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!

 

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Dripping with flavour!

RoastPorkCrackling

Sunday is our family day – it’s the one whole day we’re all together in the week. Cooking on Sundays is one of my favourite things as I have time. I have to say that I tend to be a lazy cook during the week as, like most people, whether working or homemaking, find time is at a premium. Therefore, the Sunday roast serves another purpose – I cook for leftovers. If saves time and roasts also make dripping.

I realise it’s a controversial subject but dripping holds an amazing amount of flavour. Our grandparents used it all the time but a lot of people are concerned about saturated fat levels and rightly so with issues like obesity and heart disease. If you cook fresh food as opposed to eating processed foods, fast foods or takeaways, using a little dripping with whole fresh ingredients will result in much less saturated fat than in the processed alternative. Using one small teaspoon of dripping to start your stew or soup is the best stock cube you could wish for.

One of my favourite big roasts is a slow roasted shoulder of pork. I usually use half a shoulder as it will weigh about 4.5kg. I save this for Sundays when family or friends might be visiting as it will feed 8 including extra for all-important left overs.

Also shoulder of pork is very economical. Buy the best pork you can. I have a few tips.

  • Firstly find a butcher that handles whole carcases as these will be able to give you a shoulder in the first place, and it will probably be fairly local. Secondly, they will be able to give you a shoulder with skin on and bone in, a must for crackling and flavour.
  • If your butcher handles whole free-range pork, it is probably local and you may be surprised at how little extra you have to pay to go free-range.
  • Remember that the more off-beat cuts such as shoulder, belly or hocks that require that extra bit of time and care are the less sought after cuts and are therefore cheaper. Get the best you can for your money – it’s out there, especially if you’re a willing and eager cook. You won’t be disappointed – think of the leftovers!

Slow roasted shoulder of pork – they don’t call it slow for nothing as you will need 5-6 hours.

You will need:

  • 1 x 4.5kg half shoulder of pork – bone in , skin on and scored at 1cm intervals
  • I heaped tablespoon fennel seeds
  • Olive oil
  • 3 onions
  • 10 bay leaves
  • 4 apples – skinned, deseeded and halved
  • 2 red onions
  • 1 heaped tablespoon plain flour

What to do:

  • Take the pork out of the fridge to come to room temperature.
  • Preheat oven to 220⁰C/425⁰F/gas 7.
  • Crush the fennel seeds in a pestle and mortar with a good pinch of sea salt and pepper.
  • Rub all over the pork with a good glug of oil making sure to get well into the scores.
  • Roast for 1½ hours.
  • Meanwhile peel and quarter the onions.
  • When the time is up, pour away all the fat (or transfer when cool to a jam jar to keep as dripping in the fridge).
  • Reduce oven to 130⁰C/250⁰F/Gas ½
  • Put the onions and bay leaves under the pork in the tray. Pour in 750ml water and cook for 2 hours.
  • Baste with tray juices and add the halved apples to the tray with a little water if required.
  • Roast for a further 2 hours until the meat pulls away from the bone freely.
  • Remove from oven and transfer to a plate with the apples and cover.
  • Put the roasting tray, with onions on a medium heat on the hob and stir in the flour. You should have plenty of liquid to make gravy. Add the pork resting juices. Stir well and simmer until a good consistency is reached. Pour through a sieve into a jug.
  • Serve everything together with seasonal greens along with your own usual trimmings.
  • Don’t forget to make good use of the leftovers during the week!

Published in The Western People – 14th September 2015

Mutton dressed as lamb

WP LambSalsaVerdePrep

Not being from a farming background and having been in contact with butcher shops that refer to lamb as lamb when it is actually hogget, I used to always wonder when a lamb became a hogget and indeed, when the Spring lamb season actually ended what with Easter being a movable feast. I have since learned that spring lamb is in season for a few weeks around Easter when the lamb is around 5 months old. It is known as lamb from then on until Christmas time after which it is called hogget. At two years old it is referred to as mutton.

As most sheep are grass-fed, Ireland produces the most excellent flavoured lamb. Mountain breeds tend to be leaner than some of the other lowland varieties, but living on different grasses, heather and wild plants gives mountain lamb a very distinctive flavour. Lamb from the hills of Connemara, Kerry, Donegal and Mayo’s own Achill Island has become sought after for this flavoursome distinction.

Hogget has a more pronounced flavour to lamb and I much prefer it. Mutton is stronger again in flavour and can be a bit tougher if not treated with care in the kitchen. Most people I have spoken to about mutton speak of a lasting impression left on their sense memory of the smell of it boiling in their mother’s kitchen as children. Undeterred by this, I have tried but have found it difficult to get mutton as I believe farmers can’t afford to keep the lambs this long for a relatively small number of interested people! But I will persevere.

The following recipe is incredibly easy and is good in the depths of winter as well as on the BBQ – which is just as well with the weather we’ve been having!

 

What you need:

  • 1 boned leg of lamb, or ½ leg of hogget, about 1.25kg weight
  • 1 small bunch of rosemary
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 6 anchovies (about ½ 55g tin) – feel free to substitute black olives here, about 20 large ones
  • 2 red chillies
  • The zest of ½ a lemon
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

What to do:

  1. Ensure the meat has been left out of the fridge to come completely to room temperature before roasting. I usually leave it out for at least 1 hour.
  2. Heat the oven to 220⁰C/425⁰F/Gas Mark 7
  3. Strip the rosemary leaves off the twigs and set aside. Place the twigs in the bottom of the roasting tray, and place the opened out lamb on top. Your butcher can bone the leg for you. I usually keep the bone and add it to the tray for roasting if there is room.
  4. Put all the remaining ingredients, including the rosemary leaves, into a processor and blitz. Spread this paste over the lamb.
  5. Roast in the oven for 40 minutes, or until the lamb is still nicely pink inside. Set it aside to rest for at least 15 minutes before serving.
  6. Deglaze the roasting tin with 200ml of wine, stock or water to make simple delicious gravy.

First published in The Western People 22nd June 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

Chicken:

4 x 180g chicken fillets

Pineapple pieces (optional)

 

SataySaucePrep

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.

 

McHalesFront

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)

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