Monday
Jun092014

Pat's Got the Cure - Fermanagh Black Bacon

 

Standing on Kilmore Quay, looking out at Inish Corkish, tranquillity surrounds me. The light misting rain heightens the smell of the wild clover and vegetation. Stretching out before me like a sheet of glass is Lower Lough Erne, Co Fermanagh, its islands reflected in the water. Evening birdsong fills the damp air.

Speeding across the water towards Inish Corkish with Pat O’Doherty, our boat is the only thing to interrupt the stillness.

O’Doherty’s Fresh Meats, Enniskillen, is a butchery specializing in a wide range of meat products from fine Fermanagh lamb to prime fillet steaks. Meat from Pat’s butchers graces the tables of some of the world’s most famous people, including HRH Queen Elizabeth.

Pat’s great speciality is his Fermanagh Black Bacon, and he has spent years travelling the length and breath of Lough Erne in his boat talking to islanders and farmers about bacon, pigs and farming.  He uncovered ancient Irish bacon-making secrets that have been used in Fermanagh since the dawn of time. The secret, as Dan says, is ‘Happy pigs!’

As we pulled up at the quayside I was about to discover what makes Inish Corkish unique – this is where Pat’s pigs live from early Summer to late Autumn.  He has a mix of breeds, including Tamworth (red), Saddleback (black & white) and Wessex (black). They arrive on the island as eight week old piglets towards the end of May.

Here, the pigs live an idyllic life, free to roam, forage and sleep as they would have centuries ago, completely in the wild. A traditional flat-bottomed boat, a Lough Erne Cot is used by Pat to transport his pigs to and from the island.

 

With a glut of mass produced, chemically enhanced bacon crowding our supermarkets and the pork industry experiencing many difficulties, he wanted to return to a more natural and traditional product.

"Bacon has been a staple part of the Irish diet for a millennia, but the taste of yesteryear has all but disappeared. I wanted to bring bacon back to the distinctive product it once was one full of the taste and aroma that really gets the tastebuds going. Good bacon always starts with good pigs that lead happy, free lives".

"I become very attached to the pigs," says Pat. "I travel to the island each night, to give them little snacks and check on their well being. I’m fascinated by the way they interact with nature and each other." And the pigs' attachment to Pat is clear because as soon as they discover he is on the island, they trot over to greet him, and rub their bodies against him.

 

"Human beings who maintain a balanced and healthy lifestyle enjoy a better quality of life. The same applies to pigs. I want people to realise that there’s an animal behind their pork chop." Pat is an organic butcher, certified by the Soil Association. Organic Fermanagh Black Bacon is produced alongside five others - Traditional, Streaky, Oak Smoked, Brandy Cured and Nitrate Free Bacon.
The curing recipes are closely guarded secrets.

Pat’s Nitrate Free Bacon contains no E-numbers and is the first of its kind in Europe. Nitrates artificially extend shelf life and provide the enriched pink colour found in most bacons on the supermarket shelves today. They have been linked with carcinogens and instances of oxidative stress in autistic children. Pat has broken the mould, delighting the Soil Association by producing bacon free from these preservatives. 

Fermanagh Black Bacon is hung to mature for at least three months - some commercial bacon may only be hung for three days. Donning a blue cap and protective boots, Pat takes me to the area in his butcher’s shop where the sides of bacon are hung, sliced and packaged.  As he lifted a side of bacon, the light sweet smell of peat lingered as he began to slice it.

When I cooked it for breakfast the next morning, my pan had no sticky white residue or greasy liquid common with mass produced rashers.  Instead there was a depth of flavor that was unlike anything I had ever tasted before.

Fermanagh Black Bacon has been sold in Harrods Food Halls for the past several years and is a part of their Christmas hampers. With a booming worldwide online customer base, Pat is ensuring his bacon is available to all who want it, "I have customers who order from the States, from London, from Dublin, Cork, Manchester, and just this morning I got an order from Edinburgh."

With such an amazing fan base, it doesn’t surprise me to learn that Fermanagh Black Bacon has won a series of accolades including a mention in Rick Stein’s "Food Heroes", the Supreme Award for Outstanding Product in the "Ballygowan Irish Food Writers Guild Awards" and a mention in the prestigious "Bridgestone Food Lover's Guide to Northern Ireland".

Pat has reawakened an Irish tradition that has been sleeping – proper bacon making. I encourage you to try it.

 

That's it for now ...

 

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

Contact

Pat O’Doherty

O’Doherty’s Fine Meats

3 Belmore St

Enniskillen BT74 6AA

028 6632 2152

 

Sunday
Jun082014

thoughts for your week June 9, 2014

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Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Saturday
Jun072014

Me Da's Top Ten Tips for Perfect Chips

 

My Dad makes the best chips in the world.  He and the chip pan have been great friends for many years. Like any Irish Ulsterman he loves potatoes and could eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When I was growing up we ate potatoes nearly every day: baked, roasted, pureed, sauté, mashed, champed, in colcannon, and chipped. But chipped were our favourites.

Hot chips straight out of the fat, tossed in salt, sprinkled with vinegar and served on a plate, or sometimes between a crusty white Belfast Bap, for a chip buttie. Oh, how my little brother and I loved chip butties. When I was seven a chip butty was heaven. Today it is a carb disaster. 

 

Not for us the bags of frozen fries or chips.  My father would have had a hernia if such a bag appeared in our house.  Rubbish he called them, saying it a few times to reinforce his point: frozen chips, they're rubbish.

We usually had Dad’s chips on a Thursday, the day the fish man came. His chips were made from scratch. A bag of earth covered potatoes would have been scrubbed and peeled, then cut by hand into chunky chips, dried in a clean tea-towel, then blanched and  eventually fried, often in a chip pan or a saucepan full of boiling oil on the stove.  This was back in the days before these became known as a fire hazard. 

I have eaten in restaurants worldwide, and have never eaten chips as good as my Dad’s. They are little bites of heaven: big, fat hand-cut chips, with a dry crisp outside, and a fluffy, soft centre – just like a great roast potato would taste in flavour and texture.

When Dad first opened his restaurant, he taught every chef that worked for him how to make good chips.  It never crossed his mind that he would serve frozen chips or fries, sometimes to the horror of the chefs, when they realised how time consuming making chips from scratch is.  In high season we could have gone through several sacks of potatoes a week, that all had to be peeled and chipped before cooking.. 

Dad’s chips became the talk of the countryside. They are the stuff of legend in our part of Ireland – everyone who eats one wants to know how he made them, what his secret is.  ‘I’ve never tasted chips like them!’ is the common response of his customers. Dad and I aren’t sure if there is a secret so to speak, but more a food philosophy of not cutting corners and preparing all food from scratch.

“Maris Piper potatoes are the best and a good clean oil – I use Wesson Green, a non-hydrogenated cooking oil – dirty oil ruins your chips before you begin frying, so all your hard work of scrubbing and cutting is lost,” he says. 

 

The Maris Piper variety is, without doubt, the best for both roasting and frying. It’s a floury, dry potato, that when cooked properly crisps on the outside, and remains fluffy and light inside.  Surprisingly for an Irish Ulsterman, Dad says that the best Maris Piper’s come from the potato fields of England.

 

The chips are blanched for fifteen minutes, ensuring the soft fluffy centre.  Then, when the chips are fried at a higher heat, the outside cooks quickly, and doesn’t burn. If you tried to cook chips without blanching them, you would end up with little rocks – crispy skinned, with a centre of stone. 

 

I remember as a teenager after a long night of working in his restaurant, guitars would come out, Irish ballads would be sung and Dad would bring out baskets full of piping hot chips, sprinkled with salt and doused with vinegar. They were devoured within moments, and often seconds were called for.  This is one of my fondest memories.

Me Da's Top Ten Tips for Chips

1. Buy good quality, dirty Maris Piper potatoes, as fresh from the field as possible, making sure you aren’t buying spuds that have been counted in top soil to look dirty.  You want potatoes that need a good scrubbing.

2. Scrub and peel the potatoes, putting each one into a bowl of cold water until you have as many as you need.Taking one potato at a time, dry it, and place it on a wooden cutting board.

3. Using a very sharp knife hand cut the chips into wedges, about an inch wide, making  them roughly the same size, as they will cook better. You aren’t looking for uniformity in the shape of your chips, you don’t need perfect rectangles.

4. Put the chipped potatoes into a metal baking tray. Once all your potatoes are chipped, roughly dry them in the tray with a tea towel.

5. Heat the oil in a deep fat fryer to approximately 80-90 degrees Centigrade.

6. Blanch the chips at a temperature of approximately 80-90 degrres C.  in the deep fat fryer for 10-15 minutes.

7. Test the chips after 10 minutes, being careful not to burn yourself with the hot oil.  The chip should be soft in the middle when you squeeze it very carefully with your fingers.

8. When the chips are ready, shake off the excess oil, and put back into the dry metal baking tray.

9. Heat the oil to approximately 200 degrees C. and deep fat fry your blanched chips for 3-4 minutes until they are golden brown, and float in the top of the oil – remove from the oil

10. Give the chips a good shake in the chip basket, then toss them with salt, and serve.

 

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Please note this article first appeared in The Foodie Bugle in 2011

Tuesday
Jun032014

Snoopy shares his top tip for a peaceful life 

I think Snoopy's truly onto something here - you?

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Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Monday
Jun022014

Books read this summer

 

Sunday
May252014

Tasting Whiskey at Bushmills Distillery

Whiskey has a bad reputation.  It's the drink that gives people a 'thick head' (a northern Irish term for someone who has turned nasty after drinking) and is the go to drink of people in bars wanting to down shots and lose themselves in an alcoholic haze.  It's seen as old fashioned - pardon the pun - and a drink for old men, drunkards and those who need to steady their nerves.  Knocking whiskey back releases fire in the brain, and stops us enjoying the complex and subtle flavours and interactions at work within the glass.

However, whiskey is a magical myraided drink, with layers of flavour and a reasonance which when discovered unlocks a world of flavour.  

Learning to drink whiskey well, changes any relationship we may previously have had with the drink.  And, then quite without warning we enter a world of new flavours and deeper understanding.  Welcome to the whiskey landscape, where our feelings of memory are evoked.

The Bushmills Whiskey Distillery offer fully tutored tastings of the Bushmills family of whiskeys.  My tutor was Seamus Molloy, a man with twinkling eyes and a superb knowledge of whiskey.  He was jovial company and made the whiskeys come alive to me in new ways.  His trademark I'd say, is to get to the bottom of how you the taster feel about the whiskey, rather than simply lecturing on some supposedly 'definitive' taste of each whiskey.

As he said to me several times, 'The best whiskey, is the one you like drinking.'

In his company I tried Bushmills Original, Black Bush, and 10, 12, 16 and 21 year old malts, as well as Bushmills Honey.  

How to Taste Whiskey - a 7 Point Guide

 

  1. Swirl the whiskey in the glass to release its flavours
  2.  Put your nose into the glass and take a good sniff
  3. Take a sip and swirl in your mouth as if eating the whiskey like a mars bar for 15 seconds before swallowing
  4. Swallow, take a deep breath, let the breath out as the whiskey goes down
  5. How does the whiskey, smell and taste to you, where does it hit your palate
  6. Remember - There are no right and wrong answers, it is about your personal taste
  7. Add a drop of water, swirl in the glass to mix, then repeat steps 1-6 - has the flavour of the whiskey changed, if so how?

 

Seamus places seven Bushmill's whiskeys in front of me, and another glass of scotch (there to show the difference between Bushmills which is Triple distilled and Scotch which is mainly double distilled, meaning it has a much stronger peaty flavour).

The glasses are filled with different hues of golden nectar, the Bushmill's 16 year old Malt has the darkest colour, and the 10 Year old Malt the palest.

When tasting whiskey, it is important to remember it is a living breathing drink, and when it is released from the bottle and air mingles with the liquid, a new life comes to the golden liquid.

Bushmill's Original - tasting notes

Bushmills Original is a grain whiskey which has been matured for five years then blended with a malt whiskey, it is triple distilled and has a supple character.

The nose is slightly fumey but flowery with a sharp rounded slant.  There's a hint of spice and a slight whiff of vanilla.

The initial taste is strong, with a burn on the palate, it hits you at the front of your face.  A drop of water smooths the flavours, rounding the corners, there's a tang of citrus and a hint of fruit.  Black Bush seems to find its home at the back of my palate.

Black Bush - Tasting Notes

Bushmills Black Bush is a mainly malt blended whiskey which has been matured for 11 years in sherry casks before blending.

The intial nose and taste are similar - fruity like Christmas cake which comes from the sherry barrels - but this is a layered flavour.  These barrels give create a big flavour. The Black Bush feels thicker on the palate than the Original Bushmills.  

Adding a drop of water releases some more flavours a spicey start ends with pecans and a woody satisfying finish.  Leaving the whiskey to breathe with a drop of water for five to ten minutes lets citrus flavours come to the fore.

10 Year Old Single Malt - Tasting Notes

Bushmills Ten Year Old Single Malt is my favourite of the Bushmills stable of whiskey's I loved it.  It is matured for ten years in seasoned Bourbon barrels mainly from Kentucky.  

The first taste hits your palate like a crackle of flame which then opens up to a warm fire on your palate.  The burn drifts to the background as the flavour begins to come to the fore.  Initially I felt like there was a party on my tongue which then faded into a smooth comfortably sleepiness.  The kind that comes after a night of dancing.  The whiskey is quite dry, but when a sip of water of is added the whiskey becomes lighter, freer and slightly sweeter with a hint of vanilla.

This light 10 year old malt whiskey is sublime, sweet and sensational.  As it hits the back of my tongue when the water is added, the whiskey takes on a playful feel, a gentle verbenna awakens on the palate.

16 Year Old Single Malt - Tasting Notes

Bushmills 16 Year Old Single Malt is matured in three different cask types: bourbon, port and sherry.  The 16 year old is a beautiful whiskey, one who's power and nuance continues to grow on you with each sip.  Water is not needed and if have the pleasure of drinking this is very hot climates, ice awakens a flavour of pine forests and fresh Alpine air.

The nose is rich and warm like thick mannuaka honey, there's a flare and robust finish.  The 16 year old Malt comes alive in a way that draws you the drinker into the story, because this is a whiskey which reminds you of something, but you can't quite place it.  The flavours linger and mingle on your tongue and you lose the present for your memory, you are drawn back in time to a memory you might now place immediately.  There are flavours of toasted wood, nuts and the slightest touch of citrus.  

As I sip this whiskey with Seamus, I find myself transported to another time in my life, drawn into a memory.

This is the kind of whiskey that longs to be sipped ever so slowly over an evening, while your toes toast at the fire.  It's romantic, one you would share with a loved one, as you snugle beside them, one you might take a dram or two of in a hip flask as you sit on the headland and watch the sun fade over the Irish Sea.  It's the sort of whiskey that had you been travelling would be your companion for an evening in a lonely hotel room.  This whiskey stretches out like a cat slowly, a drop of water heightening this process.

21 Year Old Single Malt - Tasting Notes

Bushmills 21 Year old Malt Whiskey well this old boy is very special and in great demand, due to its highly limited ability.  This exquisite whiskey is comforting and secure. It wraps itself around your palate easing into your body, relaxing as it goes, embracing you like a hug you have long longed for.  Matured in a mixture of Oloroso Sherry and Bourbon casks before a marrying period of two years spent in Madeira tasks, the 21 Year old Malt is truly a master.   

On my palate the 21 year old felt, warm and comfortable.  With hints of Indigo, oranges and peaches, it was silky sweet and dry, and very smooth with a refreshingly minty finish. 

Bushmills Irish Honey - Tasting Notes

Bushmills Irish Honey just misses out on being classified as a whiskey as the alcohol content is not high enough.  This would work brilliantly in a hot toddie, with some added slices of lemon studded with cloves and a good bruised slice of ginger.  Initially the Bushmills Honey tasted very sweet to me with a big sugary nose, and a sweet quite clawy taste, but as I swirled it around my mouth it opened up to baked New York vanilla Cheesecake flavour.  Actually a dash of this liqueur would make a welcome reprieve to any baked cheesecake.  As the flavour lingers on the palate there is a marshmallowy hint, so I could also imagine this stirred into melted marshmallows, or used to flavour homemade marshmallow.

The tasting room is warm and inviting, and can hold up to 12-16 people for private tastings, so it is perfect for parties, hen or stag afternoons as well as evening soirees.  Dark oak, with warm red walls this room feels as warm and comfortable as the whiskey's that are tasted there.

Tasting Whiskey at Bushmills Distillery is a wonderful experience and I highly recommend it to you, whether your a whiskey drinker or not, there is something for you during this tasting.  I went in thinking I was not a whiskey drinker and came out with a love for the 10 year old single malt, as well as having my mind and palate stretched and pushed as I tasted my way through the Bushmills Whiskey Stable.  

To book a private tasting contact the Bushmills Distillery 2 Distillery Rd, Bushmills, County Antrim BT57 8XH - 028 2073 3218 and let me know how you get on.

Sláinte

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle  Life Remarkable

Saturday
May242014

Cucumber Gin Martini - a recipe for your Bank Holiday Weekend

Cocktail Hour, some of the most celebrated words said to humankind.  Cocktails can be cheap, nasty and generally horrid, but if they made well, using good bases, like this excellent cucumber gin from Marks and Spencer they add sparkle to your life.  And, they can even make you happy, just don't go for one too many or happiness can leave all too quickly.

The light zing from this cucumber gin, mixes well with a hint of sweetness from Elderflower cordial, a sharp note from a squeeze of lime, add a scatter of pomegrante seeds and your drink will take on a deliciously ruby hue, making it all but irresitable. 

Cucumber Gin Martini

Ingredients

makes one martini

 

  • Three measures of Cucumber Gin
  • Two (maybe three if you like it with a sweeter top note) dashes of Elderflower Cordial 
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime
  • Slice of cucumber
  • Scattering of pomegrante seeds
  • Dash of tonic or soda water, if the pure alcohol is too much for your taste 

Method 

  • Stir through ice all the ingredients except the pomegrante and cucumber
  • Strain into martini glasses each with a slice of cucumber and scatter over pomegrante seeds
  • Add a dash of tonic or soda if so inclined
  • Drink - ahaaaaa

 

Sláinte!

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable