity. Over-fishing in the past means that it is only possible to get the genuine article over the next two weeks.

At Thornton’s, we only buy Irish fish. Although imported fish is available to the Irish consumer at a cheaper cost, wild Irish fish is far superior in quality. Farmed salmon available in Ireland is around €4 per kilogram, organic salmon is about €10, and wild salmon is around €25.

Labeling fish organic does not necessarily mean that it has lived in its own natural environment. Much organic salmon is farm-reared and fed with organic food. I can’t tell much difference in the taste between farmed and so-called organic fish.

However, farmed salmon bears no resemblance to wild salmon and it is worth the extra cost. This recipe includes truffles but they can be omitted.

Sautéed fillet of wild Atlantic salmon with summer vegetables and summer truffle
Serves 4

Ingredients: Salmon
4 pieces of wild salmon fillet, 110g each
Olive oil
4 carrots
1 celeriac
1 bunch of samphire or sea asparagus
Olive oil
1 lemon cut in half
Rock salt
New boiled potatoes (3to 4 per person)

Ingredients: dressing
50ml virgin olive oil
15ml truffle vinegar
10g diced summer truffle (or 30 black, stoneless olives)
5ml madeira
10ml spring water
2 tomatoes skinned, seeded and chopped
Sea salt
Fresh milled white pepper
One small bunch of chopped chives
Half a lemon

Method: salmon
1. Season the salmon on both sides and sauté in a hot pan (flesh side down) in a little olive oil for two minutes.

2. Place salmon in hot oven at 170 degrees centigrade for four minutes.

3. Remove and brush with olive oil.

4. Place under a hot grill for about one minute. Remove, squeeze lemon juice over the salmon, and serve.

Method: dressing
1. Wash and chop the truffle (or olives), and place in a bowl.

2. Add the chopped tomatoes, vinegar, olive oil, madeira, water and chives.

3. Mix well, and season to taste.

Method: vegetables
1. Dice all vegetables and cook in boiling, lightly-salted water for two minutes.

2. Remove and strain off water.

3. Return to pot. Add a little olive oil and season to taste. Heat through for a further minute.

4. Toss the samphire in a hot pan for a few seconds with a little olive oil and a little rock salt.

5. Remove and serve with boiled new potatoes.

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

Delights of luscious lobster

Sunday, August 10th, 2008

The king of crustaceans, caught off the west coast of Ireland, is available from May to the beginning of September.

Only mature lobster should be kept for eating – ones that have reached the age of about seven years old and have a length of about 12 inches and weigh around 2lbs. The female spawns only every second year and from the approximately 20,000 eggs it carries under its tail, only a few dozen develop to reach reproductive maturity themselves.

Lobsters need time to recover from the shock of being caught. They have strong claws and a thick protective skin, so if they are cooked straight away their flesh is always tough.

Once caught, lobsters should be allowed to rest in special cages for a few days while immersed in seawater. If the lobster is out of the water for a number of hours, it will eat itself to keep alive.

It is easy to identify if the lobster you are buying has been left out of the water, as the flesh will be soft and falling apart.

One of my earliest encounters with lobster was when I was working as a teenager during the summer holidays in the kitchens of Chez Hans restaurant in Cashel. I saw this alien-looking thing in front of me, and the chef told me it would bite my finger off if I went near it.

Years later, I saw this beautiful creature in its own environment, when I was diving off St John’s Point in Donegal. I was amazed to see that, when I came close to it, it swam backwards and disappeared into a cave.

I waited for it to reappear and, when it did, I resisted taking it for dinner (it’s illegal to do so).

If cooking lobster, you should always buy it alive. If someone tries to sell you a dead lobster for a cheap price, you will pay dearly for it later.

It is also important to leave the elastic bands on its claws, as the Chez Hans chef was right – if you get pinched, it will be painful.

The other thing I love about lobster is its eggs, which are delicious when marinated in dry martini. I also use the coral to make lobster coral butter. The eggs are a beautiful black colour, and the coral is green, yet both turn to a beautiful pink when cooked.

There are several ways to cook lobster. Many people find the idea of immersing a lobster in boiling water, or cutting it in half while it is still alive, cruel. The truth is that there is no way to cook a lobster that does not seem cruel.

At Thornton’s, we slowly drown the lobster in fresh water over a few hours, then cook it in a court bouillon for 30 seconds.

Once removed from the heat, I make a consommé from the shells, and then oven-cook the lobster meat in the consommé at 50 degrees for 12 minutes.

Another easy choice is to prepare it with a sauce made of fresh tomatoes, shallots, garlic and brandy, and again oven-cook it at the same temperature.

Remember that a lobster’s skin is blue-black and turns red only when cooked, and that the best lobster flesh comes from the claws. The recipe below is for lobster simply cooked in calvados.

Ingredients – lobster in calvados, serves four
Four small lobsters (each weighing 14oz), or two large lobsters (each weighing 1.5lbs to 2lbs)
100g butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
100ml calvados
Pinch of sugar

1. Set the oven at a high temperature (250 degrees). Cut the live lobster in two, length-ways, clean the heads, then gut it.

2. Add the halves to a skillet, coat with 50g butter and add salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes in the oven, continually basting it with the juice.

3. Near the end of the cooking time, carefully add the calvados, as it should not come into direct contact with the lobster meat.

4. Add the remaining butter and the pinch of sugar, and cook the lobster halves in the oven for a further eight minutes. Serve hot.

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

Slowly does it for summer

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008

03 August 2008
By Kevin Thornton
It’s great fun to cook with friends and family – especially when there are children involved. I tested out this theory recently in the sunshine in Portugal, where, with the sea breeze blowing up towards the house, I prepared a meal using the combined cooking talents of family and friends.

Communal food cooked for large gatherings must involve food that is easy to prepare and full of wonderful flavours. Dishes should be served in large bowls that can be placed in the centre of the table – so that everyone can help themselves.

Ideal dishes are fresh tomato and mozzarella salad with olive oil and fresh basil; chicken fajitas; homemade guacamole and tomato salsa; roasted new potatoes with rosemary and garlic; and roasted free-range chicken.

The chicken we had was free-range and yellow in colour, as it had been corn-fed. I bought it locally in the morning and it came in its full glory – complete with head and everything else attached. Despite our agreement to cook communally, I was left to deal with the bird.

I find slow cooking brings out the best flavour in roast chicken, so I got to work on it straight away, with the intention of leaving it to cook while we headed down to the sea.

Having removed the offending extraneous pieces and cleaned it entirely inside and out, I placed three whole garlic cloves and half an onion (sliced) in the chest cavity, along with half a lemon.

Then, I covered the chicken with a sprinkle of local olive oil, fresh lemon and lime juice, sea salt, freshly milled pepper and fresh rosemary. I placed the chicken in to cook at 100 degrees centigrade for between five and six hours.

When we returned home I turned the oven up to 200 degrees for half an hour while we prepared the dishes listed below. This last blast of high heat finishes it off beautifully.

If you are cooking the recipes below for large groups, just double the amounts.

Fresh tomato salsa (serves 6)
7 fresh tomatoes, finely diced
2 red onions, finely diced
Half clove garlic, crushed
Half jalapeno pepper, crushed
Pinch of cumin
Juice of two limes

1. Combine all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl.

Guacamole (serves 6)
2 medium avocados, halved lengthwise and with stones removed
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 white onions, finely diced
4 fresh tomatoes, finely chopped
6 coriander leaves or flat leaf parsley if you don’t like coriander

1. Using a spoon, remove the pulp from the avocados and place in a medium bowl.

2. Drizzle avocado pulp with lemon juice and mash it up using a fork. Add remaining ingredients and stir.

3. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Chicken fajitas (serves 6)
6 large, boneless, skinless chicken breasts (preferably free-range), cut in half
200ml vegetable oil
Juice of 4 limes
1 small white onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves of garlic, crushed and then finely chopped
2 red jalapeno chillies, seeded and finely chopped
8 leaves of coriander
Half teaspoon sea salt
Flour tortillas
Tub of crème fraîche

1. Combine all the ingredients, except for the tortillas and crème fraîche, in a glass or ceramic dish and allow the chicken to marinade in the fridge, preferably overnight or for at least five hours.

2. Remove chicken breasts from marinade and grill until the juices run clear when the meat is pierced with a knife.

3. Slice chicken into thin strips and place it on warm flour tortillas, add the salsa or guacamole and roll.

4. Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche.

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