Today, over breakfast, my daughter in law Shan told me a story.
When she was a little girl, she visited her auntie – her Mum’s sister – in the countryside somewhere in China. Her auntie kept chickens. That year an illness had struck the chickens and all but one hen and one chick had died. Both were very weak.
High outside Shan’s bedroom window there was a nest of bees, long bees that looked more like wasps. Shan used to like to poke a stick into the nest to get some honey. Sometimes she would fish larvae out instead of honey. She would feed the larvae to the hen. Every time she did so the hen would carry them in her beak to where the weak chick quivered on the ground and feed the chick with them. Both the hen and the chick survived.
Shan told me this story today to explain why some day she would like to keep chickens, not on the balcony of their 21st floor apartment in Beijing because that would be cruel, but some day, maybe even here in Ireland. The story was prompted because we were eating a confit duck hash made with eggs sent down to us by my sister-in-law Colette who has recently taken to keeping chickens in her garden in Ardee.
It’s just a little story but, in the heightened emotions flowing in our household at the moment, it has been on my mind all day as a parable of the redeeming and selfless power of a mother’s love for her child and the innate kindness of children.
This week has the eerie feel of the calm before the storm – a brief pause when Shane, Shan and Dermot can recover from a 23 hour journey and winter head colds, spend some quiet time with us and adjust to the rhythm of life in Ireland before Shan’s family arrive to join us for Christmas and the wedding celebrations.
For baby Dermot this is an awfully big adventure. When he first visited Ireland in June he was almost too young to know the difference. Now aged 10 months and 12 days, he is disconcerted by the sudden change, missing his daily routine, his other Nai Nai and the Chinese voices and faces that usually surround him. You can see him somewhat homesick, warily trying to make sense of the smells, sights and sounds of an Irish Christmas and so many new faces. But he is curious and resilient and even in two days he is beginning to settle.
If you read my last blog post you will know that I have planned nearly every detail of the meals for the two weeks our Chinese visitors will spend here but this week there is an element of pot luck about what we eat including some traditional family favourites – shepherd’s pie lovingly prepared by Shane’s Dad for their arrival late on Sunday night, steaks grilled on the Big Green Egg served with potatoes roast in duck fat yesterday, Shan’s version of spaghetti bolognese today.
Confit Duck Legs
Yesterday I prepped confit duck legs to make Confit Duck Spring Rolls for my Mum when she visits us from Wexford for lunch tomorrow to be reunited with her only great grand child. That recipe came from Tom Walsh my good friend who is chef at Samphire@theWaterside in Donobate.
To confit the duck legs I simply dried them out at room temperature, tucked some cloves of garlic, star anise, rosemary and thyme around them, seasoned them with salt and pepper and covered them with melted duck fat. I slow-roasted them in the oven at 120 degrees for 5 or 6 hours until the meat was melting off the bone. I allowed them to cool until the duck fat had set and gently prised them out of it, saving the infused fat for glorious duck roast potatoes.
Confit Duck Hash
Over the weekend I had been reading Niamh Shield’s beautifully written blog post Duck Confit Hash for Sunday Breakfast on eatlikeagirl.com. Her “recipe” posts are much more than that – they are an ode to the sensuous pleasure of home-cooked food. This one reads like a dream of the perfect Sunday breakfast.
So here I was on a Monday night with left over duck fat roast potatoes, two spare confit duck legs, a glut of flat leaf parsley in the garden thanks to the mild winter, organic eggs from my sister-in-law, a jet-lagged son and daughter in law and a grandson who likes nothing better than to gnaw on the bone of a duck leg. The combination was just irresistible.
Taking Niamh’s advice via Twitter – you will find her @eatlikeagirl – I reheated two of my confit duck legs in the oven this morning by starting them at 170 degrees C and crisping off the skin at 230 degrees C. After that I followed her recipe – sautéing two thinly sliced onions slowly in duck fat in a large, deep frying pan until caramelised, then whacking up the heat and adding in chunks of roast potatoes and shreds of duck meat and crispy skin. When it was all nice and crispy I created spaces for the eggs and broke them in to cook until set. A scattering of sea salt and parsley and I had a reasonable approximation of Niamh’s creation.
What’s more Shan and Shane loved the dish and the recipe will travel back with them to China to Shan’s MaMa, completing a circle that began with a little girl fishing for larvae to feed a sick hen. Food and travel and love merge together in mysterious ways.
This week I had to organise a small dinner-party, a bit of decadent mid-week eating for a good friend who was taking me hill-walking up the Devil’s Bit. The complicating factor was that I had to serve it in his house at the foot of the mountain straight after a three hour walk. I knew I was going to be out of the comfort zone of my own kitchen and I wanted to be able to chat away as I got the meal together rather than disappear from view to show up, hot and bothered, plates in hand, several hours later.
Nothing for it but to prepare as much as possible the day before. On the menu (with a nod to China and Italy) was
Tom Chef’s Confit Duck Spring Rolls with Homemade Chilli Jam
Fillet Steak with Bernaise Sauce, Slow-roasted Tomatoes, Carmelised Onions, Sauteed Mushrooms and Duck-fat Carne Roast Potatoes
Pannacotta with Honeycomb and Macerated Summer Fruits
Well I did say decadent… No calorie or cholesterol counting after a strenuous hill walk.
Preparations the day before
I needed most of the day at home for this but I didn’t have to spend all of it in the kitchen, there was time for lot’s of nice breaks while the food cooked itself.
- Slow roast the tomatoes, recipe below. You can do this a few days earlier if you are short of oven space. Preparation time 15 minutes, cooking time 6 – 8 hours.
- Confit the duck for the Spring Rolls. The recipes for these and the Chilli Jam, from Tom Walsh Head Chef at Samphire at the Waterside are in this post in my archives. Preparation time 15 minutes, cooking time 3 – 4 hours.
- Carmelise the onions, recipe below. Preparation time 15 – 20 minutes, cooking time up to 2 hours.
- Make the Chilli Jam. Preparation and cooking time about 45 minutes.
- Make the Lemon Tart. After several failed experiments last weekend, I used this recipe from Raymond Blanc which was drawn to my attention by Marie McKenna. There is a fair bit of work and time involved as well as lots of “resting” of the pastry but Raymond’s instructions are precise and straightforward to follow. The result is a feather-light, citrus filling perfectly balanced with the sweet shortcrust pastry. It keeps well for several days in an airtight tin.
- Prepare the Honeycomb topping, recipe below. This keeps for up to a week in an airtight tin in the fridge so it can be made several days ahead if necessary. Preparation and cooking time about 30 to 45 minutes.
- Make the Panncotta. I received several good suggestions for pannacotta recipes after I posted about my culinary disasters last weekend. Thank you kind readers. I settled on one which Marie gave me from Antonio Carluccio, an original Italian recipe from the Aosta Valley. Unlike my solid, leaden efforts last weekend, this is silky smooth and lightly set with the addition of a little dark rum complimenting the vanilla. The balance of sugar, cream and milk seems just right to me. Preparation 10 minutes, setting time several hours.
- Get a night’s “beauty” sleep – after all there’s some serious hill-walking to be done the next day!
On the day
- Macerate some summer fruits with a little icing sugar and Grand Marnier or other liqueur.
- Get hold of some good steaks from a local craft butcher. The fillet steak from the little village of Borrisoleigh nearby was simply superb and at prices that would make Dubliners weep with envy. I think the butcher’s name is John Fitzgerald.
- Make up the duck spring rolls, preferably while chatting and with a glass of champagne in hand but only if you’re confident of your knife skills! If you have time you could do these early in the day as they keep very well covered with a damp cloth in the fridge. You only need one per person as an appetiser so we fed two households on them for two days.
When ready to eat
- Remove your fillet steaks from the fridge and allow to rest at room temperature for an hour or more, drizzled on both sides with light olive or rapeseed oil and with a good sprinkling of cracked black pepper and some rosemary sprigs tucked under and around them.
- Place a roasting tin with duck fat in the oven and pre-heat to 200C – 220C depending on how fast the oven is. Par-boil scrubbed and halved new potatoes for 10 minutes, drain well and shake to give fluffy edges. Roast in the hot oil for about 4o minutes until crispy or golden.
- Wok on. Cook and serve the spring rolls.
- Sauté some sliced Irish mushroom gently with some thyme, salt and black pepper in a small pan at the back of the cooker in the fat from some diced bacon or pancetta and a little butter.
- Make the Bernaise Sauce. Go gently now and keep the heat nice and low so it doesn’t scramble. I use a Rachel Allen recipe I copied out of a newspaper at one stage. It’s below.
- Put the onions and tomatoes in the oven to warm in heat proof containers for about the last 15 minutes of cooking time – you want them gently warmed through, not scorched!
- While you are making the Bernaise Sauce, heat a griddle pan on high heat for at least 10 minutes until it is white hot – I discovered the other night the joy of doing this on a gas hob.
- Ensure your steaks are lightly coated with oil on both sides but don’t add any more oil to the pan. Once the Bernaise Sauce is ready and resting in a jug over a pot of hot water, season your steaks with a pinch of salt and cook to taste, turning only once – about 3 minutes each side for medium rare depending on the thickness of the steaks. Allow to rest, tented with foil for about 5 minutes with a shaving of butter on top of each steak.
- Serve the steaks in their own juices with all the trimmings and a well-deserved glass of red wine (for the chef!).
- Drizzle the lemon tart with icing sugar and carmelise with a culinary blowtorch or under the grill (yes I know, I burned the edge just a fraction).
- Serve up the Pannacotta. I set these in pretty glasses rather than dariole moulds so that I could add the fruit and honeycomb to the glass. I’m still trying to recreate the sublime Pannacotta by Oliver Dunne that I had in Cleaver East recently. This version was closest but I need more inspiration on how to do the topping.
- Find ancient bottle of dessert wine in the back of a wine rack. Sleep soundly. Have a bracing walk in the hills the next morning to recover from your exertions.
This was a lovely meal and I would now have the confidence to cook it for a larger group. I’ve included links to all the recipes except those set out below.
Now I’m off to experiment with Chinese recipes on my Big Green Egg. Wish me luck!
The Slow-roasted Tomatoes and Carmelised Onions were described as the “stars of the show” at dinner because of their rich, intense and almost sticky sweet flavour which cut through the vinegary tang of the Bernaise. I had a perfect steak served with similar sides in the newly re-opened Unicorn recently and I wanted to see if it is possible to recreate that restaurant-style experience of a steak dinner at home. The answer is yes if you plan ahead and have a very hot griddle pan for your steaks.
1. Slow Roasted Tomatoes
The inspiration for this recipe was a conversation with the owner of The Greenery Restaurant in Donnybrook last Saturday morning where they were serving delicious slow roasted tomatoes with Eggs Benedict for brunch. He told me the Chef’s secret is a sprinkling of icing sugar when cooking down the tomatoes to enhance their natural sweetness. Irish tomatoes are in season at the moment, plentiful and cheap. This is a lovely way of getting the full intensity of their flavour. They store well in a Kilner jar with their own juices and an extra layer of good quality olive or rapeseed oil.
- 2 kg Irish vine ripened tomatoes
- 6 garlic cloves minced
- 5 tbs good quality olive oil or rapeseed oil such as Broighter Gold
- Thyme, a few bay leaves
- Sea salt and black pepper
- A good drizzle of icing sugar
- Preheat the oven to 95c.
- Wash and dry the tomatoes, slice in half, length wise, cut out the stem core and discard. Lay out, tightly packed, on the largest baking tray you have.
- Brush each tomato half with a little oil and drizzle a little more around them. Scatter over the garlic. herbs and sugar and season with cracked black pepper and sea salt.
- Bake for 6 to 8 hours until they have shrunk in size but retain their shape and are almost carmelised and crispy at the edges.
- Allow to cool and store in an airtight container or Kilner jar, topped off with a little fresh oil.
- Use gently warmed as a side dish or cool in a salad.
2. Carmelised Onions
I just wanted to recreate the taste of the carmelised onions I had in The Unicorn recently. This came close.
- About 8 large Irish onions, cut in half and sliced lengthwise
- Mix of olive or rapeseed oil and butter – 1 tsp per onion
- 1 tsp sugar for 5 onions
- Use a wide, thick-bottomed pan and heat the oil and butter on medium high heat until shimmering. Add the onion slices and stir to coat with oil. Spread evenly over pan, reduce the heat to medium low and let cook stirring occasionally.
- After 10 minutes sprinkle some salt and sugar on the onions, add a little water to the pan if necessary (but I prefer not to – just keep the heat low).
- Let cook for 30 minutes up to an hour or two, stirring every few minutes.
- As soon as they start sticking, let them stick a little to brown but stir them before they burn.
- After 20 to 30 minutes lower the temperature a bit more and add a little more butter if necessary.
- As they cook down, you may need to scrape the pan every minute or so.
- Continue to cook and scrape, cook and scrape until the onions are a rich browned colour.
- Use a little balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan.
- Store in an airtight container for several days and serve warm.
3. Bernaise Sauce
I wont call this recipe foolproof but it works for me every time provided I take it nice and slow. Thank you Rachel.
- 4 tbs tarragon vinegar
- 4 tbs dry white wine
- 4 tsps freshly ground shallot
- 1 tbs cold water
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 egg yolks
- 100 g butter in cubes
- 1 generous tablespoon of chopped tarragon
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- In a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, boil the tarragon vinegar, wine, finely chopped shallot and a pinch of freshly ground pepper until the liquid is completely reduced to just 1 tbs making sure it doesn’t burn.
- Add 1 tbs water and take the pan off the heat to allow it to cool down completely so that you can just hold your hands around the outside of the pan.
- Place the pan on low hear and slowly whisk in the egg yolks and then the cubes of butter. As soon as two pieces of butter melt, add two more and the sauce will gradually thicken. Do not let the pan become too hot or the mixture will scramble. To prevent this, keep moving the pan on and off the heat. If it’s in danger of heating up too much, add a tablespoon of water.
- When all the butter is in, turn off the heat and add the chopped fresh tarragon and Dijon mustard. If the sauce looks thin increase the heat very slightly and continue to whisk until the sauce thickens, it should be almost as thick as mayonnaise.
- To keep it warm, pour it into a heatproof measuring jug, half fill a saucepan with hot water from the kettle and place the jug in the saucepan. Reheat the water if necessary by adding some boiling water but don’t reheat the sauce over direct heat.
I was intrigued to discover how simple it is to recreate the equivalent of the inside of a crunchy. Well simple but not easy – I had difficulty judging just the point at which the carmel turned so the first batch ended up in the bin as a burn gooey mess. A little of this goes a long way but you can break your batch up into shards and store it in an airtight container in the fridge for use with other desserts. The recipe comes from Christine Manfield the Australian chef who uses it in her famous Universal Gaytime dessert which contestants had to prepare on Masterchef Australia.
- 180 g castor sugar
- 60 g glucose
- 30 ml water
- 7.5 g bicarbonate of soda
- Line a baking tray with backing parchment and chill in fridge.
- Combine sugar, glucose and water in a large saucepan. Bring to the boil slowly until the sugar and glucose dissolve and then reduce heat and cook, stirring constantly until it has just turned a light golden colour.
- Turn off the heat and add the bicarbonate of soda, whisking quickly while it explodes in volume and turns caramel coloured. Pour into the prepared tray and let it cool and set.
- Break into shards and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.
A word of warning. This is not a restaurant review. It’s just a reflection of what it’s like to visit Irish restaurants where you are made feel at home and embraced and welcomed like old friends of the family.
It’s been a quare few weeks. My Mum ended up in hospital for a week or two but has made an excellent recovery, my daughter Claire experienced various traumas at the hands of the normally excellent Australian health services but is also on the mend, I got stricken down by a bug that has had me flattened and fairly uncommunicative for over two weeks.
But this week we were reunited in Ireland, a rare coming together of three generations of the women in our family to celebrate my Mum’s birthday and mine which she and I share on 18th July and to catch up with Claire’s friend Diane who is dealing, with spirit, with her own health challenges at the moment.
Normally on these occasions I do most of the cooking at home but this time it made more sense to have our special meals out. As a result we’ve eaten in three different restaurants in the past week, all a powerful reminder that the so-called “Irish welcome” is not a myth, it’s a very special experience of being treated like guests and not just as customers.
Restaurant 1 – China Sichuan, Sandyford, Dublin
First up was China Sichuan in Sandyford, Dublin. Kevin Hui the owner has become a friend since he welcomed me inside the kitchen of the China Sichuan nearly a year ago when this blog was barely new born. It has become our “go to” place for family reunions and departures. It’s where we had our farewell dinner for Shane and his Chinese wife Shan when they were home a few months back and Shan declared it more authentically Chinese than she had ever experienced outside China.
Kevin has acquired a new chef recently, Andy Foo who has worked in Yauatcha in Soho, London which is my favourite Chinese restaurant on the planet. Andy is doing fabulous things to the menu at China Sichuan. He is refreshing old favourites like Luo Bo Gao (Chinese turnip cake) and gradually introducing new dishes including soft shell crab with roasted almonds which is sublime.
Last Tuesday night we went there with Claire and Mike and her friend Diane and simply put ourselves in the hands of Kevin to organise an impromptu tasting menu which would play to our taste for Sichuan food and our flagging appetites. Dish after dish appeared at our table, some hearty meat dishes zinging with spice, some light, steamed fish releasing the fresh flavours of the sea, vegetable and noodle dishes in heart-catching sauces, none gloopy or clawing, all bursting with flavour. All five of us were blown away by the experience. Taste buds tickled for the first time in many weeks, we left sated and oozing contentment and collapsed at home to watch Enchanted together because who doesn’t like a happy ending.
For once, living in the moment, I didn’t take many photos of the food but on 31st July you can have the chance to experience this quality of food for yourself. Chef Andy Foo has arranged a special tasting menu of 7 dishes, each paired with wines for €75 and all proceeds go direct to Laura Lynn Children’s Hospice. You can read about it on China Sichuan’s Facebook Page here. Kevin didn’t ask me to mention this but I’m doing so because it is a very special cause. Kevin is cycling Paris to Nice for the cause later this year with a group of his friends and customers.
Restaurant 2 – Samphire at the Waterside
Next up was Thursday’s visit to Samphire at the Waterside in Donobate where we were joined from Wexford by my Mum to celebrate our birthdays. So there were now six of us including Diane who we decided (not for the first time) to adopt as our second daughter for the week. Chef Tom Walsh at Samphire is another of the friends I made through the blog and Twitter as he got involved unsolicited in giving me ideas for recipes such as Braised Pork Cheeks and of course his chilli jam is now legendary. He is an emerging talent to watch.
We dined on delicious food of local provenance from the set menu and the optional extra dishes. We had the best of fresh, local seafood, vegetables and lamb beautifully presented in a glorious location as the sun set over the Irish sea after another peachy day.
Consider a trip out by train some summer evening or arrange to stay over night over the autumn or winter. The nice folks at the Waterside will collect your from Donobate Station and return you there. Be warned Tom, I intend paying a visit to your kitchen some day soon.
Claire and Mike returned to the UK yesterday for a week so I decided to spend some quality time with my Mum and we had an evening of great entertainment at Michael Bublé at the O2 last night courtesy of tickets I won from the nice people at Rewarding Times.
Today Mum and I made a cross-country trek via Kildare Village to the lovely folks at A Room Outside, Caroline and Liam so that I could investigate a Big Green Egg barbecue and onwards to Duncannon. (Watch this space dear readers, the Big Green Egg is a very sophisticated version of the traditional Chinese ceramic clay pot and I’m smitten. Now I just have to convince my Mum that it’s not called a “Big Green Chicken”.)
Restaurant 3 – Sqigl, Duncannon
I tweeted ahead yesterday as I often do to see if Sqigl could fit us in for a quick early-bird in this friendly neighbourhood restaurant above Roches Bar. Bur shock, horror, the restaurant was block-booked for the night by a local group. Not to worry, a quick consultation with the chef and Cindy came back by Twitter to say the chef would open early at 6.30 to feed me and my Mum before the group arrived.
There’s something about coming into Wexford via the Passage East – Ballyhack ferry which, at any time, catches the back of my throat but today, with my Mum at my side, after travelling the glorious green and verdant Irish countryside not yet parched yellow by the heat of the last few weeks, it was very special. It was that sweep down into Duncannon, past Star of the Sea church with the view over the harbour and the sea more blue and the tide fuller than I’ve ever seen it.
We made it to Sqigl on the dot of 6.30 as they unlocked the door specially for us. The lovely local staff served us simple, delicious prawns and scallops, followed by locally caught hake and fresh fruit pavlova. Squigl is a quality local restaurant serving fresh, flavoursome, locally sourced food. It never disappoints.
My Mum and I walked back up the hill to our little summer house linking arms as the sun set.
Three very different restaurants. Three friends made as a direct result of this blog and Twitter. Three places that restore my faith in Ireland, our people, our innate kindness, our hospitality and our food. And in all three places the value for money and service was excellent.
PS: The only ones missing form these few days of celebrations were Shane, Shan and Dermot. But they did send me this birthday photo greeting from Dermot, my first ever “happy birthday Nai Nai”. Say a collective “aw” people….
Summer has arrived in Ireland at last. The temperatures are heading for 30 degrees. While in China they dial up the chilli heat when the temperature and humidity rise, here in the drier heat of Ireland I find myself reaching for a simpler, lighter dish with lots of vegetables that’s good to enjoy outside on a balmy evening.
This is a Cantonese style recipe that was submitted as part of the Chinese New Year celebrations back in early February by the New Millennium Restaurant in the city centre of Dublin – the restaurant is just along from the Gaiety Theatre – I’ve adapted it slightly to include Pickled Shitake Mushroom prepared to a recipe given to me by Tom Walsh, Chef at Samphire at the Waterside, Donabate.
The pickled mushrooms are yet another ingredient that you can make up a batch of to have in your fridge or store cupboard along with Tom Chef’s Chilli Jam and Homemade Chilli Oil. So far I’ve discovered these mushrooms work well with steak marinaded in a soy based chinese sauce and griddled on the barbecue, mixed in with a duck noodle salad or on the side with oven roasted whole duck or duck breast.
This simple, non-spicy supper dish will tickle your taste buds and go a long way to meeting your 5-a-day vegetable intake.
Stir-fried Chicken with Pickled Shitake Mushrooms
Serves 2 to 3
- 1 large egg white
- 1 t
- ½ to 1 tsalt
- ¼ to 1 tpepper
- 2-3 t groundnut oil
- 1 tlight soysauce
- 2 cloves of garlic, each sliced into 5 pieces
- 6-8 large stalkshinly sliced on the diagonal
- 4 thin of ginger, peeled from a thumb of ginger
- 5 or 6 pieces of canned bamboo shoot
- About 8 thick slices of Tom Chef’s Pickled Shitake Mushrooms, drained (see below)
- 1 t oyster sauce
- 1 tsugar
- 1 t of wine
Preparation and cooking:
- Cut the chicken into thin strips.
- Mix with egg, corn, 1/2 ofsalt, 1/4 t of pepper and soy sauce until smooth.
- Hea of vegetable oil in a wok over medium-high heat. Add all of the coated chicken strips and the garlic to the wok. Cook about 5 minutes until chicken pieces turn golden making sure not to burn the garlic. Transfer to a plate.
- Add celery, carrots, ginger 150 ml boiling water for 30 secondshen on a plate.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of groundnut oil in the wokchicken strips the wok. Cook about 3-4 min
- the oyster saucesugar and cooking and cook for about 1 more minute until bubbling.
- Serve immediately.
Tom Chef’s Pickled Shitake Mushrooms
- 1kg fresh shitake mushrooms, stems removed and thickly sliced
- 500ml Chinese white rice wine vinegar (or ordinary white wine vinegar)
- 250 ml bottled still water
- 200g castor sugar
- a few star anise
- A few cloves
- 2 or 3 bay leaves
- A few sprigs of fresh thyme
- Simply boil all the pickle ingredients except the mushrooms.
- Chill the pickle then add the sliced mushrooms.
- Leave to infuse, covered over night, then store in sterilised kilner jars in the fridge until needed.
If you haven’t time to make the pickled shitake mushrooms, use a few canned straw mushrooms drained and sliced or a handful of dried shitake mushrooms soaked for about 20 minutes in hot water, then drained, the moisture squeezed out of them, stem removed and thickly sliced.
You will get canned bamboo shoots in most supermarket – Blue Dragon is a reliable brand – and the leftovers will keep in a sealed container in the fridge. Canned straw mushrooms are available in the Asia Market.
We’ve a little thing going on my four month old grandson and I. We dance around the bedroom to the same song, “Tiny Dancer”, each day of this his brief visit home. He joins in the fun as I sing along out of tune.
We converse. I tell him what I think is important, how I feel about him, what it’s like to have him snuggle against me and chew my shoulder with his teething gums, how I will never forget these moments. He stretches his legs, bounces on my lap and answers with intense concentration, with burbles and giggles and smiles as he struggles to articulate … He seems to understand….
I thought of that tonight as I listened to the writer John Banville in conversation with Olivia O’Leary. What distinguishes humans from animals, he said, is the ability to use words, the capacity to create sentences. I wonder what sentence Dermot will speak first and in what language…
We had our own little Gathering last Sunday, one of those days from which memories are carved.
We were joined for a BBQ in our garden by my Italian friend Solange, her Argentinian husband Agustin and their identical twins, just 10 months old.
The last time we adults had all been together was for Christmas 2011 when Shan came to visit us for the first time. That was very special as Claire and her Welsh husband Mike were also able to be with us from Australia for part of the time, an event described by one wit on Twitter as a cross between the Davos Convention and an international rugby tournament.
This time we were feeling the absence of Claire and Mike but the sun was beating down from a cloudless sky, and it was still a day to savour.
While she has attempted to teach me Italian, I have kept company with Solange through her journey into motherhood and she has supported me as I adapted to being a long distance granny, sharing hugs from her little boys. It felt important to introduce these three little people to one another with the hope that some day “i cugini” might become friends.
Well “introduce” might be pushing it a bit but they all got to eye one another up with varying degrees of interest while one set of parents remembered what it was like to cuddle a snuggly little person and the others imagined a day when their little man would be taking off on all fours at a rapid pace to explore a small urban jungle.
Between us we had at least 6 languages – English, Mandarin, Italian, Spanish, Romanian and Irish – and 5 nationalities, but the 3 little boys all hold Irish passports and are set to be multilingual citizens of the 21st century.
In all the circumstances it seemed appropriate to have a barbecue that was a bit Irish, a bit Chinese and a bit Italian so a big thank you to Rozanne Stevens for the inspiration in her new Relish BBQ book.
From it I chose:
- an Italianish main course of Norman’s butterflied leg of lamb with lively salsa
- an Asian mushroom, pak choi and potato salad and
- a Chinesish dessert of lychee jam jar cheese cake.
All were a resounding success.
For starters I recreated an Irish take on a Chinese classic – confit duck spring rolls from Chef Tom Walsh of Samphire at the Waterside in Donobate who gave me this recipe for a post I did for Taste of China during this year’s Chinese New Year Festival. Tom was one of the nominees for chef of the year in the Dublin regional finals of the Restaurant Association of Ireland Awards this week. Pay his restaurant a visit and enjoy his great food.
Tom Chef’s Confit Duck Spring Rolls
1. Confit Duck Legs:
- 2 duck legs
- Salt and pepper
- 2 jars of duck fat or goose fat
- A few sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme
- A few whole cloves garlic
- 2 star anise
- Allow the duck legs to dry out at room temperature and season well with salt and pepper.
- Place in a small oven proof dish along with the rosemary, thyme, garlic and star anise.
- Melt the duck or goose fat and pour over the duck legs making sure they are covered completely. (Top up with light olive oil or sunflower oil if necessary.)
- Cover with foil and confit slowly in the oven at low temperature until the duck meat is falling away from the bone – at least 1 ½ hours at 130 degrees C, or you can cook at 110/120 degrees C for several hours.
2. Duck Spring Rolls:
- 2 confit duck legs (as above)
- 1 carrot cut into thin julienne strips
- 1 red onion thinly sliced
- 100g bean sprouts
- 1 tbs oyster sauce
- 1 clove garlic (crushed)
- 20g pickled ginger*
- 25g chopped coriander
- 25g chopped chervil
- 6 sheets of spring roll pastry 10’’ square
- 1 egg white
- Sunflower oil for deep-frying
- Chilli jam* to serve
- Corander and/or chervil to garnish
- Shred the confit duck leg and mix with all the other prepared ingredients. Taste and adjust the seasoning to taste.
- Take 1 ½ sheets of pastry for each spring roll.
- Placing a full sheet down and a half on top, from one corner, fill the doubled-side, near the centre with some duck mix.
- Starting at the doubled corner, roll to half way then fold in the sides and continue rolling to the end.
- Brush some egg white on the far corner to stick the pastry together.
- Fill a wok about a third full with sunflower oil and heat until a cube of bread turns golden in a few seconds. Deep fry the springrolls until golden.
- Slice each spring roll in two on the diagonal and serve with the chilli jam garnished with coriander and/ or chervil.
3. Pickled Ginger:
You can buy pickled ginger but I love Tom’s homemade version which keeps for weeks in the fridge.
- 200g fresh ginger
- 250g white wine vinegar
- 125g still mineral water
- 125g sugar
- 2 star anise
- 4 cloves
- 2 bay leaves
- Good sprig of thyme
- Weigh all the ingredients, except the ginger into a saucepan.
- Bring to the boil all and leave to chill.
- Peel and slice the ginger and steep in the chilled pickle.
- Store in a sealed container in the fridge.
4. Tom Chef’s Chilli Jam
Since Tom gave me this recipe, I have served it as a dip with everything from crisps to barbecued chicken wings and my guests rave about it. Bottled chilli jam will never again cross our threshold. It keeps indefinitely in a Kilner jar in the fridge. It is very simple to make, just take a little care to cook it slowly so that it doesn’t burn.
- 6-8 red chilli peppers chopped roughly
- 300g castor sugar
- 300g white rice wine vinegar (ordinary white wine vinegar will do)
- Place all the ingredients in a small saucepan, bring to the boil and cook gently to reduce to a syrupy, jam-like consistency being careful not to burn.
- Blend with a stick blender.
- Store in a sealed container in the fridge.
5. Homemade Chilli Oil
And while I’m on a roll, here’s another store cupboard condiment that transcends western and Chinese flavours and is great for barbecues. I picked up this recipe at cookery class in Hutong Cuisine in Beijing. It is simple to prepare and, once savoured, you will never want a shop bought version again. In recent weeks I’ve brushed this over prawns and crab claws and sizzled them on the BBQ, painted it on to fish fillets to be baked in the oven and drizzled it over Italian pizza, even though it was originally just intended to accompany this Sichuan Spicy Chicken Salad.
- 200g rapeseed oil (or sunflower oil, groundnut oil or vegetable oil)
- 2 pieces star anise
- 2 thumbnail size pieces of cinnamon (preferably the wider Chinese type)
- 1 tsp of Sichuan peppercorns
- 1 large cardamom pod, crushed to release seeds (preferably the large black Chinese cardamom pods)
- 4 bay leaves
- 4 tsp Pixian broad bean paste (Lee Kum Kee Toban Djan chilli bean sauce, which is readily available in Ireland can be used instead)
- 2 slices of ginger
- 1 spring onion, white part only, cut in two
- 4 tbs crushed chillies
- 2 tsp sesame seeds
- Heat the oil in a wok over low heat and add all the ingredients except the chillies and sesame seeds. Stir slowly over gentle heat for at least 8 to 10 minutes until the spices have begun to turn brown in colour, released their fragrance and infused the oil.
- Sieve the oil and discard the spices. By this time it should have turned into a gorgeous warm red colour. Return it to the wok with the crushed chillies and sesame seeds. Stir over a very low heat until the chilli has turned light brown in colour.
- When cool, pour the oil into a glass container and keep over night before use. Store unused oil indefinitely in an airtight jar.
Yes when Chinese meets Irish meets Italian, who knows what fun things can happen.
Grazie Solange, Agus, Oli e Fredi per la giornata indimenticabile 🙂
This is just a quick little post because some of you have been asking for the recipe for the chilli jam which chef Tom Walsh of Samphire@TheWaterside, Donabate included in his recipe for Spring Rolls of Confit Duck which is on the Taste of China section of the Dublin Chinese New Year Festival website. You can read his full recipe here.
Here it is – simplicity itself, absolutely delicious and goes with so many things, not just Chinese food. Try it with cheese, meat pies, or as my sister-in-law Dervilla did, with pasties.
- 6-8 red chilli peppers chopped roughly
- 300g castor sugar
- 300g white wine vinegar
- Bring to the boil and cook gently to reduce to a syrupy, jam consistency being careful not to burn.
- Blend with a stick blender.
- This will keep for a long time if stored in a sealed container in the fridge.
My sister-in-law Dervilla made a version of the jam yesterday. She didn’t blitz it because she liked the appearance of chilli seeds throughout the jam. Her jam is also more orange in colour because she had no wine vinegar in the store cupboard so she used a white malt one instead. Thanks for sharing Dervilla and thanks for the inspiration Tom. 🙂
There is such a thing as grace.
This evening, some 40 of my mother in law Alice O’Neill’s immediate family gathered in the room where she held court for so many years to mark 4 weeks from her passing with a “Month’s Mind” Mass celebrated by her and our good friend Fr. Malcolm. We ranged in age from her youngest great grand-child barely 1 to nearly 76 years of age. We piled into that small space grabbing slots on stools or cushions and, whether you had a religious bone in your body or not, you could not fail to be moved by the quiet peace that descended on the room as we followed an age old ritual. Her presence cast a soothing warmth on the gathering and I could sense her quiet smile of delight as she surveyed the crowd that gathered to remember her. In large families, even your children, their spouses and those grandchildren close at hand are enough to generate a satisfying crowd.
The occasion was doubly poignant because earlier this week we lost Mrs O’Neill’s daughter, my lovely sister-in-law Deirdre after a short but vicious illness. That is a death that is even harder to come to terms with – a young woman leaving behind a husband, 3 sons, a young daughter, 4 sisters and 5 brothers, all devastated by her loss. Dee – warm, generous, funny, colourful, loyal, free-spirited, a leader, determined, a keeper of promises – we miss you.
I know at times in the past few weeks, as we came to terms with the finality of Dee’s illness, our emotions ranged from disbelief to anger to deep sadness to numbness and a bone-rattling, chilling shock. Tonight, in that room, there was something else, a quiet acceptance, a letting go and a communal sense of love and compassion.
Afterwards we ate beef-filled pasties prepared by the sisters to their mother’s recipe, shaped like the jiaozi pot-sticker dumplings served at Chinese family get togethers – dumplings to remind you how family wrap themselves around you even when you are far away.
Shane commented to Shan earlier this week in Beijing that it had been a rotten start to the year and she replied that no, it was just a bad end to the old year. Because, as the last moon of the lunar year wanes, Chinese people across the world prepare to say farewell to the year of the dragon. The year of the snake is almost here. In our house, we are all in favour of starting the new year over.
As we wait to see if Shane and Shan’s baby will be a Dragon or a Snake, the time seemed right for me to embrace this new dimension of our family and our tiny Sino-Irish dynasty in the making. So I have been collaborating with the Dublin Chinese New Year Festival to develop a new dimension to the festival this year – A Taste of China. You can read all about it here.
Over the next few weeks, we hope to post a different recipe each day from a wide variety of restaurants around Dublin and further afield, both Chinese restaurants and Irish restaurants where the chefs are even a little bit susceptible to Asian fusion influences. First up are recipes for Stir-fried Chicken with Celery from New Millennium Restaurant in Dublin and Confit Duck Spring Rolls from Tom Walsh, Head Chef at Samphire@The Waterside.
We hope you will join in the fun and if you are a chef, restauranteur or food blogger who would like your recipe included on the Chinese New Year website, just leave a message here, a comment on my blog or DM me on Twitter @julieon.
Here in our family, we have all been changed by the events or recent weeks, in ways we don’t yet fully understand. But we owe it to the generation yet unborn to continue to nurture the multi-cultural traditions of family. And what better way to do that than through food.
春节快乐 Happy Spring Festival
You’ve got to love Twitter. This week I ordered a “selection box” of cheaper cuts of meat from James Whelan Butchers to practice what I learned from Paul Flynn at the Tannery Cookery School last week and by attending the Butchery Demonstration at Avoca, Monkstown. So I had ordered a ham hock to make terrine, bavette of beef for stir fries, pork cheeks to try replicate a dish of Paul’s that I love and a Jacobs Ladder – short beef ribs.
Now I’ve only used short beef ribs once before to make the stock for my Wagyu hotpot using a recipe from Audrea of Tastefully Yours but I was curious to see if there was another way of using the cut that would get even more value from this tasty meat. So I put out a Friday afternoon appeal on Twitter and several of my friends came back with suggestions – Aoife, Imen, Helena – all with interesting recipes.
One suggestion caught my eye. It was from Tom Walsh the Head Chef at the Samphire Restaurant at the Waterside, Donobate. I haven’t met Tom and I haven’t yet visited his restaurant but I love his philosophy – classical French cuisine with a modern twist, supporting businesses in the community and sourcing all ingredients locally including meat, vegetables and fish and preparing seasonal menus, making the most of what is available at different times of the year. Samphire, a wild shoreline, vegetable growing on the doorstep of the restaurant perched on the beautiful coastline of north Dublin, provided a name that resonates with the place and the approach he adopts. It’s also one of my favourite ingredients and sums up the search for the authentic and the local which influences my own amateur approach to cooking.
Anyway Tom’s suggestion for the Jacob’s Ladder went something like this:
“Get it into a nice marinade of hoisin with chilli added and some stock. Bed of veg. Nice bit of garlic.”
“Slowly cooked at 120 – 140, covered so it’s basted for a long period until tender.”
“After cooking, can be roasted up to give a lovely robust and meaty flavour, texture. Some fondant potatoes and red cabbage #goforit.”
So go for it I did and, in the process, I came across a recipe for DongPo Pork in Exploring China a Culinary Adventure and I tweaked the braising liquid in that recipe for my Jacobs Ladder.
According to legend, Su DongPo was an important official from Hangzhou who was sent pork by his grateful people. Hangzhou is a city on the Yangtze River Delta about 180 km southwest of Shanghai. It is located in an area of great natural beauty and has been one of the most prosperous cities of China for over a 1,000 years. Being a nice guy, DongPo instructed his cooks to prepare the pork, share it with his workers and serve it with rice wine. Somewhere along the way the message got garbled and the cooks added the wine to the dish. And so this classic dish was born, of which there are almost as many variations as there are Chinese cooks. My version below uses beef instead of pork and a higher concentration of hoisin sauce. It is delicious.
Twice-cooked Short Beef Ribs (Jacob’s Ladder), DongPo Style
Continue reading Short Beef Ribs with Red Cabbage and Fondant Potatoes