Archive for October, 2008

Make the most of pears

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

There are lots of ways to enjoy pears. You can use them with apple and raisins to make a delicious chutney – which is great with cheese – or poach them with cinnamon and red wine. One of my favourite pear recipes is a variation of tart tatin.

Pears produce a lot of liquid during cooking, so there are a few ways you can prevent the pastry from becoming soggy. Either drain off some of the liquid after about 15minutes of baking, or after the tart is fully cooked, and invert it onto a lipped baking sheet to collect the juice. Then pour the juice over the pears and pastry and put it back in the oven to bake for a further ten minutes or so.

Alternatively, you can avoid doing either by refrigerating the pears (once cut and cored) overnight. This will dry them out, allowing the caramel to be more intense.

Caramelised pear tatin served with lemon cream, serves 4
Tatin ingredients:

Six conference pears
300g ready made puff pastry
100g softened butter
100g caster sugar
A heavy ovenproof frying pan (no other cooking tins are needed)

Tart method

1. Peel the pears and cut into quarters. Remove the cores.
2. In a frying pan, melt the butter and sugar over a high heat until it bubbles. Shake and stir the mixture so that it caramelises. Lay the pears on top and cook in the sauce for about ten minutes until the pears soften, tossing them occasionally to ensure they’re covered in caramelised butter.
3. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool a little. Arrange the pears in a circle with the cut side up, ending up with one in the middle.
4. Roll out the pastry to more than cover the circumference of the pan and drape it over the edges. Tuck the edges of the pastry in and under the pears at the edge of the pan. Pierce about five or six holes in the top of the pastry.
5. Bake in a preheated oven (200C) for 15 minutes and then reduce the heat to 180C. Bake for a further ten to 15 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.
6. Remove from the oven and let it rest for about ten or 15 minutes before inverting onto a large serving plate.

Lemon cream ingredients

40g caster sugar
125g mascarpone
150ml double cream
Four large lemons

Lemon cream method

1. Finely grate, zest and juice the lemons.
2. Mix the lemon zest with the sugar in a bowl.
3. Put the lemon juice into a small pot and bring to the boil until the liquid reduces right down to about an egg-cupful. Pour into bowl containing the zest and sugar and allow it to cool.
4. Add the mascarpone and beat.
5. In a separate bowl, whip the cream until it forms a soft peak and then add it to the mascarpone and lemon mixture. Chill in fridge for about half an hour, before serving a dollop of it on top of the tart.

The chef: Wild about venison and port

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

One of the best things about going from autumn into winter is the warm, hearty food we can look forward to.

At this time of year, I like to take advantage of the abundance of wild foods in season.

Game – which includes feathered and four-legged animals – takes pride of place at this time of year. The season for feathered game runs from the beginning of October to the start of February and the four-legged game season runs from September 1 until March

Over the coming weeks, venison, rabbit, grouse, mallard, teal, pigeon, woodcock and snipe will feature on Thornton’s menu, and in the run-up to Christmas we’ll offer partridge and pheasant.

Venison is a wonderfully pure meat and is popular in the restaurant. It has fewer calories and less fat than beef, but it needs careful cooking to render it succulent.

We buy venison that is over a year old and serve it either very rare or in an elegant casserole.

When buying meat, it’s best to ask your butcher to hang it for you for up to three weeks before cooking.

Loin of venison with port sauce

Ingredients, serves 4

4 pieces of venison, approx 150g each
2 carrots, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
3 sticks of celery, roughly chopped
A dash of brandy

Marinade ingredients

20ml hazelnut oil
Pinch of chilli powder (mix these ingredients together in a bowl)

Port sauce ingredients:

2 shallots (finely diced)
1 clove garlic (finely diced)
Dash of olive oil
Sea salt
Fresh milled black pepper
3 knobs of unsalted butter
1 tsp honey
50ml port
1 litre venison or chicken stock

Venison method

1. Rest the venison in its marinade overnight in the fridge.
2. Season the venison pieces on both sides and sauté on a hot pan over a medium heat turning occasionally until golden brown in colour.
3. Remove and place on a roasting tray on top of the roughly-chopped carrots, onion and celery.
4. Cook in a hot oven (175C) for 5 minutes.
5. Remove from the oven, return to pan and sprinkle with crushed black pepper corns. Sauté over a medium heat for a further minute and flambé with a dash of brandy.
6. Remove from heat and allow the meat to rest for three to four minutes before carving.

Sauce method:

1. Heat a little olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat, then add the shallots and garlic and season with salt and pepper.
2. Sauté for a few minutes, allowing shallots and garlic to colour slightly, then stir in the honey and the port.
3. Bring the liquid to the boil and let it boil until it reduces by half.
4. Pour in the stock and cook at the same heat for a further 20 minutes or until the liquid has reduced by three quarters.
5. Remove from heat and strain through a sieve. Taste and correct the seasoning.
6. Return sauce to the heat and whisk in butter, then serve. This dish is delicious served with fondant potatoes. To cook the potatoes firstly cut them into quarters. Season and brown them in a pan on a medium heat. Remove and place them in a small baking tray. Add enough chicken stock to cover them to half. Cook in oven (at 170 C) for about 20 minutes or until the liquid has evaporated.

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

On a sweet roll with figs

Monday, October 13th, 2008

Figs have been used for centuries as a sweetener in cooking, and fresh figs are a real delicacy – although there are a few things to look out for when buying them.

First and most importantly – use your nose. A fig that smells sour means it’s already beginning to decompose and ferment.

Figs should be clean, dry and smooth skinned. A ripe fig should be soft to the touch, but not mushy. It is important to choose ripe fruit, as unripened figs do not continue to ripen once picked.

Fresh figs are best stored in a plastic bag in the coldest part of the fridge, and used within two days. They can also be frozen – whole, sliced or peeled – in a sealed container for up to a year.

By comparison, dried figs undergo quite a process – being soaked in salted water, pressed and dried again before they are packed and shipped to our shores.

This week’s recipe is a favourite dessert at Thornton’s at this time of year. We serve it with lavender ice cream, though if you don’t want to go the whole hog and make the ice cream, a good quality vanilla ice cream is just as good.

Individual fig tart with lavender sauce (serves 4) Ingredients

8 fresh figs (thinly sliced)
50g frangipani (see below)
100g puff pastry
Lavender and almond sauce (see below)
Lavender ice cream (see below)

Lavender sauce
20g ground almonds
20g dried lavender
100g caster sugar
100ml water
Zest of one lemon

1. Place all ingredients in a stainless-steel pot and heat to just before boiling. Then remove from the heat and allow to cool.

50g soft unsalted butter
50g caster sugar
50g ground almonds
1 large egg
Grated zest of 1 orange

1. Sieve the flour into a bowl, add the caster sugar, butter, ground almonds, orange zest and mix with a hand blender.
2. Beat the egg and add it to the mixture and mix again.
3. Place mixture into a piping bag.

Lavender ice cream

10 egg yolks
1 vanilla pod (deseeded)
500ml cream
500ml milk
50g lavender flowers
125g icing sugar

1. Place the lavender flowers and vanilla seeds in a bowl with the milk and cream and leave overnight in the fridge.
2. Line the base of a stainless steel pot with a little water, and then add the milk and cream. Bring to the boil and remove from heat.
3. Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl, then add the sugar and whisk well. Pour half the milk and cream into the egg and sugar and whisk.
4. Pour the mixture back into the stainless-steel pot containing the rest of the milk and cream. Heat to just before boiling point, stirring all the time with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat and place in a basin of cold water to cool it quickly.
5. Spin the cool mixture in an ice cream maker if you have one. Otherwise, place in a stainless-steel bowl and freeze – removing from the freezer at intervals to stir.

To assemble
1. Cut the pastry in four rectangular shapes and place on a baking tray. Prick with a fork to ensure it doesn’t rise too much.
2. Pipe the frangipani mixture on top of each pastry and bake at 175 degrees centigrade for 10 minutes.
3. Remove from the oven and layer fig slices on top. Turn oven down to 150 degrees and return the tarts to bake for a further five minutes, then remove and brush lightly with lavender sauce.
4. Place the tart in the centre of a large plate, spoon sauce around the tart, top with a scoop of ice cream and finish by sprinkling ground almond and lavender flowers around the edges.

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

Hooked on tuna

Sunday, October 5th, 2008

In recent weeks Thornton’s has been serving yellowfin tuna and swordfish caught off the south-west coast of Ireland. A lot of the tuna available in Ireland is imported from abroad, from countries such as Indonesia, but I like to use Irish fish.

Small amounts of fresh Irish tuna and swordfish are available from good fishmongers at this time of year and, as fresh tuna is so much tastier than the canned variety, it is well worth seeking out.

Tuna flesh is similar to swordfish both in colour and in texture. Fresh tuna can be eaten raw, grilled, pan-fried or cured. I like it raw (tuna tartare) with diced shallots, lemon juice and fresh horseradish. For those who prefer tuna well done, it is best to cook it slowly. This recipe is simple, tasty and the dressing complements the fish beautifully.

Grilled yellowfin tuna with ratatouille, soy and ginger dressing

Ingredients, serves four
4 tuna steaks
1 lemon
100g girolle mushrooms (optional), cleaned and cut in half
1 shallot diced
Olive oil

Dressing ingredients
15ml rice wine
20ml soy sauce
5ml sesame oil
50ml sunflower oil
1 shallot, finely diced
5g chopped fresh dill
Juice of one lime
5 slices of preserved ginger, finely diced
Juice of 1 lemon
Sea salt
Fresh milled pepper

Make the dressing by placing the dill, shallots, ginger, lime juice, lemon juice, soy sauce, rice wine, sunflower oil, sesame oil into a bowl and mixing well. Season and mix again. Correct seasoning if necessary.

Ratatouille ingredients
1 medium courgette, thinly sliced
1 aubergine, sliced
1 red pepper, de-seeded and sliced
1 green pepper, de-seeded and sliced
5 plum tomatoes, blanched and skinned
1 white onion, diced
Half a clove garlic, crushed
10ml olive oil
4 basil leaves

1. Sauté the onions in a little olive oil until lightly brown. Add the aubergine and peppers and cook for a few minutes. Add the courgette, tomatoes and garlic. Remove from heat and set aside.
2. Heat a separate pan and add a drop of olive oil. Place the basil leaves in the pan and cook for a few seconds. Remove and place them on kitchen paper to absorb the oil. Season lightly.
3. To cook the tuna, heat a grill pan. Season the tuna steaks and drizzle with olive oil and lay them on the hot grill. After two minutes turn the steaks over (they should be nicely marked at this point) and cook other side for two minutes.
4. Squeeze the juice of a lemon over the steaks. The fish is ready to serve at this stage although if you prefer tuna well done, place the steaks in a hot oven (170 degrees C) for a further five minutes.
5. Sauté the girolles in a little olive oil on a hot pan, add diced shallot and cook until the liquid has evaporated.
6. To assemble the dish, spoon ratatouille around the plate. Spoon the mushrooms into the middle of the plate and place the tuna steak on top. Sprinkle dressing around the plate.

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