Barbecue Season

My own grandmother would have cooked on a barbecue over the last few weeks the weather has been so glorious. There is something about cooking outside and eating outside that whets the appetite and makes us look at food differently and prepare it with more thought and appreciation I think. Unless you are a diehard barbecue cook who fires up the coals in all weather, the barbecue is something that most of us only pull out from under the mouldy tarpaulin a few times a year. Therefore, below is a list of what I have found to be barbecue essentials.

Tools of the trade – If you find tongs useful get a long handled one. You’ll save your hands and forearms from getting burnt as you turn meat that will spit and burn. Better still get a proper long handled meat fork. It’s really the best thing to use. Also, wear an apron. There’s no point cooking an amazing meal and then looking like the St. Valentine’s Day massacre when you’re finished.

The most useful tool I have found for a barbecue is a wire brush to clean the grill with. Obviously, it’s important to clean the grill after the barbecue – a clean grill will ensure meat and vegetables don’t stick during cooking. But also give the grill a brush between batches during cooking. This stops meat drippings and charred bits from sticking and burning onto the next batch. Trial and error however has taught me to always buy a good quality wire brush in order to avoid picking metal prongs out of your burger!

Cooking tips for the barbecue – Meat should be seasoned with salt before grilling. Use good big tasty flakes of sea salt for this – Achill Island Sea Salt is ideal. As salt will draw moisture out of meat, it is important to season just before grilling. The salt enhances the flavour of the meat and also builds up that char crust that is so delicious on well barbecued meat. As the meat comes off the grill, you can season with some ground black pepper.

It’s hard to tell sometimes if meat or poultry is cooked when cooking on the barbecue. It is important not to under cook meat especially poultry but it is also so important not to overcook. I always use a meat thermometer for this. Then I’m confident the meat is cooked to perfection. Sometimes if I am cooking a lot on the grill, I tend to barbecue the chicken first. I like to cook chicken on the bone. I barbecue it first to get that char and flavour and then I finish the pieces off in a pre-heated oven. They have the barbecue flavour and are also cooked through by the even oven temperature. They are then finished at the same time as other cuts of meat that can be served rare or medium. Below is a table of internal cooking temperatures – make sure to insert your meat thermometer into the thickest part of the piece to check the temperature.

Rare Medium Rare Medium Well Done
Beef 54⁰C (129⁰F) 57⁰C (135⁰F) 60⁰C (147⁰F) 70⁰C (158⁰F)
Lamb 54⁰C (129⁰F) 57⁰C (135⁰F) 60⁰C (147⁰F) 70⁰C (158⁰F)
Pork     60⁰C (147⁰F) 70⁰C (158⁰F)
Chicken       75⁰C (167⁰F)

Then sit out and enjoy your barbecue feast in the best country in the world when the sun is shining!



Turkey tips for a Happy Christmas

cooked turkey

NOTE: Ok so I forgot to post this here before Christmas and before you would actually need it! It was published in The Western People on the 21st December in good time for Christmas!


The Christmas day dinner is all about timing but more importantly having time yourself to enjoy it, not sweating and slaving over a dinner that’s going to be devoured, let’s face it, probably in 30 minutes flat.

I usually do the cooking in our house as there’s less call for the fire brigade that way. I used to be a purist about the turkey. I always wanted the whole roasted bird in all its glory for carving on the day. I maintained that the whole bird roast was needed to make good gravy. I was converted two years ago by a butcher that I know well (the hubby) to try boning, rolling and stuffing both the breasts and the legs separately. This meant that the breasts went into the oven much earlier than the legs and both emerged perfectly cooked and still wonderfully moist. And you could use two different types of stuffing to satisfy everyone’s taste.

I had a roomier oven to cook all my veggies as we love simply roasted root vegetables such as carrots, beetroot and parsnips not to mention the goose fat roasted potatoes. But I still had the problem of the gravy as very little pan juices would come from the boneless bird. I decided to roast the carcass of the turkey on Christmas Eve on a regular roasting tray and make the gravy using these pan juices and a stock made out of the giblets. So the gravy along with the ham and the stuffing, was made the day before. As a result I only had one pot on the hob on Christmas day for mashed potatoes and a very tidy kitchen!

It’s on the cards again for this year but for you purists out there, I have below some cooking times for the whole turkey and the ham and a fool-proof turkey gravy recipe.

Have a happy and healthy Christmas and New Year everyone.

Roasting the Christmas Turkey

You will need c. 300g butter, at room temperature.

  • Preheat your oven to 190⁰C/375⁰F/Gas Mark
  • Weigh your stuffed bird and calculate the cooking time: 15 minutes per pound up to 14lb and for each extra pound allow 10 minutes. Therefore, a 14lb turkey will take 3 ½ hours and a 20lb turkey will take 4 ½ hours.
  • Place the bird in a large roasting tin, breast-side up.
  • Use your hands to loosen the skin from the breast and the legs taking care not to tear the skin. Rub half the butter under the skin and the other half over the skin. Season well with salt and pepper.
  • Cover the turkey with foil and roast for 40 minutes. Then lower the temperature to 170⁰C and cook until 30 minutes from the end of the cooking time, basting occasionally.
  • Remove the foil and cook for the remainder of the time to brown.
  • Juices will run clear when cooked – Internal temperature of 74⁰C.

The Christmas Ham – cooking times and glazes

  • Cooking times for ham:

Up to 4 ½lb in weight, allow 30 minutes to the pound and 30 minutes over;  4 ½ – 10lb, allow 20 minutes to the pound and 20 minutes over. Extra-large ham times roughly are: 12lb = 3 ½ hrs; 16lb = 4hrs; 20lb = 4 ½ hrs; 24lb = 5 hrs.

  • Put the ham in a very large pan, cover in cold water and bring to the boil for 10 minutes. Discard this water and fill pan again either with just water or a mixture of water and cider. Add a chopped onion, carrot and celery along with a bouquet of parsley, bay leaves and thyme tied together. Cook for the calculated time.
  • IF GLAZING, remove the ham 30 minutes before the end of the cooking time.
  • Remove the skin and cut a diamond pattern into the fat. Preheat oven to 190⁰C/375⁰F/Gas 5.
  • Mix together 1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard, 1 tablespoon muscavado sugar, 1 tablespoon honey. Smear all over the ham. Stud the diamonds with whole cloves in the traditional way.
  • Or I also like to slice an orange thinly and stud the slices with the cloves onto the ham prior to glazing.

Cooked Christmas Ham

Great Turkey Gravy

You will need: 1.9l pan dripping from the roast turkey; 200g butter; black pepper; 170g plain flour. Extra thinners can include red wine, marsala.

  • Drain pan juices from the roast turkey through a strainer and allow to sit. Skim the settled fat off the top.
  • Make up the juices to 1.9 litres using either chicken stock or stock made with the giblets (boil the giblet in some water with onion, peppercorns, carrot).
  • Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over a very low heat and add freshly ground black pepper.
  • Add the flour and whisk continuously for 3-4 minutes over a low heat.
  • Slowly add the turkey juices and stock, whisking constantly over a medium heat until bubbly and thickened.
  • To thin the gravy slightly and add flavour and complexity, use some red wine or Marsala wine.
  • Taste and season if required. Serve in a hot gravy boat.



Published in the Western People 21st December 2015.

The Humble Spud


I get annoyed when people dismiss certain vegetables out of hand as ‘fattening’. I spoke with a lady the other day who said she couldn’t eat potatoes because they had too many ‘empty carbs’ and she questioned ‘what’s in them anyway?’ Firstly, you don’t have to eat potatoes for breakfast, lunch and tea. Secondly, we could all learn to shown some restraint with portion size. But to rule out an incredibly nutritious vegetable altogether I think is wrong – especially one that has such a strong history with this country to the point where it has become synonymous with Ireland.

How the potato got to Ireland in the first place is a bit of a mystery. Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake and John Hawkins have all been credited with introducing the tuber into Europe. The usual story for Ireland is that Sir Walter Raleigh brought it here when he was came to help suppress the Desmond Rebellions between 1579 and 1583. However, there is absolutely no evidence to support this dating from that time in any of the Raleigh-related estate records. Some evidence comes in the form of hearsay some 100 years later through the minutes of a Royal Society meeting held 13th December 1693 when it’s president Sir Robert Southwell (1635-1702) stated that his grandfather had ‘brought potatoes into Ireland who had them from Sir Walter Raleigh after his return from Virginia’. This may or may not have been the case. There does seem to be a connection with Spain however as an early name for potato was An Spáinneach. A likely scenario is that the first potatoes reached us from Spain via commercial trading routes.

Either way, Ireland fell in love with the spud. And as a staple food of a country, potatoes weren’t a bad option. They were one of the few staples that one could live nutritionally on exclusively which was the case for about 40% of the population in the 1800s. Potatoes are a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals such as iron and zinc, and of course the First World dreaded starch. All was good until 1845 when the potatoes were struck by blight and this, coupled with Ireland’s political and commercial practices at the time, resulted in the famine.

When Irish people think of potatoes their eyes often glaze over at the thought of freshly boiled new potatoes and rubbing the thin skins off before eating them with butter, salt and some new onions. Or colcannon, which is one of the most celebrated of Irish potato recipes and one of our favourites. It has all the simple goodness of floury potatoes, kale, milk, butter and scallions – Heaven! Maybe this is what the lady meant when she said that she couldn’t eat potatoes as they were fattening. But is there any dish that can evoke an Irish childhood more?


What you need:

  • 2lb or 1kg of Floury potatoes
  • 400g chopped kale
  • 1¼ cup/ 320ml milk
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 4 scallions, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper

What to do:

  1. Boil the potatoes in a large pot until tender. Always start with cold water, never using hot water. Otherwise you will end up with floury outside and a hard middle.
  2. Add 3 tablespoons of butter to a pan over a medium heat. Add the kale and cook until just wilted. This should take about 5 minutes.
  3. Strain the potatoes. Add the milk, butter and scallions to the pot and let simmer gently for 2 minutes to infuse the milk with the scallion. Add the kale and the peeled potatoes to the pot. Mash until smooth.
  4. Season with salt and pepper
  5. To serve traditionally, make a crater on top of each portion using the back of a spoon. Add a knob of butter to each crater so that every forkful of colcannon can be dipped into the lake of melted butter.

Published in The Western People 20th July 2015


De Búrca’s first year in photos!

Front of McHale's - April 2014

Front of McHale’s – April 2014

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.

Heinz Potato 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

2 limes

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)


History repeating.



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.

Front page 2

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