This is kinda our first year in De Búrca in photos – it looks like it happened all in one week. But it happened over nights and weekends and two days closed for business in October. It was a mad year. We’re happy it happened and we’re happy it’s over! Settling in now. Thanks to everyone that helped us.
Return of the tea salad.
In my house when I was small, you knew the weather was getting warmer not just from looking outside, but when the big hearty winter dinner was replaced with the tea salad. We didn’t call it a tea salad of course – it was just called ‘salad’ because it was the only form of salad available. It was the 1980s and the avant-garde tossed salad of the roaring 90s hadn’t arrived in Connemara yet. We felt incredibly sophisticated to have on our plates a leaf of butter head lettuce acting as a bowl to a small scoop of Heinz’s tinned potato salad. Slices of ham were rolled and propped up by a plain tomato cut in half or maybe quarters. Our mother would have boiled eggs earlier in the day and you watched them cooling in the saucepan wondering if they were going to be made into egg mayonnaise sandwiches or not… our favourite. If they made the salad, they were simply shelled and cut in half. We weren’t really Heinz salad cream people but more Hellman’s. There was any amount of homemade brown bread and warm tea. There were no dressings or oils or lollo rosso or radicchio but looking back on it, we loved those evenings. I went looking for a can of Heinz potato salad the other day but couldn’t find one. I wanted to see if it tasted the same. I’m glad I didn’t find it.
Warm weather food has taken on a different form today. After a day’s work, if the weather is good it’s a wonderful thing to come home and cook something that is quick to prepare, tasty and light but still filling. It gives you time to spend outside. What we love in our house are kebabs or skewers that can be partially prepared in advance, usually the night before, by marinating the meat and then skewering on wooden skewers just before a very quick cook under a hot grill. They can be accompanied by noodles or homemade coleslaw or potato salad (Heinz or otherwise) or a green salad.
A favourite skewer of ours in the shop doesn’t require overnight marinating but does require a food processor.
Satay Chicken Skewers
This recipe serves 4
Ingredients for satay sauce
A small bunch of fresh coriander
1 fresh red chilli
1 clove of garlic peeled.
3 heaped tablespoons of crunchy peanut butter
A glug (2 tablespoons?) of Soy sauce
1 inch piece of fresh root ginger
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 x 180g chicken fillets
Pineapple pieces (optional)
What to do:
- Turn your grill on full blast. Soak 8 wooden skewers in a tray of water. If they float, place a plate on top to submerge them.
- Assemble the food processor with the standard blade. Add the coriander, stalks and all; the red chilli stalk removed; the peeled garlic clove; the 3 tablespoons of crunchy peanut butter; the glug of soy sauce; the roughly chopped piece of ginger; the zest of the 2 limes and the juice of one. Add a couple of splashes of water to help blitz it to a reasonably thick sauce consistency. Adjust seasoning if required. Put half of this sauce to one side for accompaniment for the cooked kebabs.
- To the other half of the sauce, add the evenly diced chicken fillets (you will get about 6 pieces from each fillet). Coat all the pieces evenly with the sauce. Place about 3 pieces on each skewer, alternating them with a large chunk of pineapple if using. This will give you two kebabs per person.
- Place under the hot grill for about 8 to 10 minutes each side or until bubbling golden and cooked through. You can check the thickest piece of chicken to make sure.
- Serve with a noodle salad or rice. Spoon some of the reserved satay sauce over the kebabs at the table. The kids will love them.
Now we just have to wait for the weather!
(This article was published in The Western People on 20th April 2015)
This last weekend, our shop was one year old. To say that time has flown would be an understatement, but it still feels like we have been on Main Street for a very long time. But not quite as long as a butchering business has been in the building it seems.
We started looking into the history of the building as soon as we started our lease on the 4th of April 2014. We didn’t get very far as things like digging up floors and tiling took up most of our time. The previous occupant, and our current landlord, Martin McHale, had been in the shop since 1976 and he ran it as McHale’s Butchers. We knew that the Flannelly family had been in it prior to that and we are very grateful to Patrick Flannelly, who ran it as a butcher shop before Martin, for coming in to us those first few weeks to give us information on his family history in the building. He gave us a copy of the front page of the Connaught Telegraph from June 1st 1889 which displayed an advertisement for the shop, then run by his grandfather.
He also had a photograph, or part of a photograph, taken of the building next door which at that time was a pharmacy. The photograph happened to capture the panel that the shop has on the left hand side of the front, which historically was used for advertising. It clearly shows that the Flannelly family business was established there in 1812.
It’s a lot of history between four walls which we love! I wonder was it a butcher shop before that? And what was Main Street like in 1812? If anyone has any information, we would greatly appreciate it. More than anything, we would treasure a photo of the shop front from those long ago days.
In the meantime, this Saturday 18th April, we are having a party in the shop during the day, to celebrate our relatively short time here on Main Street – there will be plenty of sausage tastings as we are introducing some new recipes: Apple, Cider and Sage; Wild Garlic; and what we call the ‘Breaffy Blue Banger’, which is a blue cheese and plum sausage.
We would like to thank everyone who has given us much needed help this last year, our families and friends, the supportive people of Main Street and our wonderful customers.
Call in on Saturday – we would love to see you.
(First published in The Western People 13th April 2015)
Planting parsley on Good Friday
According to tradition, parsley should only be planted on one day: Good Friday. If planted on any other day, the planter would risk an almost certain dire end as parsley was once associated with death and the devil. The ancient Greeks feared the herb more than most and one day, in a particular battle, some clever Celt sent a donkey out adorned head to hoof with the green stuff and the Greek soldiers turned and fled!
Fortunately, parsley’s bad reputation faded over the years and it has since been rightly prized for its flavour as well as its many health benefits. Recent studies show that parsley is one of the richest sources of a compound called apigenin, a cancer cell killing flavonoid that is found in many plants, of which dried parsley is the cream of the crop. Of course, parsley is also full of iron, vitamins K, A, C and B complex as well as what we are all lacking, magnesium. I try to use it as much as I can and my favourite way of using it is in stuffing.
Everyone likes good stuffing. I’ve seen it on family state occasions such as Christmas and Easter when there is a large gathering and the vegans or vegetarians in the family find out that all the stuffing has dairy or sausage meat and there is none that’s suitable for them. There is nothing worse than violent vegans! I speak from experience.
In Europe, lamb as the main feature for Easter dinner goes back earlier than Easter, to the first Passover of the Jewish tradition when the sacrificial lamb was eaten. As Hebrews converted to Christianity they brought these traditions with them and as the Christians often refer to Jesus as the ‘Lamb of God’, the traditions merged. In the United States however, ham is the traditional Easter staple. Traditionally meat was slaughtered in autumn, and the fresh pork that wasn’t consumed in the cold winter before lent was cured in spring. This type of curing used hard salt and took time and the first hams were ready just in time for Easter.
The recipe below is for a simple sage and onion stuffing. It can be embellished with different herbs or vegetables depending on what you need it for. If stuffing a duck, you can add a diced fennel bulb or finely chopped sticks of celery. Rosemary or mint can be added instead of sage for lamb. For Easter Sunday we usually have a stuffed rack of Pork for dinner. We stuff it with this stuffing as well as dried apricots that we pre-soak in some good apple juice. It’s a colourful as well as very tasty combination.
The recipe below makes enough stuffing for 1 large chicken or a 3lb rack of pork. You may want to make some extra as it will never be wasted. If you are not keen on tying your own joint, remember that you can bring your own stuffing into your butcher and they can stuff your joint for you. Leave out the butter in the following recipe if you have any vegans in the house!
You will need:
A little butter and a little oil
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
12-18 fresh sage leaves OR 1 level tablespoon of dried sage
1 large bunch of parsley, chopped OR if using dried, 2 good handfuls
Half a small stale white loaf, blitzed into breadcrumbs
Sea salt and black pepper
What to do:
Melt the butter and oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the onion and sage. Sauté gently until the onion is soft and translucent but not browned. Add the chopped parsley and take off the heat. Add the breadcrumb, season well and stir. Leave to cool.
If using the dried apricots in the rack of pork, pre-soak in apple juice for at least 1 hour until plump. Add a row of apricots into the stuffing cavity and fill it with the cooled bread mixture. Tie the joint at intervals, or better still, get your butcher to do it for you!
Enjoy, and happy Easter!
This article was published in The Western People on 30th March 2015
Rosemary and garlic griddle lamb
I love that first morning in spring when you wake and realise it’s light outside. The air changes and everything feels fresher and more hopeful. When I see the days getting longer I always get an urge to start digging in the garden, planning and planting for the summer. Since moving to Castlebar, we had to start in the garden from scratch again. But the one thing that we have kept from our small terraced house in Nenagh are the planters that grew our herbs. It is very rewarding to have one large pot outside the backdoor in a sunny spot filled with your favorite herbs. I have a mix of rosemary, thyme and parsley and an additional pot of bay. I use these herbs in most meals. I also have a pot of lavender which is a wonderful addition to most fruit desserts in the summer time. With the coming of spring I also feel like shaking off the winter days by cooking fresher and usually greener looking meals. And there is nothing that defines spring more than lamb especially from the West of Ireland.
One of our favourite spring recipes is Rosemary and Garlic Griddle lamb. We like to make it on a Sunday when we are going out wandering for a few hours, usually for a walk around Lough Lannagh followed by a lengthy session in the playground. As we are usually returning home hungry, we need something to eat that is quick to prepare, but that is also hearty and tasty and worthy of ‘Sunday Dinner’ status.
A version of this recipe we found originally in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘The River Cottage Meat Book’ where he barbecued butterflied lamb portions from a boned out ½ leg of lamb. You can use these lamb portions or indeed, any lamb chop depending on taste and pocket. Sideloin chops are suitable as they are boneless. But I do love gigot lamb chops which happen to be the cheapest cut and to me the tastiest. You just have to remove the bone if putting the meat into a bap. You can either use Salsa Verde as an accompaniment on some form of bread or for a more substantial dinner, you can serve with some roast vegetables.
Salsa Verde is a wonderfully herbaceous gooey sauce that has the most verdant green colour imaginable. When you blitz it in the blender, you turn a whole massive pile of ingredients into a few tablespoons of sauce which you immediately feel a little disappointed with in terms of volume. But then you taste it and you realise that a little goes a long way. We have used this sauce with most meats and poultry. We love to use it with lamb but we also often use it as a topping on grilled chicken fillets. The recipe for the sauce listed below is the initial guideline you need to make your own original version. Try it – maybe you could bottle it and make your fortune!
This recipe serves 4
For the lamb marinade you will need:
Lamb: 6 Butterflied lamb portions from a boned out ½ leg of lamb OR 8 Sideloin Lamb chops OR 8 gigot lamb chops
Rosemary: A dozen good sprigs
Garlic: 6 cloves peeled and roughly chopped
Olive oil: 2 to 3 good tablespoons
A few good twists of Black Pepper
What to do: Add the roughly chopped garlic and stripped rosemary needles to a mortar and bash with a pestle. Add the mix to the bowl, along with the olive oil, pepper and meat. Toss all of the ingredients well and leave to marinade for at least 2 hours. (At this point you can go for your Sunday walk)
To griddle your meat, ensure your griddle pan is smoking hot. Remove the pieces of meat from the marinade and wipe lightly prior to placing on the pan. Don’t leave too many bits of garlic and rosemary sticking to it as they will burn. Cook the meat according to its thickness and how pink you like it. To avoid the meat blackening too much on the griddle pan, for those in our family who like more medium-well than pink, we would usually seal those meat portions on the pan before placing it in the oven to finish off.
For the Salsa Verde you will need:
Garlic: 1 small clove
Flat-leaf parsley: A good big handful with the coarse stalks removed
Basil: 15 to 20 leaves
Tarragon: Leaves from 3 to 4 sprigs
Anchovy fillets: 4 to 5 fillets
Capers: About 1 teaspoon
Mustard (Dijon or English): About 1 teaspoon
Sugar: A pinch
Lemon juice or vinegar: A few drops
Extra virgin olive oil: 2 to 3 tablespoons
Freshly ground black pepper
What to do: Add all these ingredients to a food processor, and pulse to a saucy consistency.
Alternatively, if you don’t have the use of a food processor, finely chop the garlic on a large chopping board. Then add the herbs, anchovies, and capers and chop all together until fine in texture. Add to a mixing bowl, and mix in the mustard, sugar, lemon juice or vinegar, and freshly ground black pepper, and when initially mixed, add enough olive oil to give a glossy saucy consistency. As soon as the sauce is complete, taste and tweak to your own liking.
This sauce is best made fresh but what’s leftover, if any, will keep for a few days in the fridge, covered or in a jar.
A version of this article appeared in The Western People on 23rd of March 2015.
Our appetite for the weather
I always knew Irish people had an unusually extensive preoccupation with the weather, but it didn’t quite sink in until we opened the shop. Maybe it goes back to Oiche na Gaoithe Móire and the terror of that and other climatic catastrophes affected our DNA to the extent that we are now concerned daily about the weather past, present and future. My grandfather used to say he remembered ‘The Night of the Big Wind’ well, despite the fact it happened on the 6th January 1839!
The thing is, I now realise my own preoccupation with the weather and that I do at least, think every day about the coming forecast if for different reasons. I’m probably in the minority but I love the long cold windy winter nights because for me that means comfort food. Stews and braises can be amazing if given their time. My favourite stew is a rich wholesome shin of beef with marrow bone. Long winter nights doesn’t always have to be about slow cooking though. A recipe that we love in our house is the traditional bangers and mash, with compulsory red onion gravy. It is cooked in the length of time it takes to boil the spuds.
We use good herby Cumberland sausage for this but you can also use a traditional one. Buy the best sausage that you can afford. Sausages have for too long, been predominantly seen as a cheap source of meat in this country and the UK. Our European neighbours, on the other hand, have always respected sausage- making as an important and integral part of a butcher’s repertoire and have taken great care in their production. We have some wonderful sausages in this country now with some butcher shops developing and making their own, farmers making top quality sausages direct for their market stall and also more widely available brands such as Jane Russell’s and of course, Kelly’s of Newport.
Note: The onion gravy recipe is a version of a Jamie Oliver recipe. I would recommend you choose the best stock you can find as some have a lot of salt and flavourings.
This recipe serves 4
You will need:
Enough sausages for 4 people – 2 jumbo sausages per person should be plenty
Oil such as rapeseed
2kg/4 ½ lb. potatoes, peeled
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
300ml or just over ½ pint of milk
115g / 4oz butter
4 medium red onions, peeled and finely sliced
5 tablespoons of balsamic OR red wine vinegar
Beef or chicken stock
What to do:
Preheat the oven to 200⁰C / 400⁰F / gas 6.
Place the sausages in an ovenproof dish and drizzle with a little olive oil to coat. Place in the preheated oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
While the sausages are cooking, boil or steam the peeled potatoes until tender. Drain, and return to the saucepan. Mash until smooth. Add the milk and about 70g/2½ oz. of the butter.
OPTIONAL EXTRAS FOR MASHED POTATOES – You can make an extra special mash at this point by adding a few dollops of wholegrain mustard OR 2 or 3 tablespoons of freshly grated horseradish. Both varieties work well with this recipe.
Season the mashed potatoes well to taste and keep warm.
To make the onion gravy, fry the onions very slowly in a little oil with the lid on for about 15 minutes until soft. Remove the lid and turn the heat up. As soon as the onions start to get golden, add the vinegar and boil until it has almost disappeared. Turn the heat down again, add the rest of your butter and add 565ml/1 pint of stock. Stir well. Let this simmer until you have a nice gravy consistency.
To serve, dollop some creamy potatoes onto a plate, chop your sausages in half and place on top. Finally spoon over the onion gravy.
And there you have a plate of pure rib-sticking comfort. All that’s left to do then is to talk about how cold it is outside!
(This article appeared in The Western People under the title ‘Cold wintry nights mean one thing: Comfort Food’ on 16th March 2015.)
Re-post of article published her in October 2014.
Below is the extract of what has been published in the press since we’ve opened. Because it is mishmash of what I’ve submitted to the press and what has been published, I won’t quote anyone, but it’s pretty true (except for the bit about me dancing on the block naked at the launch):
Seán Bourke and Sarah Ní Shúilleabháin had talked about opening their own butcher shop for a very long time. The conversation started in earnest on their honeymoon in Normandy where they had rented a cottage on the outskirts of a small town called Coutances. Every afternoon they used to go to the local butcher shop in the town. They could get loin pork chops on the bone, rind on or shin of beef or a rib of beef on the bone with a lovely spattering of yellow fat. And the meat tasted really good. They remembered meat like it from when they were children and they wondered why they couldn’t get these cuts so readily in Ireland anymore.
Seán had trained as a butcher in Castlebar before moving to Dublin with Sarah in 1998 where she studied Biomedical Science. Seán worked in Troy’s Butcher Shop on Moore Street and in Dugpak on the North Strand Road. They both then moved to Nenagh in Tipperary in 2001 where Sean worked in Hanlon’s butcher Shop and Sarah worked as a Medical Scientist with the HSE. The conversation continued about meat and their own butcher shop.
Nenagh was too small for another butcher shop and so they looked back home to the west. Seán is a local from Breaffy and Sarah is from Loch con Aortha in Connemara. They looked at Galway and at Mayo and finally settled on Castlebar. They were originally interested in premises just off Main Street but thankfully that didn’t work out, because they took a chance and walked into McHale’s on Main Street to chat with Martin and to say to him that if he was ever thinking of renting the shop that they might be interested. He took their number, and three months later in January 2014, he called. It was only a matter of weeks before the lease was signed and Sean started work in the shop on Friday the 4th of April. Sarah was to stay in Nenagh with their two little girls until things got up and running in the shop. However, it became clear on that Friday that this was something they were going to do together as a family. Sarah handed in her notice to the HSE the following Monday and she and the girls joined Sean in Castlebar two weeks later. The renovation of the shop started almost immediately. They couldn’t afford to close the shop to renovate so they spent nights and weekends working to reorganise the layout to suit the very clear vision they had for De Búrca’s. Sarah had been gathering images and photos of shops and renovation ideas since their honeymoon in 2007 for their own shop one day – alot of the ideas have now being implemented. They wanted to open a shop that was sustainable in terms of meat – in other words they buy in locally reared whole animals on the bone and used the whole animal nose to tail. They are very close to reaching their target of complete sustainability. Chicken is a stumbling block for them in this aim because customers want more chicken fillets than what they can afford to buy in whole. Developing their processing side has helped them in being more sustainable in terms of meat because it allows them to use the whole animal more easily and the wonderful by-products of this are their sausages.
They have always had a keen interest in making sausages and have practiced sausage making for years at home. It was a more daunting prospect to make sausages for the public and they wondered how they would be received. Their sausages are very meaty. They are made with the best locally-reared pork and their own spice and herb blends in natural casings. They have been experimenting with recipes for years and currently have their version of a Traditional sausage, a Cumberland sausage and a Hot Italian sausage for sale in the shop. They are currently working on a North African Merguez-style lamb sausage and a Garlic Pork sausage. In their counter you will see the usual cuts of meat, the striploin and T-bone steaks, the legs of lamb and the roasts of beef. You will also see shin of beef with a neat pile of marrow bones beside it for stews. You will see the pork loin chops on the bone and pork shoulder chops for braising. You might see an oxtail tied neatly in a circle if you’re lucky because the minute it’s put out in the counter it is sold. You can have your ox tongue plain or pickled. Seán takes great pride in his counter display and especially now as the shop is almost nearing the end of the renovation and is starting to look how they envisioned it.